Article extracted from NUblog: Reader’s guide to Sydney Olympics accessibility complaint.
Only one legal case concerning Web accessibility is known: Maguire vs. SOCOG. A single individual was triumphant in pursuing a complaint of Web inaccessibility. His adversary: Nothing less than the Olympic movement itself, as manifested in the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games.
This case teaches us that the legal need for accessibility is so clear-cut, and the means of achieving basic accessibility so straightforward, that even an unspeakably wealthy and powerful international organization can lose in a judicial proceeding.
In Australia in June 1999, Bruce Maguire lodged a complaint with the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) under a law called the Disability Discrimination Act. (News article.) His complaint concerned the Web site of the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG), which Maguire alleged was inaccessible to him as a blind person.
According to the complaint, Maguire, unlike most blind people online, does not use a screen reader to read aloud the elements of a Web page. Instead, he uses a refreshable Braille display. But neither technology can understand and turn into voice an image that lacks a text equivalent. Nearly all Web pages online have some kind of graphics, including high-profile sites like those associated with major sporting events.
Maguire contended that significant parts of the SOCOG Web site, Olympics.com, were inaccessible to him.
On 24 August 2000, the HREOC released its decision and supported Maguire’s complaint, ordering certain access provisions to be in place on the Olympics.com site by 15 September 2000. SOCOG ignored the ruling and was subsequently fined A$20,000.
To respond to the objection that this case, having taken place “far away” in Australia, is unrelated to Web design in other nations, we would suggest examining the similarities among the Disability Discrimination Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Canadian Human Rights Act, not to mention provincial, state, and territorial human-rights codes. The legal principles of unequal treatment (“discrimination”; “unfavourable” treatment) and unjustifiable hardship (“undue” hardship or “burden”) are effectively identical in Australia, the U.S., and Canada, if not elsewhere, and the case of Maguire vs. SOCOG will inevitably come into play as precedents for legal cases worldwide.