Unfortunately, there seems to be a rather large misunderstanding of what progressive enhancement actually is. At An Event Apart Chicago, Clearleft's Jeremy Keith was quoted on Twitter as saying: "Progressive enhancement is avoiding a single point of failure".
In addition to this resonant statement, Jeremy went on to talk about the myth that progressive enhancement means designing for the lowest common denominator - when in fact, it means starting from there.
You are not your user
How many times, as a working designer or developer, have you had a problem that only arises as the client is using an older browser? I'm going to stick my neck out here and say, "Countless times".
How many times has a family member or friend asked for you to help sort out their computer, only to find out they aren't using your favourite browser, so you install it to try to convert them? Possibly a few.
And how many times have you watched a partially sighted user navigate a website using a screen reader and a keyboard, only to become frustrated at the simplest of tasks?
But I'm not going to be there alongside every user when something happens that they don't expect, or when they can't find the information they're looking for. Neither are you.
Instead, what we can do is build the web to be as inclusive as possible: to not put up barriers between users and the information they're trying to get, or the task they are trying to complete.
Accessibility for all
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, once said: "Anyone who slaps a 'this page is best viewed with Browser X' label on a web page appears to be yearning for the bad old days, before the web, when you had very little chance of reading a document written on another computer, another word processor, or another network."
Courtesy to others
I find it difficult to believe that people cannot consider the needs of others when building things for the web. It seems an extremely blinkered and closed-minded view - and the antithesis of the web itself.
As Ethan Marcotte put it when responding to the article I referenced at the beginning of this column: "Progressive enhancement's not for those manually disabling JS. It's designing for resilience and reach."
The internet opens up an entire world of information to everyone with a connection to it, lets users perform complicated tasks at the click of a button, and, perhaps most importantly, enables people to connect with each other. Who are we to pick and choose who can and cannot use what we build, if the World Wide Web is indeed, as the name suggests, intended for the world?
Words: Westley Knight