A summary of the seminal case relating to Inaccessible Websites and Disability Discrimination Legislation

In June 1999 Bruce Maguire lodged a complaint with the Human Rights & Equal Opportunities Commission under the Australian Disability Discrimination Act. His complaint was that he was being discriminated against because he could not access the contents of the Olympic Games website.

As a highly skilled user of a refreshable Braille display he was used to being able to access the content of web pages, however, he was unable to access important content on the Olympic Games website.

He won the case, but the Olympic Committee did not make the required changes, and subsequently he was awarded $20,000 dollars in compensation.

The Olympic Games website contained the following accessibility issues:

  • There were no labels on images or imagemaps.
  • There was no access to the index of sport pages from the schedule page
  • The contents of the results table were inaccessible.

The Olympic Committee defence

SOCOG said that:

  • The issues with the alt attributes had been solved – and that labels had been added to all images.
  • The sports pages could be accessed via an alternative route, i.e., by typing in URLs to the pages.
  • The site was not subject to the act because it was ‘promotional’.
  • The site was too big and to make the website accessible would entail ‘unjustifiable hardship’.
  • It would require additional infrastructure, time and resources costing $2.2 million.
  • 1, 295 templates would need to be altered.
  • One person working 8 hours per day would take over a year to fix the problems.

SOCAG reasons were not accepted

All of the above reasons where conclusively repudiated by Australian Authorities and expert witnesses.

The Human Rights Committee did not agree that the site was only promotional and said that it was a service provided during the Sydney Olympic Games.

The Commission found that having to access pages by typing in a long URL did not constitute equal treatment,

“The proposed alternative is both unorthodox and cumbersome and need not be resorted to by a sighted person.’

Expert witnesses dismissed the arguments related to the site being too big to change; i.e., they refuted the claim that the cost, complexity and time involved would mean unjustifiable hardship for SOCOG.

Expert witnesses concluded that,

  • Changes would take a developer with 4-10 helpers four weeks.
  • Only 394 templates would be required.
  • No new infrastructure would be required.
  • The cost of making the site accessible would be modest.
  • Accessibility tags are not different from other tags, therefore, would not take any longer to add.

Expert witness Tom Worthington, expressed the view that the corrections would take less time than the time which was consumed talking about it.

SOCOG lost the case and were ordered to make changes by adding alt attributes, providing access to the Sports pages and making the results tables accessible. They refused to comply and were fined $20,000 (Australian dollars).

The Commission found that Bruce Maguire had been discriminated against and that the attitude of SOCOG – who had not taken the complaint seriously – had caused ‘considerable feelings of hurt, humiliation and rejection’.

The Bruce Maguire v the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games set a worldwide precedent relating to the requirement for websites to be accessible in countries with similar disability discrimination legislation.


This article was written by Jim Byrne, a Web site accessibility specialist since 1996. He is the founder of the Worldwide Guild of Accessible Web Designers and author of the QnECMS – the accessible CMS.

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