19/365, HTML is by design accessible.

This is day nineteen of my attempt to write something, anything, every day for 365 days in a row.

It recently came to my attention that accessibility on the web is experiencing something of a renaissance in the spotlight; This is thanks, in part due to efforts such as the a11y project. However, I do wonder why we have gotten to a point where such efforts are required. Correctly styled markup should be accessible by default.

I have been developing websites for more than fifteen years. While technology has progressed in that time, it feels as though – at least in some cases – that progress is just for the sake of it.

In those early days pretty much every website project I worked on had user customisable accessibility feature. You could select a larger font size and one of a handful of colour themes that were aimed at making the content more legible to those with different colour blindness or dyslexia.

It could be said we had dark mode before it was cool.

Markup was king. If your HTML didn't pass the W3C Markup Validation Service without good reason (and there were some valid excuses.) Then it didn't get released into production.

Back then, the reasoning for this was one of SEO. It was believed that the better your markup, the easier it was for search indexes to correctly index your content. The conclusion being that better markup equaled better index placement, equaled more visitors. Visitors equaled customers.

I am unsure how much of that was based upon fact, although I did have first hand experience of redeveloping client websites and seeing them go from the bottom of the page for their keywords to the top three positions; largely because we fixed a lot of issues with their markup.

A side effect of making websites easier for robots to digest meant that they were also easy for screen readers and other accessibility tools.

Eventually laws have been amended to protect the right of people with disabilities to have equal access to electronic and information technology. In the US this was done via an amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Similar legal protections have been introduced in various countries around the world since then and this has meant we have had a handy checklists like this available containing items such as “Is the site free from pages that re-direct after a timeout?” and “Are all elements that can be operated by a mouse also able to be operated by keyboard?”

Unfortunately it seems those rules are too often forgotten or ignored. While the laws as wrote are often limited in scope to government published materials there should be no excuse for bad craft, especially in websites with tens of thousands of pounds of investment.

Unless you work on public sector publishing, you probably aren't aware that in 2018 the UK law on web accessibility had new regulations on the accessibility of websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies.

Concreting into law accessibility provisions is not a bad thing. It is concerning however that once again this change only applies to publicly-funded institutions.

HTML is by design accessible. Yet so many websites used by millions every day are not.

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