The Launch of the Northern Irish DAI
In May 2023, NCBI and IA Labs were delighted to participate in the launch of the Northern Irish Digital Accessibility Index (NI DAI) in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This report was commissioned by ForSight NI, a charity dedicated to providing services for the blind and visually-impaired, and was carried out by IA Labs from July to December 2022.
The NI DAI compares and contrasts some of the highest-profile private and public sector websites in Northern Ireland, revealing how accessible they are to those living with disabilities. This could be a person who is blind, has impaired vision, decreased dexterity, or hearing difficulties, but it is not limited to the latter disabilities.
IA Labs performed manual audits on 72 websites against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA, the worldwide standard for digital accessibility. These are also the standard named in the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, which public bodies in the United Kingdom are legally obliged to follow.
From health services to schools and the province’s ten largest employers, the NI DAI lays bare the work that is being done, but more importantly what still must be done by organisations to improve accessibility online.
Without digital accessibility, organisations risk blocking a significant part of society from participating in everyday digital activities such as taking classes online, shopping, keeping in contact with friends and family through social media, or accessing important information about their own healthcare or financial management.
This report also highlights the specific difficulties that people with disabilities face every day when accessing technology, including confusing carousels of content, images without text descriptions, missing descriptive links, and more.
It outlines the specific parts of websites that are not compatible with assistive technology, and therefore excludes the user with a disability from accessing and digesting information online.
To quantify the impact digital inclusion could have on our society, one in five people in Northern Ireland are living with a disability according to the Department for Communities. That amounts to approximately 336,000 people. They deserve to have equal access to information and equal opportunity to use online services, but the NI DAI’s findings show this is not always the case: only one state agency and one utility provider passed an IA Labs accessibility audit. Of Northern Ireland’s ten largest employers, three were considered digitally accessible, while only one out of five housing associations met accessibility standards.
However, a number of sectors fared much better. All nine Stormont departments passed an accessibility audit, as well as five health and social care trusts and nine local councils.
It is clear from this report that whether firms or organisations are bound by legislation to offer a digitally accessible service, many fail to do so, and even those who have passed IA Labs’ audits still have discrepancies that pose challenges for users with disabilities.
The NI DAI is not intended to shame organisations for their lack of digital accessibility, but to raise awareness of how far Northern Ireland has to go in terms of becoming digitally accessible. ForSight NI hope to continue educating the public and private sectors about the importance of digital accessibility and are joined in their mission by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), the umbrella body for the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland.
Chris White, ForSight NI CEO said, “It’s essential that authorities and organisations make their digital assets accessible in Northern Ireland, where one in five people have a disability… Being digitally accessible is not just a legal obligation for those who are bound by law, but it’s a moral obligation and one that is essential for good business practice and in the near future.”
Robbie Best, NICVA Head of Communications said, “At NICVA, we welcome the report and look forward to working closely with ForSight NI and IA Labs in the future… Digital services aren’t a nice to have, they’re a vital part of our everyday lives so making sure these services are accessible to everyone is really important for us as a sector.”
Kyran O’Mahoney, NCBI CTO and IA Labs CEO said, “Our research shows that people with disabilities still encounter discrimination in an increasingly digital society. Compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is mandatory for the public sector under UK law, so businesses, organisations, and service providers in Northern Ireland must assess their website or mobile app’s accessibility and take action to ensure full inclusivity. Digital accessibility benefits both end-users and businesses, promoting equality and improving profitability.”
IA Labs would like to sincerely thank everyone involved with the launch, in particular NCBI and ForSight NI for their support. If you want to find out more about the work we do to make the technological world more inclusive of people with disabilities, you can visit the following links to view our list of services or read the NI DAI.