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Are HTML And CSS Still Valuable On Their Own? Abso-friggin-lutely

There’s a post going around web maker social media that deals with the subject of HTML and CSS being undervalued, to the point that people who only write HTML and CSS, or even people who don’t write JavaScript, have no value in this industry, and how we desperately need to change that mindset. It struc a chord, and I have some related thoughts. Well, more like a related rant, because although this attitude is one that’s being talked about as if it’s new, the truth is it’s not special to JavaScript, but more on that later.

Money quote:

When every new website on the internet has perfect, semantic, accessible HTML and exceptionally executed, accessible CSS that works on every device and browser, then you can tell me that these languages are not valuable on their own. Until then we need to stop devaluing CSS and HTML.
Mandy Michael

In case you were wondering, we have a long, long way to go before we get to the point where every single website meets the qualifications I quoted above. We’re not even close. Wanna know why? Crappy HTML, and crappy CSS. That is pretty much what this whole accessibility thing comes down to, at the most basic level. People who use assistive technology can’t use ninety percent of the web because crappy HTML and crappy CSS. You have trouble using your phone to browse the web when it’s sunny out on your back porch because crappy CSS. If you pay me to audit your WordPress theme or plugin, the overwhelming majority of the issues I’m going to flag have to do with the way your PHP and JS are creating HTML and you’re using crappy CSS. Wanna use ARIA for your controls? Guess what it does. Extend HTML. And this isn’t a JavaScript-specific thing. They’re far from the first to be of the opinion that HTML and CSS aren’t important or are less valuable than the latest fad. This idea is almost as old as the web itself. PHP shares this attitude in some quarters. So did every other community building something that was supposed to be the be-all-end-all of creating things on the web. I’d even venture to say that this attitude was prevalent for a very long time in the WordPress space, and the further you get from the inner circle of the WordPress community, (the one percent, if you will), the more prevalent this attitude is. But HTML and CSS are critical to how the entire web works, and unless you learn them to underpin your JS and your PHP or whatever other web technology comes along in the future, we will continue to have a broken web, and it’s only a matter of time before you, personally, have to deal with the consequences in a way that you can’t change by simply changing your surroundings. Seriously, don’t wait till it gets to that point. Learn HTML and CSS properly so that we all have a web to use no matter what the circumstances. Learn HTML and CSS properly so you can build page builders with graphical user interfaces that anyone can use to build things for the web that work for everyone. Don’t shift onto the shoulders of your users the task of playing whack-a-mole to find accessibility problems and then making the extra effort to report them to you in the most diplomatic way possible, because that takes a metric ton of energy and emotional labor, and every single person with a disability should not have to be an accessibility advocate. Don’t continue to foster a situation where there are entire platforms where you can’t build or use a website while using assistive technology, only to then be possibly told that if you want to be able to do so, you might have to vote on it as a feature, and hope you can get enough people together to convince some CEO somewhere that this thing that is part and parcel of how the web was intended to work that he’s now considering an enhancement is something he really should fix on his platform. It’s not enough for only some platforms to be accessible. Every single one of them should be, by default, and getting there requires that anyone who calls themselves a web developer learn HTML and CSS, even if that means you have to stop what you’re doing with the latest sexy thing on the web so you can go back and learn them.

I could probably boil all of this down to “Don’t be a jerk.” But “Learn HTML and CSS” is the one thing that the accessibility community has been saying for years and years and years and years, and if we were to turn this into a drinking game, (every time you have to correct some developer’s HTML or CSS, take a drink), we’d all be dead from alcohol poisoning. And it’s incredibly disheartening to ponder where we might be if everyone who ever built anything for the web had learned its foundational technologies properly. So, go learn HTML and CSS deeply, and quit devaluing these technologies by your words and actions.


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