From time to time I have to lodge a complaint. This is one of those times. I’ve contacted webmasters for both these sites and have been ignored, so I feel comfortable raising the issues here.

First: visiting the Continuous Quality Improvement Network web site with Mozilla 0.9.7, I am directed to a page stating:

We apologize but our web site will not display properly in this browser.

This site has been redesigned and is optimized for viewing with either Netscape 6 or Internet Explorer 5.5 and above. For the best possible viewing please download one of these browsers from their web sites.

Uh, yeah. There’s something screwy with the browser detection here. You see, Netscape 6+ is built on Mozilla’s code base. In fact, Netscape 6.2 was built using Mozilla, so I visited the site with Mozilla 0.9.4 — and was still blocked. Grrr. There’s no reason for this: if Netscape 6 can display a page, so can Mozilla.

What’s more, using IE5.1 — the most recent version for MacOS and pretty kick-ass in the standards support department — I can access the site, despite the stated minimum of IE5.5. Can’t read most of the text on the page, but hey.

And the site works fine in Opera 5. Yeah.

My message: I’m all for designing to web standards. And hey, if you don’t want to design to standards while supporting older browsers, that’s okay as long as you know your reasons. But if you’re going to work with only current web standards, do some intelligent browser sniffing so you don’t block browsers (or other user agents) that support those standards!

Second complaint: the login page for 508 Universe doesn’t work in Netscape 6 / Mozilla. Neither does it work in any user agent that doesn’t have JavaScript enabled. 508 Universe is a site designed as a resource for Section 508 accessibility regulations, which makes this problem particularly troublesome.

To be fair, it’s possible to log in using Mozilla / Netscape by tabbing through the controls, but it took me a long time to figure that out. Once I logged in (!) I could read their system requirements:

This site has been designed to work with computers running a Windows operating system using Internet Explorer 5.0 and Netscape Navigator 4.0 and above with JavaScript enabled.

We have here both an accessibility and usability problems (which are often difficult to separate). First, there’s a correctable coding / design misfeature involving absolutely positioned DIVs that prevents Netscape 6 users from clicking on links (which is necessary to log in). Second, why is JavaScript required? Isn’t that kind of an accessibility problem? I realize that there’s nothing in Section 508 that explicitly forbids this sort of thing (although paragraph l comes pretty close), and they claim that the site’s been tested with all sorts of assistive technology. However, I still think that where JavaScript is required to access content, another means to access the content should be provided in case JavaScript is unavailable or disabled. That’s what the W3C’s guidelines and techniques recommend, for good reason. 508 Universe may hold to the letter of the accessibility requirements it tries to convey, but it certainly violates their spirit.

This is the paragraph l that I referred to earlier, which deals with scripting languages like JavaScript: “When pages utilize scripting languages to display content, or to create interface elements, the information provided by the script shall be identified with functional text that can be read by assistive technology.”