Condemned to repeat history

We adore Andrew Jennings, the shit-disturbing British journalist who has made a career of exposing corruption in the Olympic “movement.” Jennings pegged that saggy old fascist Juan Antonio Samaranch so very tidily when he wrote that Samaranch “is the only man who can summon a head of state in his own country.”

The Olympics, you see, are a parallel trans-national government (a world government, really) that gets exactly what it wants (NUblog passim) – with one tiny exception. As extensively documented in these pages, the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games repeatedly lost a human-rights case in Australia. Why? SOCOG and IBM refused to make easy changes to ensure accessibility of its Web content to a complainant who used a Braille display. They lost and lost again, and eventually were forced to pay complainant Bruce Maguire A$20,000.

Will history repeat itself with Salt Lake? Evidently yes.

Not only does the site tell you to get lost if you dare visit with an unapproved browser (“Please enable the ‘frames’ setting in your browser’s preferences or settings menu. Please enable the ‘scripts’ setting in your browser’s preferences or settings menu”), it exhibits one of the selfsame accessibility defects that got the old SOCOG in trouble – a lack of alt attributes on certain images (seen chiefly in the homepage’s lower frame). The upper frame also provides pull-down menus that cannot be run if scripts are deactivated.

Both issues would take minutes to fix by a competent developer, who, four months before the start of the Games, cannot exactly have a lot to do in the way of site maintenance.

What does that competent developer tell us about accessibility?

What can I say, I really think the majority of our users are very satisfied. We recently identified many opportunities to make the site more accessible, but to be honest, a lot of the improvements in Web technology in the last 10 years are due to things that seem to not conform with W3C accessibility guidelines. We try to keep the page weight down – alas, it’s heavier than it “needs” to be – but we’d start sacrificing a certain amount of content should we lighten if too much. Had I to do the site again, I’d probably not use frames, but a JS include for the masthead, but some people have problems with that too. In the end I think it’s important to recognize what you’re saying has merit.

But not enough merit to fix the problem.

It must be pointed out that the Americans with Disabilities Act unequivocally applies to U.S. Web sites. (Thorough evidence is available only in obscure legal journals not online, but it’s there, we’ve read it, and we’re republishing it later.) As we pointed out before, the SOCOG case established a worldwide precedent. An ADA discrimination lawsuit filed against yet another branch of the Olympic “movement” would not only cost far more than $20,000, it would actually receive blanket news coverage in the United States, except of course on NBC television.

But these are the Olympics we’re dealing with, and “Olympism” tends to consider itself above the law. We wonder how many times the “movement” must be dragged before tribunals on the same topic before it says uncle.

Posted on 2001-10-30