Accessibility, the gloves come off

People still delivering nested table layout, spacer gifs or ignoring accessibility can no longer call themselves web professionals.

Ian Lloyd has today published an email interview over at Accessify, Accessibility, the gloves come off.

There are now so many web sites, blogs or publications devoted to helping people learn standards and accessible techniques that there are now no excuses not to work with semantic code or CSS. Those people still delivering nested table layout, spacer gifs or ignoring accessibility can no longer call themselves web professionals.


Further reading


  1. #1 On November 14, 2005 08:51 PM Robert Nyman said:


    Regarding the quote you have in this post, I can only agree. In fact, earlier on today I was complaining to Roger Johansson that it's sad/pathetic/shameless/[insert bad word here] that there are so many people out there billing their customers oh so much money, and really, when it comes down to it, they have no idea about web developing whatsoever.

    However, the eternal question is: how do we reach out to the ones that don't seem to care, the ones that don't read blogs etc?

    I'm sure you will get a lot of "right on!" - and "you da man!"-comments here, but the majority of web developers out there (yes, sadly it is the majority) won't read this nor give a damn. And they are the people we need to turn around.

  2. #2 On November 14, 2005 09:28 PM Craig C. said:

    I haven't yet R'd the FA, but I agree 100% with that blockquote. While CSS1 has been around for ages it's really only been about 5 years since we could realistically use it as it was intended (I'm citing the releases of Netscape 6 [the first Gecko browser] and IE5 [which for all its bugs still had remarkably good CSS support for its day, and IE5 for the Mac was an even more incredible leap forward] as the paradigm-shifting event). Then it took most of us a bit longer to really trust CSS enough to start using it. This is why Wired and the Zen Garden were such significant proofs-of-concept, and why every major corporate standards-based redesign continues to be a milestone.

    But five years is long enough, an eternity in Web-time. Part of a professional designer's job is to stay current with trends and technology, to continue learning new skills and improving on existing ones. A working designer who is not using web standards by now is merely betraying their ignorance of their own profession.

    Of course, honest ignorance is forgivable and correctable. That's why the articles, galleries, blogs, books, courses and conferences are still important. Those who wish to learn are welcome to learn, and if they don't they'll simply be left behind and won't be able to hold their jobs in a few more years.

    My biggest beef these days is with working professional web designers who willfully resist adopting web standards, who say it's too hard to test or doesn't work right in every browser or isn't important to their clients so why should it be important to me yadda yadda. That goes beyond simple ignorance and becomes pure incompetence. Those people need a nasty wakeup call and should be drummed out of the industry.

  3. #3 On November 14, 2005 09:50 PM Brent said:

    I'm a 21 year old newbie to web design. I visit your site and view the source almost every single day. I see so much logic in creating standards based web sites rather than stopping coding as soon as it works "right" in IE6.

    This is exactly why I avidly study your code and CSS files. (You told us all that we could;) Everytime I see something that I don't know what it is I'll google it and keep on searching all the basic search engines till I find the answers. W3C usually proves to be of the most assistance. I've got two monitors and the one usually has Dreamweaver open with my xhtml files and the other has your source and the broswer (Firefox) that I'm researching with. I love coming to your site and seeing all the possibilities of CSS and XHTML. Just yesturday I finally got all my code validated by the W3C via the Web Developer tools in Firefox. (Needless to say that felt really cool. Made me feel like "one of the guys".

    By reading all that you say about accessibility I hope that by me starting out designing with standards will give me an edge over my competitors. Funny thing, though, is that my site works perfectly (like it should) in Firefox but not so well in IE6. That, too, made me feel like one of the guys. So all day today I'm going to make it work in IE6. Even though I study your code I respect creativity and design and just use the concepts behind what you code.

    Oh, and...I want to be able to call myself a Web Professional; therefore...back to Dreamweaver.

    Keep accessible...for all of us aspiring designers!

  4. #4 On November 14, 2005 11:07 PM Christopher Kelly said:

    Another, "right on!" here. I work on Web Accessibility at my work and our coders are still stuck in 1996. Well, not all, but many. A few of us "get it" and our numbers grow slowly. It's really not much different than accessibility in general. In the States, we've had the ADA for 15 years. Yet, there are many local businesses I cannot get my electric scooter/wheelchair into. GRRRR.

    I think we have to just keep reaching out and engaging these people. Keep extolling the benefits and do a little hand holding if need be. Shoot, 3 years ago, I didn't know ANYTHING about CSS. If I can learn, anyone can.

