The Guardian July 26, 2000


IBM Olympic Website
Blind to needs of vision impaired

Sydney Olympics organiser SOCOG and its website designer IBM have been 
accused of exploiting disabled people for PR purposes while denying blind 
people fair access to Olympic results on the site.

A blind Australian is challenging the website in the Human Rights and Equal 
Opportunity Commission. The complainant, Bruce Maguire, is acting on behalf 
of vision-impaired people outraged at being unable to access Olympic 
results.

According to Mr Maguire, IBM would need to change the formatting of the 
website so that it could be read by software used by visually impaired 
people to convert visual information into braille or synthesised speech.

IBM, a key sponsor of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, claimed that 
it was powerless to change the website because of contractual agreements 
with SOCOG.

"This is being heavily promoted worldwide as the most interactive sports 
site in history, expecting to attract more than a billion `hits', said Mr 
Maguire.

"As a blind person, I want no more than to participate as fully as other 
people. IBM has the resources and technical expertise to make this 
possible. Instead, they're failing to implement their own access guidelines 
 and SOCOG is going along with it.

"For us, it's like being told, `Hey, there's this big party going on  now 
you just wait outside and we'll throw you whatever scraps we can."

The group People With Disabilities (PWD) is fully supporting the Human 
Rights Commission challenge.

"Our vast international e-lists network of disability groups will be 
informed of IBM's indifference to our appeals for proper access", warned 
PWD Director Philip French.

"The possibility of legal action against IBM is also being explored  as 
are the options for bringing the matter to the UN under its Covenant for 
Civil and Political Rights."

The issue is also being raised worldwide by The Greens, whose NSW Upper 
House MP Lee Rhiannon says "IBM and SOCOG are benefiting from their 
association with the Paralympics  while turning a `blind eye' to the 
expressed needs of visually impaired people. 

"We'll be conveying IBM's intransigence to our global network of Green 
groups, activists, lawyers, academics and human rights contacts.

"Our own party is currently acting to improve disabled accessibility to our 
own website. If we can do it, surely the vastly better-resourced Sydney 
2000 site can find the relatively minor funds."

Adds Bruce Maguire: "This is not a legal issue, it's a moral and ethical 
one about equity and a `fair go'  and about being responsible corporate 
citizens and practising what you preach."

For more information:

Bruce Maguire, ph 02 9639 5346   bmaguire@ign.com.au
Philip French (PWD), ph 02 9319 6622
Lee Rhiannon (Greens) ph Stafford Sanders 02 9230 3549 
lee.Rhiannon@parliament.nsw.gov.au

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