Date November 5, 2014
Coles is facing a landmark claim following an allegation the supermarket giant’s website does not provide adequately for visually impaired shoppers. Rachel Browne explains.
Gisele Mesnage’s vision impairment has not prevented her from travelling, completing a university degree or writing a play but buying groceries online is a different story.
Ms Mesnage, who has been blind since birth, has launched a landmark claim against Coles with her legal team alleging the supermarket giant has discriminated against her because of her disability.
Her issue with Coles dates back to 2008, when she first registered for online shopping. The Ashfield woman uses a screen reader, which converts text to speech, and believed online shopping would be a quick and convenient alternative to going to the supermarket.
“For me, online shopping is a revolution,” she said. “Not only do I want to be part of it, I need to be part of it. It’s about independence.”
But Ms Mesnage encountered a number of problems with the Coles website, including being unable to select a delivery time for her groceries and complex navigation that meant it could take up to eight hours to place an order.
Coles attempted to address the glitches in 2010 but an upgrade introduced last year repeated the same problems. After countless emails and calls to Coles failed to settle the dispute, Ms Mesnage complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission but the matter couldn’t be resolved, leaving the option of legal action.
“Taking this action is the last resort and it is a very big decision for me,” she said. “I know it is not going to be a walk in the park but it is important.”
The case is believed to be the first action on web accessibility to go as far as the Federal Circuit Court with Ms Mesnage to be represented by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).
PIAC senior solicitor Michelle Cohen said the legal team would argue Ms Mesnage has suffered unlawful discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act.
“At the end of the day it’s about equality,” she said. “Gisele has just as much right to freedom and independence and basic food as everyone else.”
Vision Australia estimates there are more than 350,000 Australians who are either blind or have low vision.
For now, Ms Mesnage is shopping at her local supermarket but it can take her up to 20 minutes just to buy a loaf of bread, with the assistance of her guide dog D’Artagnan and staff in store.
“Coles are always saying they are improving the website for their customers. I want the same consideration,” she said.
“It makes me feel as if we’re not important. Would they exclude all their customers this way? It’s unthinkable.”
A spokesman for Coles said the company would review and respond to Wednesday’s court filings.
“Coles has made a significant investment to provide a great online shopping experience for all of our customers, including many who are vision-impaired or have other disabilities,” he said.
“Coles recognises and endorses the importance of online accessibility, and we are continually working to improve our online grocery shop, including improvements to the accessibility of the website. We work with experts in this field to make our site usable by people with disabilities.”