  5. #5 On November 15, 2005 12:26 AM Matt Robin said:

    Andy: I read Ian's article and agree that there really isn't any excuse for inaccessible site design anymore from the web-professional community. There is simply too much content out there on the web to guide any web designer/developer along for them not to....unless...well, unless (as Robert stated) the guys in the hotseat are not the ones looking online and discovering the error of their ways.
    Perhaps if the gloves are 'coming off' (at least in the UK) - then maybe there's also a case for getting these points heavily promoted in the numerous glossy mags that web professionals buy without fail (well, some of them).
    CSS and other accessibility aiding practices can seem daunting to some web professionals perhaps...and then there's a chance they'll stick with what they know and just hope no-one is on the ball enough to notice! Perhaps there's more reason than ever to not only 'take the gloves off'...but also put this message out as large and loud as possible...guerilla tactics??!

  6. #6 On November 15, 2005 04:06 AM Anura said:

    Interestingly, at the inaugural Canberra Web Standards Group meeting a show of hands suggested that the majority of attendees were from Government with fewer representatives from the web design/development outfits around town.

    Chatting to one of those guys, it seemed to be a combination of factors that mean more don't pick this stuff up.

    1. Lack of interest - just don't think it's important enough.
    2. Lack of money - these companies aren't happy to stump up the cash to send their people to excellent events like Web Essentials 05.
    3. Lack of time - professional outfits work to very short deadlines and struggle with implementing fully accessible and standards compliant sites in those timeframes. There is not much investment in learning new techniques that can be used across projects, and no time or money to revisit sites after they have been implemented to improve them.

    From my perspective, that often leaves us (in Government) in the position of knowing more about accessibility and standards than the professionals we are engaging. I've had plenty of experience in educating contracted designers/developers in everything from the basics of CSS to CSS-based layout to accessibility guidelines.

    And, as Matt says, there is really no excuse when there is a plethora of stuff out there on the web for anyone/everyone to grab hold of and use.

    Part of the solution must be for good companies to understand how to sell their skills in accessibility and standards, how to educate customers about why they really want this and then find a model which allows their staff to invest in learning this stuff. I know this approach has been blogged about a lot - maybe I'm just impatient for things to improve ...

    NB. This is no criticism of the very good companies in Canberra, nor of the people in other companies who are working hard to bring standards and accessibility to their employers.

  7. #7 On November 15, 2005 09:14 AM Richard Conyard said:

    Agreed that these guys really should not be calling themselves web professionals, but how do you get the message across to the people that matter:
    1) Those idiots themselves so they can learn
    2) Clients of those idiots who are paying for sub-standard work?

  8. #8 On November 15, 2005 09:32 AM Tony Bittan said:

    I agree. Where I work there are them that do web standards, them that say they do, and don't, and them that say "web standards?". But myself and another developer are fully signed up to web standards and we are the champions.

    As far as I'm concerned web standards make everything much simpler and more logical, all that nested tabe layouts and spacer gifs and code forking was a black art.

  9. #9 On November 15, 2005 10:19 AM Mats Lindblad said:

    you da man!

  10. #10 On November 15, 2005 10:22 AM Stuart Langridge said:

    Mark Pilgrim, 11th May 2003 (over two-and-a-half years ago):
    "I will not be arguing the merits of web standards, CSS, accessibility, and open source. It is quite obvious to me that these are the future of the Internet and of the computing industry in general, and if you don�t see that by now, I can�t help you. Adapt or get left behind."

  11. #11 On November 15, 2005 11:52 AM Sophie Dennis said:

    I was at a Macromedia showcase for Studio 8 recently. The presenter asked how many people used CSS. Almost everyone stuck their hands up. He then asked how many used "CSS Positioning" (in Macromedia speak = CSS for layout). About five of us were left.

    At another event a fellow designer told how his boss compared CSS to Betamax video: a superior technology which will never catch on.

    When we recruited a new designer in the Spring, less than 10% of portfolios included any CSS layout.

    The CSS community is so strong, with so many vocal proponents, it's easy to forget we're still a niche. We've reached a certain mass where it feels like we've won the argument, but there's a majority out there who just aren't getting the message.

    Now we've got to win them round. And they're sure as hell not reading this blog or frequenting Accessify. The tools that have been so successful at building our community aren't the ones that will reach this wider audience. For that we need some new ideas...

