Can You Be Sued For Not Upgrading Your Browsers?

A blog post on the Justin Thorp’s Oatmeal blog informs me that “all the major browsers are now doing something to support [WAI-ARIA]“. And I quickly find that the Paciello Group confirms IE 8’s support for ARIA: their blog posts describes the Microsoft’s announcement that “Internet Explorer 8 uses ARIA role, state, and property information to communicate with assistive technologies” as “amazing news in terms of WAI ARIA implementation!“.

And, as might be expected, the Firefox browser also supports ARIA (Accessibility Rich Internet Applications) – W3C WAI’s guideline for ensuring that richly interactive Web services which make use of technologies such as JavaScript to enhance their accessibility, usability and functionality can be used by a variety of client devices, including assistive technologies.

The support for ARIA by mainstream browsers is clearly good news and, with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines now available as a Candidate Recommendation, it is now timely for institutions to begin planning how they will respond to these pleasing developments – especially for those in the educational sector who should be in the process of planning upgrades to their technlcal environment and corresponding policies, training, etc. during the summer vacation.

The simple response would be to suggest that institutions should migrate to the latest version of Firefox during the summer vacation (and note that the Firefox 3 Candidate Release was announced a few days ago). However when I suggested last year that Firefox was the researchers’ favourite application both Mark Sammons and Phil Wilson pointed out the difficulties of managing Firefox across the enterprise. And Mark has recently posted that the situation does not appear to have progressed significantly since then – indeed Mark, creator of the Firefox ADM enterprise administration tool in a post on The Firefox Enterprise Issue Hits the Media has argued that “the real problem with Firefox in the enterprise: Mozilla“.

But if Mark is correct and organisations are likely to find it difficult to manage the deployment and maintenance of Firefox across the enterprise at least IE 8 (and, also, I should add, Opera) are available which have support for the ARIA guidelines.

We also know that institutions have regarded support for WAI WCAG guidelines as important with many institutions making policy statements regarding their support for the guidelines. But as WAI have also regarded the WCAG guidelines as just one of a set of guidelines which need to be implemented in order to ensure that resources are widely accessible, surely it is clear that institutions should also be supporting the UAAG guidelines and ensure that the browsers deployed across the organisation support these guidelines. And surely that means upgrading to the latest version of IE, Firefox or, possibly, Opera.

Or to put it another way, if you fail to do this is your institution likely to be in breach of accessibility legislation which requires organisations to take reasonable measures to ensure that people with disabilities aren’t discriminated against unfairly?


  1. Hmmmm…. and interesting dilemma for the coders: Add in the ARIA attributes, and lose xhtml validity; or stick with validating pages and forgo the ARIA extensions.

    xhtml validity, it has to be agreed, is a strong bastion for building accessible, cross-platform, well-founded web pages…. can one live with the assertion “This page is compliant with the xhtml 1.0 strict specification, however has the ARIA extensions added”

  2. “xhtml validity, it has to be agreed, ”

    Actually it doesn’t, and I don’t. The cake is a lie.

    On Brian’s note, it depends whether the rollout of a new browser (or version of an existing browser) is easy enough to be counted as a suitably “reasonable” measure doesn’t it?

  3. As Phil says, the notion that strict compliance with HTML standards is a pre-requiste for building accessibility and interoperable services has been show to not be the case (a in a XHTML 1 document or an unescaped ampersand is unlikely to adversely affect the accessibility of the page). The WCAG 2.0 guidelines have now accepted the evidence and dropped stricy compliance. Indeed as one of the keynote speakers said at the W4A 2007 accessibility conference, develoiping accessible Web sites is more important that complying with guidelines.

    And I would agree with Phil’s point about the need to take ‘reasonable measures’. Unfortunately that attitude wasn’t taken by accessibility fundamentalist who argued that it meant they couldn’t provide services which may have proved useful to many.

  4. Let’s keep in mind that WAI-ARIA support is still in the beginning stages. Other than Firefox, the support out there is still experimental. The best thing to do now IMO is to support the Web 2.0 accessibility effort by helping developers find the information they need. For example:
    Best Practices Guide:

    Upgrading to Firefox 3 in order to not get sued would be the worst reason to upgrade. There are lots of nice things in the release, such as vastly lower memory consumption.

    The validation issue is being addressed. When WAI-ARIA becomes final, I suspect it will be possible to validate. We should all keep in mind though, that the purpose of validation is really to help authors find bugs.

  5. could adobe be sued for making flash? any suit for accessibility is just stupid.


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