4. Core Elements of the Code

Section 26 Access to Services, etc.

Section 26 (1)(a) Integrated Access to Services

Public bodies are required to ensure that the services they provide to the general public are accessible to people with disabilities where practicable and appropriate. The services concerned are those that come within the definition of services in section 2 of the Disability Act 2005 (the Act).

In practical terms, this means that people with disabilities can avail of a service provided by a public body at the same point of access or location, at the same time as everyone else, where practicable and appropriate.

A public body can achieve integrated access to services by:

  • conducting an analysis of:

    (i) how integrated their public service provision is to determine whether there is any variation in the way people with disabilities access the services provided and

    (ii) the accessibility of these services to people with disabilities;

  • devising a practicable and appropriate action plan to deal with integration and access issues that have been identified, in consultation with stakeholders, wherever this is practicable and appropriate;
  • promoting measures taken so that the general public is made aware of them.

Public bodies may find the following useful in considering what they need to do:

  • Contacting the NDA for advice on useful publications and possible approaches for reviewing accessibility of services and developing action plans;
  • The establishment of an advisory group where a consumer group does not exist, to oversee a review of the integration and accessibility of services. FÁS, for example, has established a National Advisory Committee on Disability to, among other things, "assist and advise on the systems and/or provision necessary for greater inclusion of people with disabilities on FÁS programmes and services and ... to provide FÁS with assistance in identifying gaps and existing disincentives, in regard to FÁS programmes and services, and provide advice on how these may be overcome". See also: http://www.fas.ie
  • Access auditing of premises and outreach strategy development. The Office of Public Works (OPW), for example, has conducted an access audit on its premises and developed an action plan to improve access. Examples of actions taken by the OPW include the introduction of a proximity card system to replace their existing swipe card system and the lowering of lights switches within buildings;
  • Augmentation of current Customer Care Policy and practice. The Electricity Supply Board (ESB) has, for example, introduced a Register of Customers with Home Medical Equipment so as to ensure they have a continuous supply of electricity;
  • The provision of information in accessible formats for public seminars, lectures, public meetings and mainstream training programmes where practicable.

Section 26 (1)(b) Providing Assistance

Where it is practicable and appropriate, public bodies are required to provide assistance to enable a person with a disability to access a mainstream service, if requested by that person. This applies where the public body is satisfied that such assistance is necessary.

The types of assistance required may vary depending on the type of service being provided and the nature of the disability concerned. The action necessary may involve simple measures such as taking the time to advise a person with a disability about service options, or require more specialised assistance, such as sign language interpretation.

A public body can achieve this by:

  • considering the type of assistance that is likely to be required. This could involve consulting with representative groups and getting advice on appropriate types of assistance;
  • exploring and estimating likely demand for assistance on request;
  • examining the relative practicability and appropriateness of the various options available for responding to this demand;
  • making arrangements for ensuring that assistance identified as necessary can be acquired or developed and made available, where it is practicable and appropriate;
  • developing procedures to respond to requests for assistance, including providing for a dialogue where appropriate and practicable with the customer and ensuring the relevant staff are aware of these procedures;
  • identifying appropriate sources to provide the various kinds of assistance that may be involved or encouraging staff to acquire the additional skills concerned, where practicable and appropriate;
  • promoting measures taken so that the general public is made aware of them.

Public bodies may find the following useful in considering what they need to do:

  • Where consumer panels do not already exist, the establishment of such panels to guide development. The HSE - Midland Area's Springfield Centre, Mullingar has, for example, established a Consumer Panel which consists of a small group of randomly selected individuals who meet to discuss issues relevant to their health services. A member of the public, who is independent of the HSE, chairs the panel. The panel is co-ordinated, administered and funded by the relevant services within the HSE -Midland Area. Promotional material for the Panel describes consumer panels as being "about making sure that you have a say in making the service that you use better for you";
  • The provision of disability awareness training for all relevant staff. The University of Limerick's Mary Immaculate College, for example, provides disability awareness training for administrative, academic and support staff;
  • The development and promotion of clear procedures regarding the provision of assistance, for example on timeframes, roles and responsibilities. Where, for example, an Irish Sign Language interpreter will be required, from time to time, sufficient notice will be required. In the case of an agency for sign language interpreters which provides registered interpreters, for example, preferably two weeks notice is normally required, though every effort will be made to accommodate urgent requests at shorter notice. Public bodies would need to ensure that people who are likely to request this type of support would, likewise, be made aware of notice requirements.

Section 26 (1)(c) Expert Advice

A public body must, where appropriate, ensure the availability of appropriate expertise and skills to advise it in relation to making its services accessible. Such expertise can be made available within the organisation, or, where appropriate, sourced externally.