    ...hmm. Anyone got any good ones? ;-)

  12. #12 On November 15, 2005 02:01 PM davyG said:

    I'd suggest a cull of all non-standards compliant web designers/developers.

    Or less drastically a program of brainwashing/therapy like off of Clockwork Orange. Show these web degenerates their code on a cinema screen with their eyelids clipped open, playing the audio of their sites from a screen reader with Beethoven playing in the background.

    That'll teach em!

  13. #13 On November 15, 2005 03:14 PM Matthew Goddard said:

    Hey Andy

    I'm one of those boring accessibility guys who makes dull yet accessible websites.

    You high design sites are a real wake up call and I resolve to do better.

    One question about the Safer Shopping site. Your page (obviously) degrades well for screen readers etc. what about scalable fonts etc. The image replace on the nav bar looks cool but how well would that work for low vision users?



  14. #14 On November 15, 2005 08:46 PM Baxter said:

    Forget teaching other designers. Let's just figure out how to teach potential clients. Then we'll just put the old dogs out.

  15. #15 On November 15, 2005 09:57 PM mrjay said:

    I thought you weren't going to comment on that 'other site'

    But yes absolutely. A development process steeped in standards is as good a sign as any that you're not the web equivilant of the dreaded cowboy builder.

  16. #16 On November 15, 2005 09:59 PM mrjay said:

    ooh, my post makes no sense. Sorry.
    Other site being that toy shop not

  17. #17 On November 16, 2005 12:40 AM goodwitch said:

    Agreed, the shouldn't call themselve web professionals if they are using nested table layouts, spacer gifs and aren't producing accessible sites.

    But, dare I say, that CSS positioning is still a pain in the ass to pull off. It shouldn't be as hard as it is today. But the naughty non-standard browsers can make our life hell!

    Your comment on "web accessibility snake oil salesmen" really hit home for me. I'm so sick of vendors telling me a product or site is accessible and they don't even know the first damn thing about accessibility!

    So, I just struck up a conversation about web accessibility certification (for web developers) because I wanted to know what people (like you) are thinking.

    So, are you certifiable accessible?

  18. #18 On November 16, 2005 03:23 AM Ben Buchanan said:

    Right on ;) I can't think of any profession where you should expect to go through an entire career with no more than the knowledge you had on day one. But then, I've seen people try - generally it means they see it as a job and not a career.

    An issue I think is related is that we need to educate clients and managers about the difference between a programmer and a web professional.

    I often see situations where programmers are creating web interfaces - something they never wanted to do and something that wasn't part of their training. The client/organisation refuses to hire or pay for another person to do a decent job of the interface; leaving the programmer to bash out whatever they form of HTML they've learned.

  19. #19 On November 16, 2005 01:55 PM Malarkey said:

    Hi guys,

    Some further reading:

    456 Berea Street: A web professional can never stop learning
    Molly: Web Standards and The New Professionalism

  20. #20 On November 19, 2005 09:09 PM Tom Simcox said:

    Hi Andy, it was very good to meet you at the Carson Workshop on Thursday. I will shortly be writing about the event on my blog Outside of the box as promised.

    I just wanted to say that I really do get what you are saying about the whole issue of professionalism. I've been into designing for the web for little over a year and although I 'get' web standards I'd like to think that I am not arrogant enough to think that I know it all. I doubt that I could ever possibly know everything or be right about everything.

    But the key to it all is continuing along that learning curve as you so rightly point out. I've wrote a little about my take on the issue of educating people in web standards and recognition of this new professionalism. If you're interested it can be found on my blog post Education and the role of Professional Recognition

  21. #21 On November 20, 2005 12:56 AM Justin Halsall said:

    I definitely agree!

  22. #22 On November 20, 2005 09:41 PM Justin Halsall said:

    Here is my guide for those that need to hire a REAL web professional:
    How to spot a REAL web professional

  23. #23 On November 20, 2005 11:33 PM Chris Neale said:

    I keep trying to use the little numbers by the comments to track how far I've read, and never succeed here, because the link says and does one thing, but the markup corresponding to the link says something else ...

    i.e. this comment could be linked as #comment23
    but, it is more likely that the id on the [dt] is comment5448

    Some conflict between intention and implementation ?

    Sorry to complain.

  24. #24 On November 21, 2005 12:30 AM Malarkey said:

    (Ed says: Thanks for pointing that out Chris. All fixed now.)

  25. #25 On November 21, 2005 03:23 PM Chris Neale said:

    You still need the 'comment' prefix : ) I am not a designer - I know that : ) Updated.