A landmark legal ruling on how UK anti-discrimination law applies to online content is in doubt after Project Management International (PMI), a professional body that offers membership through distance learning programmes, launched an appeal to overturn an earlier decision that it discriminated against a blind IT manager in the UK.
The appeal by PMI aims to overturn a ruling at Reading Employment Tribunal, in November 2006, that it failed to make reasonable adjustments for Sumaira “Sam” Latif to access a computer-based examination. The judgment is thought to be the first time a ruling has been made against a provider of online content under the UK Disability Discrimination Act.
Her case, which was supported by the Disability Rights Commission, claimed that PMI discriminated against her in three separate ways: by making unreasonable demands to confirm that she suffered a disability; by failing to provide accessible course material; and by failing to make reasonable adjustments for her to sit the final examination.
The tribunal dismissed the first two claims, but agreed that Latif suffered discrimination when it came to the final examination, known as the Project Management Professional Credential Examination. This consists of 200 multiple choice questions, some including complex graphs and charts, which candidates must complete in four hours. Candidates access the examination material through networked computer terminals at 15 test centres in the UK. Latif was awarded compensation of 3,000 pounds “in respect of the injury to her feelings”.
In the event, Latif passed the exam, but felt that PMI failed to address her needs adequately. Her request to use a screen reader in the examination room was refused, as was her request for tactile diagrams of graphs and charts. Latif was given the option of either not taking the examination, or completing a paper-based version with the assistance of a human reader supplied by PMI. “I was told I could only meet the reader half an hour before the exam. He had no experience of reading for a blind person,” Latif told E-Access Bulletin.
According to the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), the appeal is unlikely to be heard before April. PMI is likely to argue that it made reasonable adjustments for Latif, and also that too much of the burden of proof was placed on PMI to show that it hadn’t acted in a discriminatory way, rather than on Latif to show that it had, said the DRC.