Disability Discrimination Act – Australia

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) aims to eliminate discrimination against persons on the grounds of disability in the area of work, accommodation, education, access to premises, clubs and sport; and the provision of goods, facilities and services. The DDA also seeks to ensure that persons with disabilities have the same rights to equality before the law as people without disabilities. Finally, it endeavors to promote recognition and acceptance within the community on the principle that persons with disabilities have the same rights as the rest of society.The provision of information and online services through the Internet is a service covered by the DDA. This requirement applies to any individual or organization developing a web page in Australia or placing or maintaining a web page on an Australian server. Therefore, the DDA specifically covers web pages developed or maintained for purposes relating to employment, education, provision of services, banking, insurance or financial services, entertainment or recreation, telecommunication services, public transport services, government services, and administration of federal laws or programs. Moreover, the provision of other information or goods, services or facilities through the Internet is a service in itself. Hence, the DDA covers discrimination in the provision of this service. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) is responsible for promoting the objectives of the DDA and provides advice regarding the implications of the Act for website operators.

The standard for web content accessibility is the WCAG 1.0. In June 2000, the Online Council, representing federal and state government, agreed that these standards were the best practice standards for all Australian government websites. Furthermore, with the release of Better Services, Better Government: The Federal Government’s E-government Strategy in November 2002, the Australian government’s minimum website standards and enablers remain relevant. Additionally, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO – formerly NOIE) has been working with key agencies to promote good practice in implementing website standards and enablers across the public service. The standards relate to minimum information provision, electronic publishing, Metadata, recordkeeping and archiving, accessibility, security, privacy, and authentication. These standards have been issued by agencies with policy responsibility for each standard, which include the National Archives of Australia (NAA), HREOC, the Defense Signals Directorate (DSD) and the Privacy Commission. AGIMO is responsible for the authentication and information provision issues. Each agency has issued detailed documentation on each standard, which are available from their websites.

The first adjudicated case in the world on constructing accessible web sites occurred in Australia in 1999. A blind citizen complained that he had been discriminated against by the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games’ (SOCOG) failure to produce a ticketing book in Braille (Maguire v. SOCOG No. H 99/115). The complexity of the ticket book was such that having the print version read out either by SOCOG’s telephone help line or by a personal aide was not an effective substitute. The electronic version provided at a late stage did not provide effective access because of defects in formatting for accessibility. The HREOC found that a dominant issue on this point was the fact that the complainant and perhaps others similarly disabled were effectively denied access to the ticketing process. As a result of this discriminatory act, the complainant could not and did not apply for tickets in the first round of allocation. However, the HREOC ordered that the second and subsequent ticket books be provided in Braille and that the respondent take other steps to ensure that the complainant had an effective opportunity to choose and secure tickets.

In response to this case, the Australian Human Rights Commission released the World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes – Version 4.0 in October 2010. This document requires that web designers publish accessible content online, as per WCAG 2.0 levels A and AA standards. The scope of the document is similar to the ADA, but with a clear application to web sites hosted on servers in Australia.

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