The National Disability Authority (NDA) was established in June 2000, under the National Disability Authority Act, 1999, (NDA Act, 1999), as an independent statutory body. One of the functions of the NDA, as outlined in the NDA Act, 1999, is 'to support the achievement of good standards and quality in the provision of programmes and services provided or to be provided to people with disabilities' (see Part II, sections 8(2) (c), (d) and (f) and 10 (1)).
This Code of Practice on accessibility of public services and information provided by public bodies has been prepared by the NDA, at the request of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, under the provisions of the Disability Act 2005 (the Act) (Part 3, Section 30).
In August 2005, the Minister requested that the NDA prepare and submit a draft Code of Practice in relation to the matters referred to in sections 26, 27 and 28 of the Act. The NDA presented a first draft to all Government Departments in September 2005. A large number of submissions were received from this initial consultation and based on these submissions the NDA prepared a second draft.
In line with section 30(2) of the Act, which empowers the NDA to consult with such persons or bodies as it considers appropriate, the NDA commenced a National Consultation Process in October/November 2005 in relation to this second draft. The NDA received more than 70 submissions and further amendments were made to the document.
Following this National Consultation Process, all Government Departments were given a final opportunity to comment on the third draft, before the final revision of the Code was submitted to the NDA Authority for its consideration.
The Act is complementary to the Equal Status Acts, 2000 to 2004 which also relate to the provision of goods and services.
Public bodies, as service providers, should note separately the requirements of these Acts in relation to the provision of information and services to people with disabilities. This document is not a Code of Practice in relation to the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004, though public bodies are encouraged to develop a coherent approach to their obligations under the Disability Act 2005 and the Equal Status Acts in relation to people with disabilities.
Part 3 of the Disability Act 2005 (the Act), places significant responsibilities on public bodies to make their services accessible to people with disabilities, viz:
- Under section 26, public bodies are required, to ensure that their services are accessible for people with disabilities by providing integrated access to mainstream services where practicable and appropriate.
- Under section 27, public bodies are required to ensure that the goods or services that they purchase are accessible, unless it would not be practicable or justifiable on cost grounds or would result in an unreasonable delay.
- Under section 28, following a request, communications by a public body to a person with a hearing or visual impairment must, as far as practicable, be provided in an accessible format. Information provided electronically must, as far as practicable, be compatible with adaptive technology. Published information, relevant to persons with intellectual disabilities must, also be, as far as practicable, made available in easy to read formats.
This Code of Practice sets out the Authority's understanding of what is required under those sections of the Act and is designed to guide public bodies in meeting their statutory obligations by providing practical advice and examples. I believe that this can be achieved by thoughtful and careful planning that is responsive to the needs of people with disabilities. Public bodies are encouraged to take steps to achieve the highest possible standards of accessibility for the information and services they provide to the public.
The NDA proposes that the best measure of success will be evident when people with disabilities experience a real, tangible change for the better in access to services and information.
Chairperson, National Disability Authority