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Accessibility Insanity

Part of my responsibilities for SharePoint these days involves markup cleanliness and accessibility, so over the last couple of years I have educated myself on the ins and outs of these issues, and have managed to learn a lot about browser behavior, the history of markup, etc. I am far from an expert, but I know a heck of a lot more than I did when I started.

One school of thought I come across quite frequently is that web content whose markup is not well-formed or is missing required attributes or something just fail to render completely, in order to ensure that all content on the web is gorgeous, standards-compliant markup. This ridiculously draconian viewpoint loses sight of the fact that the ultimate goal of delivering content over the web is just that – delivering content. It seems bad form for a browser to just “give up” when markup is badly formed, because the end-goal of the person building the page – and the person consuming it – is to deliver content. Much of this debate has been chronicled by the IE team; they have a tough job – bring the standards compliance of IE into this century without breaking their customers/users pages. Hence compatibility mode, legacy rendering, etc. etc.

In the past, I’ve always heard this argument from the standards-compliance standpoint. For example, if a page claims to be XHTML but isn’t fully compliant, it should fail to render in a browser. No “best-effort” rendering, just fail. This of course ignores the fact that even the W3C can’t create a parser that can completely validate a page against the spec, but that’s a rant for another time… Assuming the browser can detect that a page is non- compliant, it should just stop.

Anyway, this is a long and winding intro to a post Mark Pilgrim wrote talking about this viewpoint as it applies to accessibility. I had never heard these arguments before, but apparently they’re out there. A choice quote from Mark’s rebuttal (emphasis mine):

I think it would be wise for people who truly care about accessibility to take a closer look at the so-called “experts” who are participating on their behalf, and to understand exactly what these people are proposing. It’s true that some of their proposals have not been adopted, but it’s not because some cartoonishly monocled villain enjoys being mean to them. It’s because the proposals are insane.