A public body can achieve this by:

  • taking time to identify the various services provided where advice is likely to be required about how to make them accessible to persons with disabilities, in order to be able to identify the specific type of expertise that is required;
  • establishing whether such expertise is available internally or needs to be sourced externally;
  • identifying and implementing staff training initiatives to build an in-house capacity to provide expert advice;
  • iIdentifying appropriate sources, if external advice is required;
  • allowing time for considering any advice given, and the appropriate and practicable actions arising;
  • bringing the advice to the attention of relevant personnel;
  • promoting measures taken, where appropriate, so that the general public is made aware of them.

Public bodies may find the following useful in considering what they need to do:

  • The establishment of a consultative framework to advise on matters such as the identification and supply of expert advice required. The Public Transport Accessibility Committee (PTAC) was established in July 2000 as an expert group to advise the Minister for Transport on the accessibility aspects of proposed public transport investment projects and on existing public transport accessibility issues.

Section 26 (2) Access Officers

Each public body is required to have at least one officer authorised to act in the capacity of "access officer". That officer is responsible, where appropriate, for providing or arranging for and co-ordinating assistance and guidance to persons with disabilities accessing the services provided by that body.

A public body can achieve this by:

  • considering the skills necessary for the role of access officer;
  • considering how many officers are required in relation to the services provided by the body (the Act requires at least one officer);
  • authorising at least one officer to fulfil the role of access officer as defined in the Act;
  • ensuring that this Officer is adequately trained and appraised of duties and responsibilities (it is important that training adequately equips the Access Officer to both:

    (a) deal with integration and access in the particular setting for which he or she is appointed and

    (b) devise and drive or support the implementation of strategies to address these matters where practicable and appropriate);

  • ensuring that this Officer can be made readily available to persons with disabilities wishing to access services provided by the public body and to staff requiring their advice and support;
  • ensuring that this Officer has regular contact with senior management and that he or she is adequately resourced and supported in his or her role;
  • promoting the appointment and availability of Access Officer(s) and how they may be contacted, so that the general public is made aware of them and knows how to avail of their assistance.

Section 27 Accessibility of services provided to a public body

Since 31 December, 2005 each public body is required to ensure that the goods or services that are supplied to it are accessible to people with disabilities unless it would not be practicable or justifiable on cost grounds or would result in an unreasonable delay. This will relate to a wide range of goods and services including equipment, materials, information technology, etc.

A public body can achieve this by:

  • reviewing existing procurement policy, procedures, practices, guidelines or templates used or developed by the public body, to establish how they can be revised to build accessibility into the procurement process as a criterion (it would be important to check whether procurement policies make an explicit statement on accessibility, for example);
  • taking care that, in all public procurement exercises, accessibility is a criterion to be considered throughout the entire tendering process, from drawing up and running tender competitions through tender evaluation and placing the contract to conclusion of procedures and review;
  • bringing this requirement to the attention of all relevant personnel who will be engaged in the tendering process and guiding them in relation to the circumstances where the requirement will not be appropriate on the grounds specified in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) in section 27(2) (see below).

Exceptions

It is recognised that it might not always be possible to ensure that goods or services purchased by the body are accessible but exceptions should only be made in accordance with the circumstances specified in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) in section 27(2) of the Act. They provide that the requirement will not apply where:

  • it would not be practicable (for example: where the technology is not readily available or
  • it would not be justified having regard to the cost of doing so or
  • it would cause unreasonable delay in making the goods or services available to other persons (for example: where goods or services or both are otherwise available and required by other persons, so that significant delay in supplying them to those other persons would be unfair).

Section 28 Access to Information

This section relates to public bodies providing information to the general public.

Section 28 (1)(a)

Each public body is required to ensure, as far as practicable, that information which is orally provided to the public is provided in an accessible format, where so requested by persons with hearing impairments.

Hearing impairments can range from minor difficulties with hearing normal speech or particular sound frequencies to profound deafness. Many individuals with impaired hearing can lip read; some use hearing aids and some visual support (such as text phones, real time captioning or video relay services); others may require sign language interpreters.

A public body can achieve this by:

  • exploring the range of formats that can be practicably employed for making oral communications accessible to individuals with hearing impairments (see examples below);
  • establishing procedures for processing requests for accessible formats that may be provided as far as practicable including providing for a dialogue with the customer. Relevant staff should be aware of these procedures;
  • establishing procedures for sourcing or providing accessible formats;
  • establishing the format required by the individual with a hearing impairment making the request;
  • determining the practicability of providing the form of support requested, within particular communication contexts and timeframes.

Public bodies should also consider:

  • Familiarising themselves with the needs of people with hearing impairments;
  • The development of written versions of oral communications, such as guides or Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's);
  • The provision of one or two way electronic communications with members of the public via e-mail, SMS text or other messaging technologies;
  • The provision of text or video phones;
  • The installation of induction loops in reception or waiting areas and at least one meeting room;
  • The provision of Irish Sign Language interpreters and, or real time captioning for major public consultations;
  • The use of descriptive text for promotional videos and film presentations;
  • Where possible or practicable, offering alternative forms of support if the requested form cannot be provided;
  • Monitoring requests for accessible formats to inform future access planning.

