Why we should support users with no JavaScript

Why should we want to support users that, for whatever reason, have Javascript disabled? I had found it difficult to answer this question in a constructive way, whilst also being backed up by research. This post aims to give you some reasons why we should still be supporting users without Javascript.

Not an accessibility issue

The 2010 WebAIM Screen Reader Survey found that only 1.6% of screenreader users have no Javascript when browsing (compared to 10.4% the previous year)so that argument is wearing thin.

The 2014 WebAIM Screen Reader Survey found that 2.4% of screenreader users have no Javascript when browsing – although this is an increase from 1.4% the previous year, the argument is still thin.

By ensuring an application can be navigated using the keyboard and by using WAI-ARIA, Javascript can be used in an extremely accessible way for all users.

Don’t continue the myth that supporting non-Javascript users is an accessibility issue.

Make the decision based on facts

A recent number crunch of the logs at Yahoo, produced a number of stats that prove non-Javascript users still exist. How many users have JavaScript disabled? The answer is an average of 1.3% (a high of 2.06% in US and a low of 0.26% in Brazil).

Last year (2013) the GDS team asked themselves the question what proportion of people are missing out on their JavaScript enhancements. The answer is an average of 1.1%.

Well-designed web sites and applications always keep in mind the people who have JavaScript disabled.
Yahoo – How many users have JavaScript disabled?

If you take The Guardian as an example, the current average visitors per day is around 2,200,000. 1.3% of that is 28,600 users browsing without Javascript. Per day.

If you have the figures available, base your decision to support (or not support) Javascript-disabled users on those rather than world averages.

Why wouldn’t Javascript be available?

@vick08 asked his followers:

I’d like to hear some reasons as to why people may want to have their javascript turned off?
@vick08 status

A handful of replies shows that some users actively decide to turn off Javascript, whilst others may not have an option to browse with it:

Other reasons can include users who have a limited data allowance and just want to view content without the extra features (and usually extra bandwidth) that Javascript provides and mobile users browsing on low-spec devices.

It’s out of your control

Gawker recently launched a redesign of all of their sites and immediately users were presented with empty pages all because the Javascript failed to load. The industry struggled to understand how such a prominent company could make the decision to have all pages rely on Javascript.

Gawker/Lifehacker have violated the principle of progressive enhancement, and they paid for it immediately with an extended outage on day one of their new site launch.
isolani – Breaking the Web with hash-bangs

Relying on Javascript is dangerous. Errors can be introduced in a couple of unexpected ways. The first is the failure of external advert code, over which you have no control and secondly is friendly-fire in the form of console.log() left in by your developers (this causes scripts to fail if Firebug, or similar, is not enabled in the browser).

How should pages be developed?

Always develop with progressive enhancement in mind, by thinking about your coding in layers:

  1. Start with plain, well-structured HTML to display all your content, ie all forms should submit, ensure all links can be followed.
  2. Next add the CSS to create an advanced layout. This essentially provides your non-Javascript version
  3. Javascript should be the final layer that adds enhanced behaviour to those users that have the capability. This is where you can preventDefault on submits and links and start to create a nicer user experience with AJAX and Javascript.

A Romanian translation of this article has been provided by Web Geek Science