IIA warning: Improve site accessibility

The Internet Industry Association (IIA) has warned online businesses to design user-friendly Web sites for the disabled or face the risk of legal proceedings.

The IIA's warning comes hot on the heels of a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) decision issued late last week.

As part of the decision, HREOC Inquiry commissioner William Carter, QC, recommended SOCOG design a more customised Web site to accommodate disabled users after ruling on August 24 it denied blind user Bruce Maguire's access to the site.

Maguire made a discrimination complaint to the HREOC in June, claiming SOCOG had failed to "provide Braille copies of information needed to place orders for tickets; of the Games souvenir program, and [failed] to provide a Web site which was accessible to the complainant," a HREOC decision statement read.

The HREOC ruled SOCOG's site was "effectively inaccessible to a blind person." SOCOG faces a September 15 deadline to "do all that is necessary to render its Web site accessible to the complainant."

"It is unfortunate that SOCOG did not use the official site to showcase world best practice and more fully embrace the Olympic spirit of inclusiveness," said Peter Coroneos, executive director of the IIA.

He stressed the onus was on the business commissioning Internet work to keep design requirements for the disabled on their agenda - not Web developers, Internet service providers (ISPs) or systems integrators, as demonstrated by the Maguire-SOCOG case, he said.

Potential commercial benefits of adhering to statutory guidelines on sound Web design were equally important for businesses, Coroneos believed.

"Sites which meet accessibility guidelines can capture a larger section of the market," he said. "HREOC estimates that almost one in five Australians suffer some form of disability, including problems brought about by age. Well-designed sites can assist those people.

"In addition, they are faster loading, more accessible by mobile text-based Internet devices and by those in areas where telecommunications infrastructure is still poor," Coroneos added.

He insisted design rules were simple. For instance, if sites used graphics, both PDF and HTML files should be incorporated for disabled users, he said. Meeting this group's requirements added "very little" to development costs, he added.

According to Coroneos, "millions of dollars" were at stake if businesses ignored disabled users' access needs in their Web infrastructure design. "Anyone who is going to invest in a Web presence would be most unwise if they didn't optimise the site for disabled access," he said.

However, he maintained the IIA was not criticising SOCOG, nor was it trying to use the Maguire-SOCOG case as a yardstick for online businesses.

SOCOG public relations was not available for comment before press time.