Gisele Mesnage, who is vision impaired, uses screen
reading technology (which converts screen text to speech) to
navigate internet sites. Coles (that supermarket giant) offers its
goods and services online through its website. Ms Mesnage claims
that Coles' online shopping site is partly incompatible with
the screen reading technology making it extremely difficult for her
to use the service independently.
In what appears to be the first Court action based on web
accessibility (the AHRC ruled on this issue back in 2000), Ms
Mesnage has lodged a claim in the Federal Circuit Court claiming
Coles has discriminated against her on the basis of her
The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act places a general
prohibition on discrimination in, among other things, the provision
of goods and services (including those provided online). That
includes indirect discrimination, so Coles' blanket
requirements that all customers use an incompatible website could
fall under that definition.
An exception to the prohibition exists where to avoid the
discrimination would impose an 'unjustifiable hardship' on
the person or company providing the goods or services. The
consideration of what is an unjustifiable hardship requires
consideration of the company's financial circumstances and how
much it would cost to be non-discriminatory. Note: Coles is way
The law aside, it's not a good look for Coles. Australia has
ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
which calls on signatories to 'promote access for persons with
disabilities to new information and communications technologies and
systems, including the Internet' and to 'urge private
entities that provide services to the general public, including
through the internet, in accessible and usable formats for persons
And if international law wasn't enough (which, let's be
honest, it isn't), the Australian Human Rights Commission has
endorsed, and Australian government agencies are required to comply
with, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines released by the
World Wide Web Consortium. Those guidelines directly consider
access of websites by screen reading technology. So there's
plenty of reference material out there.
We'll keep you posted on the case and, in the meantime,
maybe have a look at your own website.
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quite proud of it really.
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