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RE: compatibility

From: Tom James <tom.james@digitext.com>
Date: Tue, 16 Jul 2002 15:18:27 +0100
Message-ID: <BB503C6DCB3BD411A94C00E07D81D64B324BAA@NTSERVER2>
To: "'w3c-wai-ig@w3.org'" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

John Foliot recently wrote:

 They [The Web Standards Project - TJ] include the following interesting 
> piece of code on
> their web site:
> 
> <div class="oldbrowsers">
> 	<strong>Please note:</strong> This site's design is 
> only visible in a
> graphical browser that supports Web standards, but its 
> content is accessible
> to any browser or Internet device. To see this site as it was designed
> please <a href="http://www.webstandards.org/upgrade/" title="The Web
> Standards Project's BROWSER UPGRADE initiative.">upgrade to a 
> Web standards
> compliant browser</a>.
> </div>
> 

This issue was recently discussed at some length on this list: see
http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-wai-ig/2002AprJun/0755.html and
posts following in the thread "Standards Compliant = No support for NN4?"

My opinion, and some data points: I work for a web design firm, but in the
fortunate position that much of our work is for intranets, so we are often
designing to a more or less standard browser and OS environment. Many of our
clients (by which I mean the people who sign the cheques, not necessarily
the people we deal with day-to-day :-) have a subtle visual bias: they are
buying something that looks "nice", rather than something that is perhaps
more accessible / usable, but plain. Of course our clients have pressures of
their own: typically, they have to demonstrate, in a limited amount of time,
their new baby to someone even higher in the organisation, who probably will
never use the system but will have a strong opinion if the links aren't
quite the correct corporate red-on-green... Excuse me if I sound a little
cynical! (BTW my specific accessibility issue: I'm colour blind)

So where does accessibility fit in, and what does that have to do with
standards? Well generally, when you explain to a client what accessibility
is all about (possible with a little carrot / stick type persuasion about
the business and legal cases), then in my experience they are generally
quite receptive, with two caveats:

1) It still has to "look nice" - or at least, people don't want a "Jakob
Nielsen" visual design
2) For an intranet at least, there also has to be an authoring process that
is simple to implement but doesn't throw away the accessibility gains.

Solving point 2 is one reason that companies use consultants such as us
(rather than, say, a more overtly "designy" sort of agency).

Solving point 1, in my opinion, is possible using the full functionality
built into HTML4 / XHTML and CSS - especially with modern GUI browsers.
Users with non-GUI or non-modern browsers I would generally split into two
classes: browsers such as Lynx will generally benefit from an accessible
site, provided that the code structure is logical (because these users will
not see the visual structure, so the code structure becomes the reading
order). This is possible using e.g. simple layout tables or CSS-positioning.
Users with old browsers such as Netscape 4: well, I'm inclined to write
standards compliant code in a sensible code structure, and hide the main
style sheet from these browsers (using e.g. @import or similar). All the
content is still available; the code structure ensures that the visual
structure (to a NN4 user) is still logical, if not as aesthetically
pleasing. So I would go with points 1 and 2 of the WaSP idea (as outlined in
my email
http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-wai-ig/2002AprJun/0762.html).
Whether I would go with the third point - about adding a warning of the type
mentioned above about using a non-standards-compliant browser, well I am
open to persuasion either way. But in general I think the way forward for
accessibility is to use the full set of features given by the latest specs
and allow NN4 users to upgrade, rather than just go back to all manner of
dodges and workarounds to get it to work across horrible non-compliant
browsers - but probably break in other niche browsers we haven't targetted.
Ultimately, I believe forward compatibility is more important than backwards
compatibility.

	Just my 0.02 euro...

	Tom

Dr Tom James
Senior Consultant

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Received on Tuesday, 16 July 2002 10:17:03 GMT

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