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UPDATE: SOCOG faces damages over Web site

The Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) is expected to appear before the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) again as early as October.

In a worldwide landmark case, the organisation is facing a damages claim from an Australian blind man, Bruce Maguire, after it failed to comply with a ruling from HREOC to make the official Olympics website (http://www.olympics.com) accessible to visually impaired people.

Two weeks before the start of the Sydney Olympics, SOCOG was ordered to update its website to accommodate disabled users following an inquiry by the HREOC and a discrimination complaint from Maguire. Under an HREOC Tribunal determination, SOCOG had until September 15, the start of the Olympic Games, to make the changes.

Maguire has already successfully sued SOCOG after the organisation failed to produce Braille versions of its official ticket book.

According to Greg Kirk, principal solicitor of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), which was acting on behalf of Maguire in a hearing held in August, HREOC ruled that if SOCOG failed to comply with the Tribunal's determination it would be ordered to pay damages.

During the hearing, SOCOG argued that making the necessary changes would incur additional costs and difficulties, but reportedly said, "We'll see what we can do."

According to Kirk, "some minor changes" have occurred on the site, but substantial changes, such as access to the results table, have not been made.

Meanwhile, IBM, the official technology provider and host of the site, is staying quiet. "It's not a technology issue," officials said, adding that IBM already has the technology needed to adequately equip the site for visually impaired people.

Kirk said the case will be re-listed before the Tribunal in October to assess the level of loss and damage against Maguire. New evidence in the matter is expected to be heard after the Olympics, with a decision expected within weeks, Kirk said.

The amount of money Maguire can expect to receive for losses and damages is unknown.

"It's hard to assess," Kirk said. "The Tribunal will assess the case based on Maguire's evidence of what he missed out on and . . . the effect it had on his family."

More importantly, Kirk said, "(The case) is about setting standards for the future and making sure websites are accessible."

The case also raises the possibility of a class action to be brought against SOCOG on behalf of all visually impaired people who wished to access the site, Kirk said. PIAC is planning to represent such a class action.