Roberta: The ability to buy an airline ticket online is a service that should be available to all people but the recent outcome of the law suit filed against Jet Blue Airways and California State doesn’t see it that way.
Today Sarah Pulis, manager of Digital Media and Technology from Media Access Australia is going to talk to us about the law suit against Jet Blue Airways and what the outcomes means for people with disabilities. So joining us in the studio is Sarah, hi Sarah.
Sarah: Hi Roberta.
Roberta: What was the complaint submitted against Jet Blue Airways?
Sarah: Well the California Council of the Blind and three Californian residents with vision impairment filed a law suit against Jet Blue Airways in the Federal Court for the Northern District of California in August last year. The law suit alleged that Jet Blue had violated California law by having a website that was inaccessible to individuals with a vision impairment.
The complaint was filed after Jet Blue actually refused to participate in a mediation process where blind individuals, their representing organisations and lawyers work together with the likes of Jet Blue to resolve complex accessibility issues without it having to go to Court. But in this case, that didn’t happen.
Roberta: So what was the outcome of the hearing?
Sarah: Well look the Judge ruled that the California State Anti Discrimination Laws do not apply to airline websites and also to kiosks as well. The actual US Federal Laws are a little complex but essentially what has happened is that the Courts have ruled that the laws set by the Federal Department of Transport actually override the State legislation, so in this case the California legislation.
The problem is that Federal laws for transport are actually extremely weak and don’t require airlines to have accessible websites. It’s actually the second case where a Federal Judge has ruled that these laws override State legislation. The first case was filed against United and unfortunately this set a precedent for the latest case against Jet Blue.
Roberta: So what does this mean for people who are blind and vision impaired Sarah?
Sarah: Well the ruling respectively slams the door on the right for people with disabilities to full inclusion to these online services offered by the airline. The law is letting people with disabilities down by offering them no chance for recourse against the airlines in the Court. The Federal Department of Transport has refused to require accessible websites. Essentially what they are doing is they are bowing to industry pressure to delay updating these regulations, saying that to make airlines build accessible websites would be too difficult and too expensive.
It’s actually really disappointing that these myths around accessibility are still being used. What’s also disappointing is the airlines like Jet Blue and United are essentially using these flawed laws like a shield instead of just recognising that they have a responsibility to all people, irrespective of ability, and just getting on with the job of making their website accessible.
Roberta: So how accessible are other airline websites?
Sarah: Look it’s pretty patchy. There was actually a report put out by Nomensa, which is the Digital Agency specialising in web accessibility and they assessed ten UK travel websites and this includes some of the websites that we use in Australia like Expedia. What they did is they took two representative pages, the home page and the customer support page or help page and actually tested it against the web content accessibility guidelines.
The result showed that no website met the most basic level of web accessibility which is Level A, so already you know that shows that there are barriers for people with disabilities who are wanting to access the services online. So unfortunately it’s not great.
Roberta: So how does that affect us in Australia?
Sarah: Our rules are slightly different. We certainly haven’t got the setup of the Department of Transport, but it’s interesting to see what is happening around the world and to see that there are still organisations who are not recognising that it’s not about what the laws say, it is really about basic human rights.
It’s about allowing people to access to these services, it’s about making websites accessible and we need to get rid of these, it’s too expensive, it’s too hard, you know it’s just not the case anymore, it doesn’t stand up and we need to, I guess have a change in perception.
Roberta: So there is a lot of work to be done.
Sarah: There is.
Roberta: Well thanks for talking to us today Sarah. To keep up with the last news in media access, visit the Media Access Australia website at mediaaccess.org.au. There you will find practical information about access to television, DVD, cinema and the arts and digital technology and online media. Alternatively, if you have a question you can email Media Access Australia at email@example.com or call 02 9212 6242 for more information. Thank you Sarah.
Sarah: Thanks very much Roberta.
Roberta: I have been speaking with Sarah Pulis, manager of Digital Media and Technology for Media Access Australia and Media Access Australia are supporters of this program.
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