Is a site accessible if it requires JavaScript?

2 Nov 2012 - 9:29am
3 years ago
2 replies
935 reads


The website blocks users who don't have JavaScript enabled. If you turn JavaScript off and visit the Target site, you'll see a modal dialog warning you that " requires javascript to be enabled." If JavaScript is off, you can't dismiss the dialog box.

It would never have occurred to me to design a site that way, and I've never considered the accessibility implications of such a sweeping move. Is this kind of a website accessible?

Target, of course, was the defendant in the 2006 National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation case - as part of the settlement, Target agreed to make their website accessible, and to obtain accessibility certification from NFB.

I'd observed this JavaScript requirement about a year ago - at that time, the Target site still had an accessibility certification awarded by the NFB. The NFB program's list of certified sites is down, and possibly dead, but here's Google's cached version:



9 Nov 2012 - 3:18pm

I don't see how this site can be accessible. If it was accessible and JavaScript was disabled then it would degrade but still allow acces to content.

10 Nov 2012 - 2:48am
Joe Ortenzi

To answer your main question, David, JavaScript, in and of itself, does not prevent a site from passing accessibility criteria.

The previous reluctance to use JavaScript (JS) stemmed (arguably) from it being used inaccessibly, rather than being intrinsically inaccessible. Also, fewer types of assistive technologies (like screen readers or braille displays) were able to parse JS content than can do so today. It was also previously common to turn off file types that were not required, for example, JS files, images etc, if you didn't need/want them. 

The W3C Web Content Accesssibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), an extensive set of guidelines to assess the accessibility of websites, does not prevent JS being used, since it can be very helpful to acessibility when considerately used. For example, in the latest Screen Reader Survey from WebAIM , almost 99% of respondents (people who use assitive technologies) had JS active. 

One of the strengths of WCAG 2.0 over WCAG 1.0 is that it is technology agnostic beyond the baseline of requiring HTML for markup and CSS for visual presentation. A site must be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust to people with disabilities; how it gets there requires passing clever criteria that are technology agnostic, which may even include Adobe Flash or MS Silverlight, so long as it meets the accessibility criteria of WCAG 2.0. 

Of course blindness is just one type of disability, and not the only measure of the acessibility of a website, but target makes no claims for which guidelines it follows in assessing accessibility nor any claims for being accessible. For example, I place high value on a site being fully keyboard navigable, and having good, meaningful alt text, both of which Target seems to be achieving. 

However, Stephen has a fair point that it is good practice to keep a site usable without JS, through Graceful Degradation. or designing from a Progressive Enhancement starting point. One of the most powerful argumnts for designing an accesible website from the start is that you are including a great deal of usability principles into the project. I think it is fair to ask why target is actively blocking users without JavaScript active. 

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