Disability discrimination: Sydney Olympic Games ticketing

Mr Maguire is a blind man who lodged two complaints of unlawful disability discrimination against the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG).

The first complaint related to the ticket book that was distributed to those who wished to buy tickets to the Games. The ticket book was lengthy and highly complex, involving a large number of tables. Mr Maguire could not read the print copy and requested a Braille copy of the ticket book from SOCOG.

In relation to the first complaint, SOCOG stated that they would not provide a Braille copy but did offer to read the ticket book to Mr Maguire. This did not provide real access to the ticket book. They also provided an electronic copy, but this did not provide effective access because of defects in formatting for accessibility.

The second complaint related to SOCOG’s website. Mr Maguire wanted to access the website and keep up to date with current news of the Games. Mr Maguire had software and hardware that enabled him to read websites that are formatted to provide access. SOCOG’s website was not formatted correctly and was therefore inaccessible to him.

These cases related to access for people with disability to information about and news of the largest sporting and cultural event in Australia’s history, the 2000 Olympic Games.

PIAC represented Mr Maguire in his complaints to the (then) Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC). At the hearing of the first complaint, Commissioner Carter found that SOCOG had indirectly discriminated against Mr Maguire on the ground of his disability as it required him to comply with a requirement (reading the print ticket book):

  • with which a substantially higher proportion of sighted people were able to comply; and
  • that was not reasonable having regard to the circumstances of the case; and
  • with which Mr Maguire was not able to comply.

The Commissioner rejected SOCOG’s argument of unjustifiable hardship, essentially that the cost and time of producing the Braille version outweighed the benefit to Mr Maguire and others, noting that the cost of printing and distributing the ticket book was $7.18 million compared to a cost of up to $17,500 on the preparation of 200 copies in Braille. The Commission ordered the second and subsequent ticket books be provided in Braille.

At the hearing of the second complaint, Commissioner Carter found that SOCOG had indirectly discriminated against Mr Maguire by failing to make the website accessible to him. Once again the Commissioner rejected SOCOG’s argument of unjustifiable hardship, which was that the cost and time of changing the website outweighed the benefit to Mr Maguire and others. SOCOG had argued that one person working eight hour days would require 368 days to complete the task properly and it would cost $2.2 million. The Commission accepted Mr Maguire’s expert’s evidence that it would take four weeks and cost around $30,000.

This case received considerable media and professional attention and was the first case in relation to access to websites in the world.

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