Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

UK IT rag The Register is running an article about the potential for inaccessble web sites to create a ‘Net underclass’. The article is speaking primarily of UK-based sites, but the problem it discribes is hardly limited to a single nation.

The article leans heavily on quotes from Deri Jones, CEO of web testing outfit SciVisum. Jones’ comments are, for the most part, spot on: he recommends using Flash judiciously, ensuring that your main site is accessible rather than relying on a text-only alternative and so on. One comment, though, gave me pause:

[The problem] has arisen because web designers are building increasing complex sites optimised to work a specific browser, typically Internet Explorer. Inevitably the viewing experience is reduced with other browser types and so sites are increasingly being locked down to work with limited browser types.

There’s no question that optimising sites for a single browser is a Bad Idea, but are sites really being increasingly ‘locked down’?

A quick stroll over to Meyerweb reveals a whole list of high-profile sites that have redesigned with standards-friendly (if not always strictly valid) CSS layouts: the Disney Store UK, the San Francisco Examiner, Chevrolet and ABC News.

The trend extends beyond the Zeldmans and Davidsons of the world, too. It wasn’t too long ago that JR Ordoñez dropped me a note regarding Pixel Plain’s beautiful, valid and elegantly-constructed redesign of Epocrates’ web site.

More, it seems hardly a week goes by without some nifty new standards-friendly technique popping up, like sIFR and JavaScript image fading. As fellow WaSP Simon Willison observes, the latest trend in client-side scripting is intelligently enhancing structural markup, rather than loading up pages with animations, drop-downs and other heavy gewgaws. A quick browse about Digital Web, SitePoint and A List Apart confirms the trend: the web biz is most defintely moving away from IE/Win-only enhancements, inaccessible tables’n'GIFs conglomerations and heavy, inaccessible scripting. With alternative browsers like Firefox growing in popularity, the move is only going to accellerate.

I certainly agree with the main point of Mr. Jones’ quotes, and of the article: as of today, the web isn’t nearly as accessible as it should be. But more and more working web developers are getting the message that standards and accessibility aren’t pie-in-the-sky ideals, they’re practical techniques for improving ROI. Hasn’t the time has come to put aside the gloom’n'doom? Instead of the usual ‘things are bad and getting worse’, isn’t it time to start saying ‘things are so-so, but getting better quickly’?

After all, nobody much likes joining a losing cause; people much prefer joining up with a winner. From recent evidence, it seems standards and accessibility are doing just that: winning.

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