Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

Two Key Challenges for Ajax Adoption that We Have Ignored

Category: Ajax, Editorial

In this new article over on the Ajax World Magazine site, Coach Wei talks about the two major hurdles that are really hindering Ajax’s widespread adoption in both the corporate and non-corporate worlds. He also wonders why no one’s doing anything about them…

There are some fairly big issues with Ajax and I am puzzled. I think the Ajax community need to pay more attention here in order for Ajax to be really adopted.

He goes for the positive before the negative, talking about his personal position on Ajax and general support of it. With his standards in place, he gets to the bad news – the two things no one really wants to talk about:

  • 10% browsers have Javascript support turned off. It means that 10% users can not access Ajax-based web sites or applications. This is definitely a problem for Ajax.
  • Taking the issue a little further, let’s talk about accessibility. […] Most Ajax applications use Ajax widgets that may or may not support accessibility.

He briefly describes each, but doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions to rid ourselves of these problems. Degradable javascript practices can handle some of the problems these two topics might cause, but accessibility is still an issue even then. Suggestions? Comments?

Posted by Chris Cornutt at 7:26 am

3 rating from 29 votes


Comments feed TrackBack URI

1)it’s not issue,but you own choice-live in the “stone” age;-)
2)ajax apps simulate desktop experience in web context-there’s trade offs and always will until desktop fully absorb web.
By the way,why no one would like to analyze current state of desktop accessibility in comparison?

Comment by Andrey Skvortsov — July 12, 2006

Agree with Andrey on #1 issue…not dissimilar to when you’d write stuff that only worked in IE and the X% of the Netscape users were stuck. I’m talking only a couple of years ago folks, we all remember back then…. As for #2, I don’t think that’s an AJAX only problem. There are lot’s of apps, web based or not that’d fail a full accessibility audit.

Comment by Mike Shaffer — July 12, 2006

My phone has javascript believe it or not, but I turn it off because it’s soooo slow! It makes an already painful expierence much more painful. So while I might be in that 10% I wouldn’t go on and say you’re missing me because even pure HTML doesn’t work on my phone most of the time. Fix width sites cause more problems than javascript. As far as #2 there sure is a lot of talk, but no one is actually doing anything about it. Primarily because I bet most developers have never met or seen anyone who relies on accessible technologies to interact with a computer. It such a small portion of people we’re talking about. I’ve only met one person. If we’re ever going to stop talking about it someone has to actually do something to make it work.

Comment by Charlie Hubbard — July 12, 2006

There is actually a lot of work on accessibility with some of the toolkits and accessibility consultants. It is “still cooking.” Most of the work is with large corporations and so you don’t hear about them. In the coming months, there will be more information. In fact, products like Bindows have already announced their support for accessibility in their 2.0 version.

Comment by Oliver T — July 12, 2006

As everyone says, I don’t think that #1 is that big a problem. Graceful degredation can help and when dealing with Intranets the user is a captive, therefore, it is easy to ensure things like JavaScript are enabled.

As for #2, I think that dismissing accessibility is a very bad idea. People are certainly doing something about accessibility – as Oliver mentioned Bindows does claim to have some support. Just to give a rough idea, ~ 10% of disabled people hold jobs so entirely ignoring them is a bad idea. With Section 508 becoming more important, it is getting easier to hold companies liable for not having accessible web assets.

Also, accessibility is not just about disabled people. As western populations age, ensuring that web based applications are still accessible to elderly people is going to be increasingly important. This is a big focus in Japan. Elderly people may not be blind but simply have poorer eyesight meaning they need either better application design or the use of a screen reader.

We are working hard to make accessibility work and think that Ajax can actually make the web experience for disabled users even better.

Comment by Dave Johnson — July 12, 2006

When will people stop banging on about the 10% of users who have javascript disabled. Why in the hell do people still disable javascript? I say, ignore that 10% – if we all ignore them, they’ll soon enable javascript.

