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 see 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.
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 or screen reader, 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. Many technologies and web accessibility techniques are not supported in older browsers and screen readers. Modern web developers should not be forced to develop to the "lowest common denominator". Developers can and should feel free to take advantage of technological advances, including in areas related to accessibility. When considering implementation of innovative technologies and techniques, they must strike a balance between pushing innovation boundaries and considering the technologies their end users will be using.
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 newer features. 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 older browsers at supporting content and accessibility properly. However, browsers cannot correct or compensate for all of the errors and inconsistencies that developers introduce in 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. Invalid 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. WebAIM's Screen Reader User Surveys indicate that most screen reader users tend to use fairly up-to-date browsers and screen readers, though there will always be some who lag behind. 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.