In 2014 Gisele Mesnage, a blind woman, sued Coles over the poor accessibility of its website. The supermarket giant settled, agreeing to make its digital assets more accessible, later admitting “we didn’t have accessibility in our DNA”.

Last week Coles collected the award for corporate website of the year at the inaugural Australian Access Awards, a new initiative by industry and not for profit group Centre For Accessibility.

Coles built an entirely new version of its online store with accessibility in mind, including a focus on a simplified experience and reducing the time to complete an order – foundational aspects of inclusive design. 

The award marks a dramatic turnaround for Coles on accessibility and gave the former plaintiff a “buzz”. 

Mesnage, who runs accessibility organisation The Digital Gap Initiative, nominated Coles for the award after witnessing the turnaround, and told Which-50 she was thrilled to read they had won in Fremantle last week.

“It was five years ago that I lodged a [Disability Discrimination Act] complaint against Coles Online in the Federal Circuit Court, and it’s a buzz to see Coles Online now acknowledged for their accessibility efforts.

“Since fixing the website, Coles has never dropped the ball on accessibility. They have gone on to implement accessibility across all their digital assets, and also in-store, with such projects as ‘Quiet Hour’ [a scheduled time when noise and distractions are reduced in store for customers who find it challenging to shop in a heightened sensory environment].”

Coles chief information and digital officer, Roger Sniezek, says accessibility is now a core value for the company and it is proud to be recognised at the awards.

Coles chief information and digital officer, Roger Sniezek.

“Our goal is digital equality,” Sniezek told Which-50. “Our intention is to deliver inclusive experiences for everyone.

 “Since we relaunched an accessible Coles Online website in 2016, our focus on digital accessibility has continued to grow. This award is the culmination of a lot of hard work from numerous teams and partners over the past five years dedicated to achieving and maintaining digital accessibility every day on Coles Online.”

Currently undergoing an organisation wide digital transformation, Coles has added a dedicated digital accessibility team which helps to provide a consistent and continuous access to Coles Online and other Coles websites for customers with disabilities.

The importance of accessibility is gaining increased recognition in Australia but advocates still struggle generating awareness and many of the most popular apps and websites still do not meet accessibility guidelines which have been the standard for a decade.

Sniezek says Coles is also working with community groups to advance the conversation and foster digital inclusiveness.

Accessibility Award Winners

The ABC News app picked up both the government app of the year award and the overall award for accessible app of the year. ANZ won corporate app of the year and Gian Wild, an accessibility advocate, was recognised as the accessibility person of the year.

The full awards winners are:

Not-for-profit/community website of the year

Not-for-profit/community app of the year

Government website of the year

Government app of the year

Educational website of the year       

Educational app of the year

Corporate website of the year

Corporate app of the year

Accessibility initiative of the year

Accessibility person/organisation of the year

Accessible App of the Year

Accessible Website of the Year

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