Comment by whatthe#### — July 12, 2006

I’d argue that a significant portion of this 10% number are robots (search spiders, etc).

– Where did the 10% number come from?
– What is their testing methodology?

Comment by thenobot — July 12, 2006

I agree on some of Dave’s comments regarding #1… When you’re dealing with an intra/extranet application being custom developed for a client you can specify the useage environment their staff must apply. But, any other more generalized applications *must* have full functionality with javascript disabled, IMHO. That doesn’t mean that the ‘analog’ method has to be as polished or easy, but it should exist. Most of the time that’s as easy as having interactive elements resolve to actual links (not just an href of “#”), with Ajax behaviours mounted on top that return false.

Comment by Mike Ritchie — July 12, 2006

Andrey: “By the way,why no one would like to analyze current state of desktop accessibility in comparison”

Because, even if a lot of applications ignore accessibility, the platforms on which they are built (Windows and Mac OS X; I don’t know much about the state of Linux/Unices) have good accessibility support for the most part.

The problem with Ajax is that the platform on which it’s built (modern browsers & screen readers) wasn’t made with Ajax in mind, and therefore doesn’t have built-in support for making Ajax accessible.

I have been pondering this exact problem for about four years…it’s a tough one. Luckily, people are starting to turn their attention to it. The accessibility code that IBM donated to Mozilla seems like it might be a good start, but I haven’t delved into it much.

My conclusion at this point is that it’s up to the browser & screen reader manufacturers to evolve their platforms to handle this sort of thing, as there is only so much that HTML/CSS/Javascript can do.

Comment by Mike Hairston — July 12, 2006

#1 – Why is that a negative. Just look at it the other way: 90% Do have JavaScript enabled. If we’d have worried about how many people actually didn’t use the Web all in the mid-90’s, there’d be no e-commerce. I’m with ‘whatthe###’ on this: Ignore the 10%

#2 -While a lot of progress is being made to address accesibility, this one is really upt to the browser companies. Give the developers api’s to usablility (access to bookmarking, etc.) and they’ll use it.

Comment by mirage — July 12, 2006

The missing argument: pragmatically, it is worthwhile right now trying to achieve full javascript indipendence, making your app degradable has currently a clear business value, just because your competitors actually doesn’t care.
Numbers: your application has currently… let’s say 5% of market share, and none of your competitors can actually reach that 10% of mad javascript disablers. Design your application to be (almost) fully accessible even without javascript, and, if your product is strong enough to address users’ needs, you’ll likely have the opportunity to increase your audience of 200%. Just because others they don’t care about js degradability. Nice, uh?
About #2: it is currently up to assistive technologies manufacturers to extend their products support for rich applications (see While degradable js is already reachable in so many contexts, trying to get full Ajax accessibility is regularly frustrated by the lack of tools provided by screen readers and vocal browser to inform linear users of multiple non linear content changes.

Comment by Andrea Martines — July 12, 2006

I think ajax is still at the age where the developers should think of where to use the technoligy. Ajax is more than usefull when developing an web application and here you can with with a good conscience set requirements to the users.

Comment by Ronni Rasmussen — July 13, 2006

AJAX and the Network Effect

Via Ajaxian, Coach Wei over at AjaxWorld Magazine has an article expressing reservations about AJAX and what might hinder it’s adoption: 1. 10% browsers have Javascript support turned off (see statistics at

Trackback by Agile Ajax — July 13, 2006

Well I think maybe my statement was misintrepreted. I never said ignore accessibility. Section 508 won’t let you do that. My point was no one is offering any sort of solution much less a strategy other than don’t use AJAX or don’t use AJAX a lot. This has actually been the first time I’ve heard anyone suggest a possible direction on accessibility and AJAX. I think Mike H. hit it on the head. It’s not AJAX’s problem to solve. It’s the accessibility manufacturers and browsers that have to make AJAX work for their products. Let the accessibility experts figure this one out. Let us stick to our expertise of building AJAX apps.

Comment by Charlie Hubbard — July 13, 2006

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