Wednesday, 14 September 2022
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
I propose to take Questions Nos. 245 to 247, inclusive, together.
With regard to the specific applications about which the Deputy has enquired, the Passport Service will contact the Deputy's office directly in relation to the applications.
248. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the engagement that his Department has had with disability groups in relation to developing the online passport system given that some disabilities can affect passport photographs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44852/22]
249. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his Department’s plans, if any, to make the passport application and renewal process more disability-friendly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44853/22]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 248 and 249 together.
My Department is committed to helping people with disabilities to access its services, and engages with disability services to provide training and awareness courses for staff covering areas as defined under the Disability Act 2005.
Passport Online has been designed to be very accessible. In developing the Passport Online service a significant focus was placed on ensuring that a high level of accessibility was reached from the beginning. In the request for tender for the website development contract a minimum of conformance level AA with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 was required. The contractor who was awarded the tender agreed to develop the website to the principles of Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust, which are the principles of WCAG 2.0.
Specific accessibility-focused user experience testing was conducted by an external agency during August 2018, where five users of different demographics, technical abilities and needs were sourced to test the online platform using screen readers, screen magnification and speech recognition. The testing included persons who are partially sighted, colour blind, have dyslexia and other cognitive issues, and are arthritic. All users were successful in navigating the website and completing the online application process, the reporting noting that the feedback was very positive. The testing was also useful in highlighting some areas for improvement which have since been addressed.
The Passport Service also met with the AsIAm charity during July 2018 where a discussion around the specific needs of persons with autism was held and a demonstration of the Passport Online service was provided. Feedback from AsIAm was very positive with references to the simple and clear layout and sufficient white space throughout the online process.
As certain application types cover complex areas such as guardianship, the Passport Service places the utmost importance on using plain English throughout the application process. Following a number of internal workshops using the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's Customer Communications Toolkit to simplify the language, the Passport Service engaged the National Adult Literary Agency (NALA) who reviewed all screens in the application process and suggested a number of changes to ensure the service is understandable and accessible to all. In 2019, the Passport Service won the National Adult Literary Agency (NALA) award for Plain English for the Passport Online Renewal service.
An external and independent body conducted an Access and Sensory Audit of the Passport Service's public offices in Mount St, Dublin in 2020.
In cases where passport applicants have a medical condition or disability that means that the standard passport photo guidelines cannot be met, the Passport Online service offers a medical indicator option when submitting a digital passport photo.
When applying online, passport applicants or their parents can tick the medical indicator box on the passport photo page. This allows the photo to pass through the system as part of the application process. The passport photo submitted will then be reviewed by a member of the Passport Service staff.
In accordance with section 26 of the Disability Act 2005, my Department has an appointed Access Officer who is responsible for ensuring that help and advice are given to people with disabilities who wish to access our services.
The Access Officer can be contacted through a form on my Department’s website, here: www.dfa.ie/about-us/contact-us/contact-access-officer/
Alternatively, the Access Officer can be contacted by post at the following address:
Human Resources HQ
Department of Foreign Affairs
76-78 Harcourt Street
Customers can also contact my Department's Disability Inquiry Officer via the website (www.dfa.ie/about-us/contact-us/) and their case will be communicated to the Passport Service who can facilitate their request. The Inquiry Officer will investigate any complaints made under Section 38 of the Disability Act.
A member of the public who may require the assistance of an Irish Sign Language Interpreter during an appointment at the Passport Service public office can indicate this when booking their appointment online. A dedicated member of staff will be available to interpret and assist during their appointment.
Passport Customer Service is available Monday to Friday, from 9am to 4:30pm by phone or WebChat on my Department's website (www.dfa.ie/passports). These facilities offer all customers live interaction with customer service officers who can advise on matters relating to the passport application process.
The Passport Service will continue to consider ways in which to enhance the provision of this essential service to all of our citizens.