Government warned on Web site discrimination

The man who sued SOCOG over Web site accessibility has warned that rising complaints against government Web sites' use of PDF documents are being made under commonwealth law.

Bruce Maguire, the disabled rights advocate who sued the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games for providing a site inaccessible to blind people, said the government's trend towards online PDF documents was attracting "a growing number of DDA [Disability Discrimination Act] complaints".

Maguire liases with government in his role as policy and project officer, disability rights unit, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. He has worked on Web accessibility with the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink, and the now defunct National Office for the Information Economy.

Adobe's portable document format (PDF), used by many government sites, remains relatively inaccessible to the blind or visually impaired, Maguire told attendees at the Web Essentials 04 conference in Sydney last week.

"Software does exist to use these formats," Maguire said.

"But the training required and the financial freedom of the $1000 to upgrade to software to read the documents is beyond most disabled people.

"It's the commission's view that where PDF is used and the information is not provided in an [accessible] alternative file format, the organization is libel to action," he said. With the support of the commission, Maguire used the DDA to claim $20,000 in damages from SOCOG in 2000.

While it remains one of few high profile Web accessiblity cases, many claims go unseen by the public, Maguire said.

"I field many calls from distraught Web developers asking why they weren't contacted before a DDA complaint was lodged against them," he said.

"But there is no rule that you must be contacted before a complaint is lodged."

The commission has a 'dialogue and consultation' approach before pursuing legal claims of 'unjustifiable hardship'.

However, an organization defending such a case today would stand little chance, Maguire said.

"It's hard to see how a Web site could succeed these days with a complaint of unjustifiable hardship given the considerable amount of information and techniques that exist for making Web sites accessible."

A demonstration of the Web site for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was later shown as an example of over-reliance on image-based information.

Maguire's claims come despite an Australian Council of Government Ministers directive that all government Web sites be accessible to people with a disability.

More about Adobe SystemsAustralian Taxation OfficeCentrelinkHuman Rights and Equal Opportunity CommissionNational Office for the Information EconomySOCOG

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