It’s 2021 and we’re still building inaccessible websites

Ross Hall

June 4, 2021
(Updated on June 28, 2021)

Screenshot of CNN.com after disabling JavaScript showing an almost blank web page

CNN and I have had a falling out. Every time I visit their website a video starts playing and there’s no way to switch it off. Whatever music I’m listening to has to be put on hold so I can waste a couple of seconds of my life tracking the thing down and muting it. 

Ah, you might be thinking, browsers have an option to stop videos from autoplaying, and you’d be right. Only somehow CNN has found a way around it.

After a little searching, it appears the only way to stop autoplay from disrupting my music is to disable JavaScript, which is what I did. The result is the screenshot you can see above. 

In short: nothing works. 

The site is entirely dependent on JavaScript to function, and without it becomes a blank page waiting to be filled. There’s no fallback position for those who can’t use or won’t use the script. You’re either all in, or you can sod off. 

There are accessibility issues with this approach. Not all screen readers can process JavaScript rendered in the browser. Then there are people who suffer from poor connections who may find endless problems with slow and interrupted downloads of the many files CNN demands. 

When I was first learning to build websites one of the core principles taught was “degrade gracefully”. Make sure your public site at least functions at the bottom end of the tech curve. I know I don’t always get it right, but I try. CNN just doesn’t seem to have bothered. 

Whatever their reasoning, it seems they’ve abandoned this basic principle of good web design. And it isn’t like their site isn’t something a week on WordPress won’t recreate (I know, I’ve done it). 

For now, we’re parting company. The longer I stay away the less likely I’ll be to return. 

Not that they’ll notice. Or care. 

I'm Ross Hall, a writer and researcher based in Kobe, Japan. You can talk to me about B2B, sustainability and strategic management.

Like what you read? Sign up for my weekly(ish) missive, delivered straight to your inbox.