The Guardian September 6, 2000


Legal victory in Olympics Website accessibility case

by Bruce Maguire

In a landmark decision handed down last week, Australia's Human Rights and 
Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) found that the Sydney Organising 
Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) had unlawfully discriminated 
against me as a blind person, because of their failure and refusal to make 
the official Olympics website (www.olympics.com) fully accessible to me. 


In June 1999, I lodged a complaint against SOCOG alleging discrimination 
under Australia's Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

In addition to highlighting SOCOG's failure and refusal to provide full and 
independent access to the Olympics website for me as a blind person, the 
complaint also alleged that SOCOG had discriminated against me by failing 
and refusing to provide the official Olympics Ticket Book in braille.

That aspect of the complaint was adjudicated by the Human Rights and Equal 
Opportunity Commission in September 1999, and resulted in a finding of 
unlawful discrimination against SOCOG.

SOCOG continued in their refusal to provide ticketing information in 
braille.

The main reason for the delay in dealing with the website issue is a series 
of delaying tactics used by SOCOG who stated before the Commission that 
they were aware that their tactics were doing "irreparable damage" to my 
right to have the complaint dealt with in a timely and effective manner.

During the hearing, SOCOG relied on evidence supplied by IBM, who are 
responsible for the design of the Olympics website.

They confirmed that the tables that will be used to display results of 
Olympic events will be completely inaccessible to blind people.

SOCOG also alleged  again based on evidence supplied by IBM  that to 
fix the site would require an outlay of $2 million, and take 368 days.

We called two expert witnesses, who both gave sworn testimony that 
convincingly refuted both these claims. Both experts assert that the real 
cost of fixing the site is about $30,000, and that it would take two to 
four weeks to make it fully accessible.

The Commissioner accepted all of the evidence that our expert witnesses 
provided, and ordered SOCOG to make whatever changes were required to 
render the Olympics website fully accessible.

SOCOG have publicly stated that they will refuse to comply with this order, 
adding that making websites accessible slows down the development of the 
web.

We believe that the latest decision of the Human Rights and Equal 
Opportunity Commission is the first time anywhere in the world that a 
website developer has been found by a court or tribunal to be in breach of 
disability discrimination legislation.

The finding of unlawful discrimination is clear, convincing and 
unequivocal. 

How to help

1. If you have not already done so sign the electronic petition to IBM. 
This can be found at http://www.nsw.greens.org.au/parl/lee/ibmpetition.html

2. Phone, fax or email the NSW Minister for the Olympics, and President of 
SOCOG, Michael Knight, MP: 
Phone: (02) 9228 4244   Fax: (02) 9228 4255;
Email: knight@www.nsw.gov.au

3. Phone, fax or email Sandy Hollway, Chief Executive of SOCOG:  Phone: 
(02) 9297 2000;
Fax: (02) 9297 2020;
Email: sandy_hollway@socog.com.au

4. Contact IBM. Two contacts are:

1. John Patrick, Vice-president, Internet Technology
Phone: 1-800-645-336 (general IBM tollfree number in the USA);
Email: patrick@us.ibm.com

2. Natalie Harms, Communications Manager, IBM Australia
Phone: (02) 9284 5349     Email: nharms@au1.ibm.com

Bruce Maguire's contact details:
PO Box 4588, North Rocks, NSW 2151
Phone: (02) 9639 5346;
Fax: (02) 9639 5078;
Email: bmaguire@ign.com.au

May I express my heart-felt thanks to the many people and organisations who 
have shown their support for me in my 14-month-long campaign to have 
Olympics information made accessible.

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