Today’s the day! Microsoft has ended support for the long-suffering Internet Explorer web browser.
Internet Explorer (IE) has been with us for 27 years. In that time, it’s been both a leader and a follower in accessibility. In the mid 2000s it was almost universal. But in recent years, IE has fallen behind, and users have noticed. Almost everyone has moved to another browser. Assistive technology users are no exception.
The end of IE means many new web technologies are more widely supported. At Intopia, we’re excited to apply these features in accessible development. We also know some users will continue to use IE past the end of support. We’re committed to an approach that preserves functionality for these users wherever possible.
The web features that are now (almost) universal
IE hasn’t supported most new features of the web for the last few years. Many organisations have maintained IE support, which means many useful tools haven’t had widespread uptake. After today, we expect to see and use them more.
Here’s a few of the features we’re excited to see in common use:
- Disabled fieldsets disable a chunk of a form with a single attribute. It removes the elements from the focus order and is easy to switch on and off.
- The object-fit attribute gives designers simple controls for how images overflow their containers. For designers and developers, reflow just became far easier.
- Email, datetime, number, search and many other input types are now available. They carry roles and some native validation. Now all we need is an accessible native date picker…
- The media query prefers-reduced-motion is now supported by all living browsers. It’s easier than ever for sites to respect user’s animation preferences.
However, relying on these technologies doesn’t mean abandoning support for the remaining IE users.
Some accessible technology users will keep using IE
In 2018, a WebAIM survey of users with low vision found that 15% used Internet Explorer. In a 2021 WebAIM survey 3% of screen reader users said IE was their primary browser. We expect some of these users will keep using IE after the formal shutdown.
Why are people still using IE?
Some users have preferred accessibility tools that only run on Internet Explorer. Many users develop expertise with specific tools and settings over many years. Switching browsers means losing that investment and starting again with a new tool.
Internet Explorer Mode will keep IE viable
Microsoft has created Internet Explorer mode for Edge. This option allows users to keep IE specific settings and extensions.
IE mode won’t be available on new devices and won’t be supported forever. For the next few years, though, accessibility professionals should know that some people will keep using IE.
Backwards compatibility, always
It’s possible to run these features while leaving a light on for the last IE users. In general, sites should be built to work with minimal features, and grow more complex and customised, rather than breaking if a new web technology isn’t supported. We’ll have some more advice on this in the coming days.
The web is a living technology, and that’s great
It’s tempting to remember the golden age of Internet Explorer as a better time on the Web. In the years since, the web has raced forward. Sometimes, it’s raced faster than accessibility tools and standards could keep up.
The web can do more now than it could then. Today is a reminder of how much the web has changed, even in the 5 years since IE began to wind down. Internet Explorer has not kept up, but the web accessibility community can, and has. We’re about to discover even more tools and solutions.
Goodbye, Internet Explorer!