Olympics site won’t be accessible to the blind

Sydney Olympic Games organisers say it will “not be possible” to make the official Web site accessible to the blind before the Opening Ceremony — despite an order from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HEREOC).

Sydney Olympic Games organisers say it will “not be possible” to make the official Web site accessible to the blind before the Opening Ceremony — despite an order from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HEREOC).

“This would cost in excess of AU$2 million and 368 working days to complete,” a Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) spokesperson told ZDNet Australia.

A complaint of discrimination was brought against SOCOG in June 1999 by Bruce Maguire — himself a blind person — who claimed the official Olympics site was inaccessible to blind people and that it did not comply with the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) guidelines for accessibility.

SOCOG claimed that making such changes “would be hugely expensive and hugely time consuming and even place the site at risk”.

However, this advice was rejected by the commission, which handed down its decision on August 24.

”[Commissioner Carter] rejected SOCOG’s assertions that it is too difficult, too onerous, too time consuming, too risky and too expensive,” to make the site accessible in time for the games, Maguires’s solicitor Simon Moran said at a press conference, Monday.

Moran said it would cost SOCOG an estimated AU$30,000 to AU$40,000 to make the necessary changes to the site.

Commissioner Carter ordered that SOCOG “do all that is necessary to render its Web site accessible to the complainant by September 15”. This would mean including Alt-text tags on all images and image map links, providing access to an index of sports on the schedule page and providing access to the results table to be used on the Web site during the Olympics.

“Most of the olympics.com site can be accessed by Mr Maguire,” the SOCOG spokesperson said. “However, IBM’s advice to us is that it is not feasible to meet Mr Maguire’s demand that real-time results tables be reformatted for his use.” IBM were contracted to design the site www.olympics.com.

Moran said that Commissioner Carter had “foreshadowed that these changes might not be made by SOCOG” and had invited Maguire to return to the commission after the games for an assessment of damages if the changes were not made.
“If SOCOG do not make the changes to the Web site that the commissioner has ordered, it will be a deliberate choice that they make to exclude me and other blind people from participating in the experience of the Olympic Games,” Maguire said. “SOCOG’s management and board have to be held personally accountable for that deliberate, conscious and pre-meditated choice.”

Maguire said he would accept the commissioner’s invitation to seek damages if the changes were not made. “There’s a strong probability that there will be a class action brought by other blind people in Australia against SOCOG,” if the changes are not made, Maguire said.

SOCOG wouldn’t comment on the commission’s decision to assess damages were the changes not made.

“Sydney 2000 is committed to ensuring accessibility to visually impaired users to as much of its site as possible where this can be achieved in a timely and cost effective manner,” SOCOG’s spokesperson said.

Author: Rachel Lebihan

News Service: ZDNet Australia

URL: http://www.msnbc.com/news/452125.asp

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