The history of web standards and accessibility

Knowing how the web has evolved can help us avoid repeating old mistakes as we move forward. Reading an article like Roberto Scano’s A Journey Through Accessibility will take you on a journey from the release of HTML 3.2 in 1997 to the current situation in 2006, ending with Roberto sharing his vision of the web’s future.

To me, reading the article made it very clear how different the web is now from when I coded my first lines of HTML in 1994.

Roberto introduces a new (to me anyway) concept in this article: WYSIWOYS. Instead of “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get), “WYSIWOYS” means “What You See Is What Only You See”. This refers to the inaccessibility of web applications and most current WYSIWYG HTML editors, the inaccessibility of web content and documents produced for the web, and the general poor knowledge of web standards among the people responsible for adding content to websites.

Robert also points to the preamble in the HTML 4.01 Transitional DTD which makes it very clear that Authors should use the Strict DTD when possible. I brought this up in a recent discussion on The target attribute and opening new windows, where some people were defending the use of Transitional doctypes.

Back to the point of this post: A Journey Through Accessibility is a very interesting article, especially for people who have been building websites since the mid-nineties.

Posted on April 25, 2006 in Accessibility, Quicklinks, Web Standards


  1. As you said, a very interesting article. I’ve been building websites since 1998 and can recognise myself in almost every part of this article. Although I have never used WYSIWYG editors.

    Sad to say many webdevelopers still see the web with narrow minded eyes from early 1997 (HTML3.2). Accessibility in some parts is quite new to me as well and to be fair I have made quite a few mistakes myself over the years. I’m sure I still do (But hey, I’m not a professional).

    It’s a shame many developers still ignore accessibility guidelines. Today we are much more enlighted and it’s definitely not hard to find the information you will need in order to improve accessibility.

  2. I wonder why they made a transitional DOCTYPE for XHTML 1.0 at all? If people have an option to use something (and it’s easier) a lot of times they will. The owner of a 1997-era tag soup website can say:

    Wow, I just have to make sure all my <FONT> elements are properly closed, change my <br /> to <br /> and I’ve got valid XHTML! I didn’t even have to get rid of my <applet> elements. And if it’s valid XHTML, it must therefore be modern, accessible, and efficient. I have nothing to worry about.

  3. April 26, 2006 by Roberto Scano

    Hi Ola, you can recognize yourself because i think all the people that was born in the web in the last century (expecially during 1995-1998) has start in the same mode :-)

  4. Robert, I think you are right. I just didn’t want to be the first one pointing that out ;)

    When I look back at my personal homepage archive it seems like my first real steps towards accessibility and was taken mid 2003 (after feeling guilty for using frames and bitmapped headlines).

    Good post Michael. XHTML that validates as transitional is not the same as efficient and accessible markup. Even a table based layout can validate, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good one.

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