Constructing a POUR Website
Functionality Across Current and Future Technologies
Not everyone uses the same technologies now, nor will they in the future. People use different operating systems, different browsers, and different versions of browsers. Some people have advanced features enabled. Others have these features turned off. Some people are early adopters of new technologies. Others are slow to adapt to the rapidly-changing currents in the flow of technological advances.
Despite the differences between users and the technologies they use, they all expect the web to work. When they go to a site that uses methods not supported by their technologies, they get frustrated and may never return. In the past it was common to sites optimized for certain browsers or versions of browsers. Fortunately, most developers now try to develop their content so that it will work in many versions of many browsers. One of the most noticeable exceptions to this general trend is found in web sites owned by companies which develop their own browsers. They think that they can persuade people to use their company's browser if they create lesser versions of web content for all other brands of browsers. While this may be an effective marketing technique, it is not a good accessibility technique.
Users should be allowed to choose their own technologies to access web content. This allows the users to customize their technologies to meet their needs, including accessibility needs. web content that requires a certain technology, such as a certain browser, may exclude some types of users who either don't want to use that technology or can't use it because of their disability. As a general rule, the more control the user has, the more likely the user will be able to access the content effectively.
Of course, there are limits to this logic. Netscape 1.0 was a revolutionary browser when it was introduced, but has now gone the way of the dinosaurs because technological evolution has produced newer, better technologies. Modern web developers should not be forced to develop to the "lowest common denominator." Older or inferior technologies will never be able to support the full range of possibilities offered by newer, more capable technologies. In fact, the accessibility capabilities of the newer, more capable technologies is also superior. Developers can and should feel free to take advantage of technological advances in all areas, including in areas related to accessibility.
Developers can set a baseline of requirements. For example, they could decide to fully support browsers that are four years old or newer. Users of older browsers could still access the content, but perhaps it wouldn't be styled properly due to lack of support for Cascading Style Sheets. In the case of Adobe Acrobat files, developers may choose to support only versions 5 or greater, since all previous versions had virtually no support for screen reader users. Similar decisions could be made for different versions of media players. As long as the baseline is not too restrictive, limiting full support to a subset of technologies is a reasonable approach. And, again, to the extent possible, it is still best to let the user decide which technologies to use.
Using Technologies According to Specification
Modern browsers are much better than the older versions at displaying content properly. However, browsers cannot correct or compensate for all of the errors and inconsistencies that developers intro web content. The best way to ensure that content displays properly—and accessibly—is to create web content that validates against the technical standards for the technologies being used. Valid HTML is much more likely to work correctly across browsers and platforms than sloppy HTML. It is also more likely to work consistently in the different types of assistive technologies that people with disabilities use. Sloppy HTML may still work for some users on some technologies, but it is a gamble that puts accessibility at risk for all users.
Rather than focus on the limitations of old technologies, it is often better to focus on the possibilities offered by current and future technologies. In order to create content that is "future proof"—compatible with future technologies—it is necessary to use current technologies according to specification, so that future browsers and content viewers will know how to interpret the content.
In some cases it may take more time and effort to develop web content according to the specifications of the technologies being used, but in the long run it will produce more reliable results and will increase the chances that the content will be accessible to people with disabilities.