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WCAG and "undue hardship"

From: Greg Gay <g.gay@utoronto.ca>
Date: Mon, 29 May 2000 15:16:01 -0400
Message-ID: <3932C1F0.3EC76711@utoronto.ca>
To: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org, Wendy Chisholm <wendy@w3.org>
To the GL list for Discussion

WCAG and “undue hardship”

We are currently involved in the evaluation of the accessibility of a
popular online course authoring package, the developers of which have
taken the initiative to make to products, or courses, created with their
software, WCAG A compliant. Here in Canada there is a clause in the
accessibility legislation that protects, in particular, employers who
are faced with excessive costs to create an accessible work environment.
Excessive cost is considered an “undue hardship”.

The the course authoring software uses Javascript  in virtually all of
its authoring tools. To provide alternatives would mean a complete
rebuild of the software, and the functionality of the software would be
affected considerably. In my opinion this rebuild would represent undue
hardship for this developer. Second, since the vast majority of browsers
today support Javascript (to whatever extent), and these browsers are
generally free in an educational setting, is it not acceptable to ask
that students use such a browser. Do we ask this developer to spend a
half a million dollars to rebuild their software, or do we ask the few
lynx users to download Internet Explorer for free? How long do we hang
onto legacy technologies as a basis for writing accessibility
guidelines, when those guidelines stunt progress?

Currently the WCAG lists alternatives for scripts (6.3) as a priority 1
item. This effectively limits many web developers from making use of the
functionality Javascript has to offer, and I believe it is unreasonable
to list script alternatives as a “must do” item. In the case of the
developer we are working with, they have gone to great lengths to
improve the accessibility of the course products created with their
software, but are unable to comply with the A conformance
recommendations  without rebuilding the underlying structure of there
product. I believe it is unreasonable to deny this developer a label
that states they are complying with the WCAG guidelines when there
product supports accessibility for most of the technologies currently

In the next draft of WCAG, item 6.3 should be moved up to a priority 2

I would like some guidance on this issue. How do we address the use of
technology, such as javascript, when that technology has been
accommodated in the majority of browsers and adaptive technologies, and
represents a barrier to only a small number of users. These users have
available to them at no cost, the technology that will eliminate these
barriers. Can we grant this developer the A conformance label based on
the “undue hardship” argument? Or, will the next version of the WCAG
recognize Javascript as standard web technology, and ask for
alternatives to script as a “should do” item, rather than a “must do”


Greg Gay
Centre for Academic and Adaptive Technology
University of Toronto
416 978-4043
ICQ 9020587
Received on Monday, 29 May 2000 15:16:22 UTC

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