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Photography of Alvaro Montoro being a doofus
Alvaro Montoro

Fullstack Developer

The End of Internet Explorer

a11y webdev watercooler

I know, I know. Internet Explorer 11 was already dead for many people... but unfortunately, that is not the case for a good number of developers that have to suffer support it at a corporate level.

Many are the reasons given to keep this support to IE11 -mainly the (decreasing) need to support internal apps that only work with that browser-, but I am going to focus on one case, in particular, the one that affects me the most: accessibility.

So... how are IE11 and accessibility tied together? What does IE11 have to do with a11y or with being web accessible?

Those are good questions, and to answer them, let me tell you a story: Everything started a long, long, loooong time ago, in the distant years of 2008 and 2009...

WebAIM ran a survey on screen readers and browser usage and, at that time, Internet Explorer dominated the browser landscape. So the results were obvious: IE 6, 7, and 8 were the most used of them all.

Browser % of Respondents
IE6 33%
IE7 68%
IE8 2%
Firefox 39%
Safari 6%
Table: most popular browsers according to the first WebAIM browser survey.

The numbers adding to more than 100% is normal as different people use more than one browser. Also, it is not strange that Chrome doesn't appear in the results as it had just been released, and it was not well-known yet.

WebAIM continued running the survey in an annual-ish manner, then changing it to a biannually schedule (once every two years). In all of the surveys, Internet Explorer was still a dominant browser when used along with screen readers and other assistive technologies.

The results of these accessibility surveys were used by some clients to justify the need to keep supporting IE: accessibility is key, and Internet Explorer is a popular browser among screen reader users.

And that's the relation between a11y and IE... and the reason why a bunch of us were stuck working with a browser that even their creators considered obsolete (only providing security and compatibility updates.)

Many people have told me "Just drop IE! Tell your clients you don't support it!" Which could be Ok with me... but it's not my call. And even if it was, I know it is something easy to say as a developer but not so easy as the person making project/customer decisions. If a client came up with a potential multimillion contract with the condition of supporting IE, and I rejected it waving the no-IE flag, I doubt shareholders would think missing a $,$$$,$$$ opportunity was a great thing. And not only the contract would be over, my job would too!

...But something happened this weekend that might change things a little. You can imagine my excitement when I saw this tweet by WebAIM.

And suddenly there was light at the end of the tunnel. The results of the latest WebAIM survey were kind of expected, but it held some surprises:

  • Chrome is the most popular browser among screen reader users.
  • NVDA is the most popular screen reader.
  • JAWS with Chrome is the most popular combination of screen reader and browser.

IE not being the top browser is normal (it already wasn't in the previous release of the survey). But it still ranked high when combined with screen readers... Something that didn't happen this time, being relegated to the 4th position in the list.

Browser % of Respondents
Chrome 44.4%
Firefox 27.4%
IE11 10.9%
Safari 9.8%
Table: most popular browsers according to the 2019 WebAIM browser survey.

Also, JAWS had dominated the screen reader category in the same fashion that IE dominated the browser category: in a consistent but declining manner. It is the first time that JAWS is not the top screen reader in the rank.

In the latest survey, it is still prominent (40.1% of the respondents considered it their primary screen reader), but it comes in a close second place to NVDA (with a 40.6% of the answers).

And even when it tops the list of screen reader and browser combination (21.4% with Chrome), the usage of JAWS overall is tied at 38.8% with NVDA (the rising star).

...But back to the browsers.

I know this doesn't mean that our clients will immediately say "we don't need support for IE11 anymore!" But this will be an important step to end that request. And with that, one of the last strongholds of IE-support is lost. Which may lead to (finally) the end of Internet Explorer... at least for some of us.

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