By Sarah Pulis Ramp Up 19 Dec 2011
The Disability Discrimination Act in Australia includes web accessibility.
Speaking up about inaccessibility on the web is the only way to change it, writes Sarah Pulis from Media Access Australia.
An American court case has thrown web accessibility into the international spotlight. Three women who are vision impaired brought a case against the Walt Disney Company for failing to accommodate the needs of vision impaired customers across its websites and within its theme parks. Disney, no stranger to litigation, was able to settle the suit out of court for an undisclosed sum.
In the case, Disney initially tried to claim that they were not obliged to cater to the needs of blind and vision impaired people because some believed that the Americans With a Disability Act (ADA) doesn’t cover web accessibility. So part of the initial fight was to broaden the definition of discrimination specified under the ADA.
The out-of-court settlement that was made last month disappointed many simply because it would mean a high profile corporation like Disney would set an important legal precedent. Particularly with all its high profile affiliations like ESPN and the ABC television network, the complaints made against Disney would put pressure on many other media outlets to revise their websites in light of accessibility.
We saw this happen in Canada where last year Donna Jodhan, a vision impaired woman from Toronto, filed a similar case against the Ontario Government. Jodhan claimed she couldn’t apply for government jobs online, leading to a court ruling that the federal government needs to make its websites accessible by 2012. This is currently being appealed by the Canadian Government.
In Australia, web accessibility is specified under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The case of Maguire vs SOCOG 2000. Bruce Maguire, who is blind, sued the Sydney Olympic Games Organising Committee (SOCOG) over its inaccessible website and failure to provide braille alternatives for its ticketing and souvenir programmes. The court ruled Maguire was unlawfully discriminated against and that the SOCOG update its site to comply with accessibility standards. The case found that the lack of alternative text breached parts of the Disability Discrimination Act. So the Australian legal definition of discrimination includes web accessibility.
Last year the Federal Government committed to making all its websites accessible by the end of 2014. The Australian Human Rights Commission then recommended that all Australian websites follow the same rules. Although many websites remain difficult or even impossible for people using assistive technology to access, there is an ever-increasing push towards web developers and designers to realise that not everyone interacts with the web in the same way.
While it can be arduous, time consuming and really bloody frustrating, there are steps you can take to make web accessibility part of the agenda for corporations. As a hearing impaired person said to me recently, you don’t have to put up with the “suck it up sweetheart” response to complaints. There are channels you can use to put the pressure on.
Firstly, let them know. Write down all the things that prevent you from accessing the site. Flash content, bad links, bad colours, it all matters. Email them, introduce yourself and give them the list. It’s possible that the company in charge of the website has never heard of web accessibility. It’s likely that this will be a bit of an awakening for them. Website managers are usually grateful to receive feedback from users. However, if you’re not happy with the response you can take it further – all the way to the top if necessary.
If you’re not assured that the company is going to improve their sites, the next step is to take your complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). The AHRC deals with all complaints relating to disability discrimination. Here, your complaint may be investigated prior to holding a conciliation between both parties. If your complaints are upheld, the Commission may instruct the company to adopt a Disability Action Plan, resulting in web accessibility being improved.
If the AHRC doesn’t think conciliation is possible, the complaint will be terminated. You can then take your complaint to the Federal Court or the Federal Magistrates Court, claiming unlawful discrimination.
The important thing to remember is that although you might feel like the lone warrior, if you have trouble accessing something, chances are there are thousands of people with the same complaints. One email to a company about inaccessible content might not mean much to a multinational corporation, but a thousand people all threatening to withdraw their business is likely to get some attention.
Sarah Pulis is the Manager, Online Media and Digital Technology, at Media Access Australia and the convenor of the Australian Web Adaptability Initiative (OZeWAI) conference.
Reproduced from http://www.abc.net.au/rampup/articles/2011/12/19/3393485.htm