Section 508: The JavaScript Degradation Myth

I have heard many programmers claim that they can successfully use JavaScript degradation on a webpage to support users with disabilities. The theory is that code is written to handle both instances when JavaScript is on and off. While most of the rich, interactive Web 2.0 website experiences rely heavily on scripting, institutions that receive government funding need to comply with accessibility standards for those with disabilities. The JavaScript degradation myth is that you focus on the vast majority of website visitors that can use scripting for the rich web interaction and then code to handle the same basic actions (such as required fields, form submission and data validation) for users who have JavaScript disabled.

In an October 2009 poll by WebAIM of 665 screen readers 448 users or 74.9% answered that they do not disable JavaScript in their web browser. This statistic proves that JavaScript degradation is NOT a reasonable solution to supporting website visitors with visual disabilities. Simply put the screen reader will come across the JavaScript the vast majority of the time and it will NOT degrade gracefully.

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While some screen readers do an ok job of handling JavaScript some do not and there is no consistency or standard to how much functionality will work and when. Bottom line is that the assumption that you can code for screen readers by degrading JavaScript is false. You can see the entire survey here.

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