Ireland pioneers standard to make energy services more web accessible

10 Feb 2012

Maurice Buckley, CEO, NSAI; Fergus O'Dowd TD, Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and Niall O'Hanlon, ESB access officer, at the launch of the SWIFT 9-Universal Design for energy suppliers

The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) says it has devised the world’s first standard to make energy products and services more accessible to everyone, especially via website interfaces, taking into account the age, physical, mental and sensory ability of the end user.

Minister of State, Fergus O’Dowd, TD, launched SWIFT 9 (Universal Design for Energy Suppliers) yesterday.

The National Disability Authority’s Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, the Commission for Energy Regulation, representative end users and energy suppliers such as Airtricity, Bord Gáis Energy, Electric Ireland, Energia and Flogas, were all involved in devising the standard.

SWIFT 9 itself covers the written, verbal and electronic-based communication, including websites and services to customers. It embraces the use of plain English as the benchmark for communications.

Universal design is the degree to which a product or service is usable by as many people as possible.

“Standards play a vital role in making the world accessible and usable, from technologies that are user friendly for the hearing and visually impaired, to products that can be easily used by older persons or those with disabilities,” said Maurice Buckley, CEO, NSAI.

“By putting in place the guidelines set out in SWIFT 9, energy suppliers in Ireland have put the needs of customers with a different range of age, size disabilities and abilities first and foremost when developing their products, services and communications,” he said.

Buckley added how industry, policy makers, designers and manufacturers need to be thinking about universal design and access from the onset of a project, product or service.

O’Dowd also spoke yesterday about how SWIFT 9 was the first standard to be developed internationally that embraces good design, guidance and functionality by Ireland’s energy suppliers.

He said the universal design focuses on all end users, ensuring access to information and services.

“It recognises the customer’s right to be at the centre of services and in time the adoption of universal design will lead to a more inclusive and understanding Irish society,” O’Dowd said.

And while Swift 9 is focused towards the energy market, Buckley said it provides guidance to all customer-focused businesses, especially when developing websites and new technologies.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic