Newsletter 14

7 November, 2014

In this issue

  1. Coles sued over inaccessible web site
  2. Florida State University investigated over inaccessible employment website
  3. Quote of the Week
  4. Stat of the week

Coles sued over inaccessible web site

A screen reader user, Gisele Mesnage, has initiated proceedings against Coles in the Federal Court alleging that their online shopping website unlawfully discriminates against her. Ms Mesnage alleges that she has had ongoing problems accessing the web site since 2008 and despite some remediation work by Coles, the site is not consistently accessible to her.

Discrimination complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) are lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Commission investigates complaints and attempts to resolve them, often via conciliation. Where conciliation is unsuccessful the complainant may apply to have the matter heard in the Federal Court of Australia.

Ms Mesnage's claim will most likely involve section 24 of the DDA which makes it unlawful for a person who provides goods or services to discriminate against another person on the grounds of their disability by either refusing to offer goods or services, or by discriminating in the manner in which services are offered. Section 5 states that a person discriminates against another person on the ground of a disability if they fail to make reasonable adjustments for them.

In response to Ms Mesnage's complaint, Coles has stated that it "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."

If the case proceeds to hearing, Coles will most likely argue that it already has made reasonable adjustments for Ms Mesnage and that further adjustments would be an unjustifiable hardship as outlined in Section 11 of the Act.

  • The effect of Ms Mesnage's disability
  • The benefit that Ms Mesnage is likely to accrue from being able to shop online
  • The financial circumstances of Coles and the amount of expenditure required in order to make the site accessible
  • Whether Coles included requirements in relation to web accessibility when developing its web site and planning for updates
  • Whether Coles tested its website with users with disabilities prior to release
  • Whether Coles has in place an action plan for eliminating discrimination in the provision of goods and services and

It is clear that Coles have made an effort to make their online shopping site accessible. The site uses styles such as class="accessibility" and ARIA attributes such as aria-hidden="true" to display information differently for users of adaptive technologies. However this is often a sign that a site has been retrofitted to make it accessible rather than built with accessibility in mind in the first place. Such sites inevitably end up being less accessible, regardless of how much money is thrown at them afterwards, or as Jared Smith from WebAIM puts it, "Applying accessibility techniques to an unusable site is like putting lipstick on a pig. No matter how much you apply, it will always be a pig."

Florida State University investigated over inaccessible employment website

On June 5th, the US Department of Justice reached a settlement with Florida State University regarding the inaccessibility of it's employment web site and mobile applications.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division said that, “The Justice Department is committed to knocking down employment barriers for people with disabilities, and we commend the FSU for its cooperation and continuing efforts to improve accessibility for all job applicants.”

In Victoria, investigations into systemic discrimination can be launched by the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

Quote of the week

"Don't assume that using a wheelchair is in itself a tragedy. It's a means of freedom that allows the user to move about."

Australian Quadriplegic Association

Stat of the week

  • 52% of WCAG 2.0 guidelines relate to vision impairments.
  • 26% relate to cognitive impairments
  • 16% relate to mobility impairments
  • 6% relate to hearing impairments

Previous Issues

Previous issues of the Web Accessibility Newsletter are available here.

Contact Andrew Normand, Web Accessibility Program Leader
Phone: +61 3 9035 4867