Section 28 (1)(b)

Each public body is required to ensure, as far as practicable, that written information and communications which it provides to the public is communicated in an accessible format, where so requested by persons with visual impairments.

Visual impairments can range from blurred visual fields to very acute incapacity to distinguish between light and dark. People with visual impairments may sometimes make use of large print, high contrast, audio tape or Braille format documents.

Providing accessible formats may be something that can be delivered relatively quickly and easily in-house, e.g. large print of certain documents or may involve reproducing text in Braille. In the latter case if there are no facilities or expertise in-house, it could involve contracting the service from the relevant source and allowing time for its production.

A public body can achieve this by:

  • exploring the range of formats that can be employed as far as practicable for making written communications accessible to individuals with visual impairments (see examples below);
  • establishing procedures for sourcing or providing accessible formats;
  • establishing procedures for processing requests for accessible formats that may be provided as far as practicable including providing for a dialogue with the customer. Relevant staff should be aware of these procedures;
  • establishing the format required by the individual with a visual impairment making the request;
  • determining the practicability of providing the form of support requested, within particular communication contexts and timeframes.

Public bodies should also consider:

  • The provision of information in accessible formats, such as:
    • Large Print;
    • Braille;
    • Electronic communications that can be accessed with adaptive technology;
    • Audio tapes

      (Note: The provision of audio tapes for people with visual impairments. In determining the practicability of producing an audio tape format of a particular document, however, it is important to realise that: (a) a person's capacity to absorb aural information is limited and (b) some information simply does not work on tape (large directories or technical documents with a lot of cross referencing, for example). For larger and more complex documents, summary tapes or one to one consultation in person or by phone, might be considered.);

  • Where possible or practicable, offering alternative forms of support if the requested form cannot be provided;
  • Monitoring requests for accessible formats to inform future access planning.

Section 28 (2)

Where a public body communicates with the public through electronic format it must ensure that, as far as practicable, the contents of its communications are made accessible to a person with a visual impairment availing of adaptive technology. Such technology may include screen readers, Braille output devices and screen magnification software.

Visual impairment is defined under section 28(1)( b) above.

A public body can achieve this by:

  • establishing what is entailed in making electronic communications accessible and understanding the needs of those using adaptive technology;
  • reviewing existing practices for electronic communications in terms of accessibility against relevant guidelines and standards, e.g.:
    • NDA IT Accessibility Guidelines for all computers, information kiosks, interactive services with an ICT front end (e.g. Revenue's on-line service web forms, electronic voting machines), e-mail and other application software, and other Public Access Terminals used by the public (consult http://accessit.nda.ie);
    • Double A level conformance with the Web Accessibility Initiative's (WAI) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), see http://w3.org/WAI. The Department of the Taoiseach's 'New Connections - A Strategy to realise the potential of the Information Society' states that 'all public websites are required to be WAI (level 2) compliant by end 2001'
  • planning to ensure that all such communications are produced, as far as practicable, in a format that is accessible to persons with visual impairment using adaptive technology such as, e.g. screen readers or speaking browsers, etc., as appropriate.

Public bodies may find the following useful in considering what they need to do:

  • The Oasis (Online Access to Services, Information and Support) website, www.oasis.gov.ie, developed by Comhairle, is a useful example of how the contents of electronic based communications can be made accessible to a person with a visual impairment, to whom adaptive technology is available.
  • Taking care to be aware of new and emerging technologies (such as smart card technology and the use of closed audio descriptions for Digital TV) and their potential to provide an accessible channel of communication to a person with a visual impairment.

Section 28 (3)

Each public body must ensure that, as far as practicable, the information it publishes which is directly relevant to persons with intellectual disabilities, is made available to them in clear language that they easily understand.

This is often referred to as the "easy to read" format, but generally involves producing information in:

  • plain english (clear and simple language) format;
  • short sentences, avoiding jargon, complicated phrases and words;

and, or

  • easy to read summaries which make use of illustrations to aid comprehension.

A public body can achieve this by:

  • consulting with relevant bodies on what is involved in producing published information in such formats;
  • reviewing the range of information published by the body to identify which publications fall within the category concerned;
  • establishing likely demand for such information in consultation where appropriate;
  • establishing internal procedures and arrangements with external agencies, where necessary, for converting relevant publications into easy to read formats;
  • establishing procedures to respond to requests for such formats including providing for a dialogue with the customer. Relevant staff should be aware of these procedures;
  • monitoring demand for such formats to inform future planning.

Public bodies may find the following useful in considering what they need to do:

  • The easy to read edition of the National Disability Authority's Strategic Plan 2003-2006 is an example of an easy to read version of an official document;
  • The NDA publication "First Steps in Producing Accessible Publications".

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