Does HTML 5 Contain a Show Stopper for 508 Compliance?

We have an internal discussion forum at USGS where many of the developers from across the organization discuss web related issues, templates, etc. Today someone posted a topic on HTML and the transition from XHTML (since that’s what many people were told to do years ago). However, as I was offering some information on HTML 5 that I’ve read so far, I was surprised to see a list of removed elements in HTML 5…one of which I’m wondering might be a show stopper for some Government sites…the <noscript> tag.

As many of you know the <noscript> tag is used to help provide a non-scripted alternative for browsers that have JavaScript turned off. Yes, the percentage of non-JS enabled browsers (or those that turn it off) is probably very low (anyone know a %?). However, in order to be Section 508 compliant with JavaScript on government sites, you need to offer a text alternative. Sometimes, you don’t need to use <noscript> but instead use scripts that degrade nicely on their own. But there are times when a <noscript> tag is used. But if HTML 5 is removing support for <noscript> then do you think that it’ll stop some agencies from transitioning to HTML 5?

The answers, I think, are to use gracefully degrading JavaScript, not use JS at all, or don’t transition to HTML 5. Any thoughts?

Just for your pleasure here is a list of no longer supported tags in HTML 5 (courtesy of this article)

* acronym
* applet
* basefont
* big
* center
* dir
* font
* frame
* frameset
* isindex
* noframes
* noscript
* s
* strike
* tt
* u

Note: This post is of my own personal opinion and is not endorsed or supported by any local, state, or federal government agency.

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Interesting…although it seems with most transitions in software that it doesn’t support a lot of things at first and then catches up. So I’m guessing HTML 5 will incorporate these elements shortly especially since gov’t is such a big player…Or at least I hope.

Bill Williams

To be honest, in most cases, the use of noscript has been rather lame, at best; e.g., … that seems more of a disclaimer than anything of real benefit. Today, the key to accessibility can be found in the WCAG 2.0 mantra:
1. Is it perceivable?
2. Is it operable?
3. Is it understandable?
4. Is it robust?

Personally, I think not using Javascript isn’t even a viable choice in developing content-rich web applications … which leads us to the W3C’s WAI-ARIA initiative to make JS, AJAX, HTML & other web technologies more accessible and usable for people experiencing disabilities. Here’s a couple of resources:

There’s still much work to be done for the accessibility features of HTML 5, but ARIA has tremendous potential to bridge the gap. A clear leader in this effort is Steve Faulkner of the Paciello Group, and I would certainly recommend reading about his work.