[Irl-dean] False Accessibility Developers

Barry McMullin mcmullin at eeng.dcu.ie
Tue Mar 28 09:54:45 IST 2006

On Tue, 28 Mar 2006, Eamon Mag Uidhir wrote:

> >Eamon argued that sometimes "Transitional is right because
> >the page wants to do something Strict won't allow"; but I'm
> >finding it hard to come up with an example. Could you be a bit
> >more specific Eamon?

> The benefit in question was backward compatibility with certain very
> ancient IE and Netscape versions that we had to support at the time. We
> needed "center", for example, as proper CSS implementation wasn't
> necessarily a given at the client end. Obviously this was a benefit for
> visual rendering consistency and wasn't of significance for screen
> reader users.

Fair enough!

This raises another slightly different, but closely related,
issue, which is the client-side "baseline" as it is now being
called in the context of drafting WCAG 2.0.  More info at this


In essence, WCAG 1.0 mainly works with implicit assumptions about
the client side technology support. This raises the sort of
situation mentioned by Eamon where it's not clear when "backwards
compatibility" (itself a "good thing" for accessibility) should
nonetheless be trumped by the benefits (for accessibility) of
using newer technologies.

The idea of the baseline in WCAG 2.0 will not magically resolve
this, but it at least invites a more explicit statement of what
assumptions are being made.  Specifically, WCAG 2.0 will permit
sites to claim conformance to the guidelines *subject to users
having support for specified baseline technologies*.  Note that
this is "technologies" not "products".  A baseline is different
from the old "best viewed in IE 6" type of thing.  But it *might*
say something like "relies on HTML 4.01 + CSS 2", which would
make explicit that it is not going to support legacy browsers
that don't implement these technologies.  It doesn't mean such
browsers will necessarily not be usable: but it demarcates the
limits of what the site operator will *support*.

The big new question, of course, is who is going to determine the
appropriate baselines, and that is totally up for grabs.  It
certainly will *not* be the W3C.  For preference, it should not
be a simple "free for all" with every site operator or developer
arbitrarily setting their own baseline.  In the Irish context, we
would possibly look to the NDA to set some guidance on this.  But
in the short term, there might be a role for irl-dean to suggest
what we collectively would consider to be good practice
... assuming we might be able to reach some consensus on that.

Best - Barry.

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