FEMA's restrictions were, of course, both more onerous and less justifiable: By also shutting out Mac users, no matter which browser they used, the site could have caused problems for a small but significant number of Katrina survivors. Corporate politics and technology dogma aside, this was unacceptable.
It's both practical and, in many cases, easier for developers to build standards-based Internet applications. Besides making life easier for everyone by allowing access from a veriety of systems and client apps, standards-based sites are far more accessible to people who rely on screen readers and other assistive technologies. In a nation with an aging population and where 10 percent of Internet users rely on some sort of assistive technology, this is a critical issue for any government agency with an online presence.
For most government Web sites, and even for some private-sector sites, accessibility isn't just common courtesy and common sense -- it's also the law. Last month, Tim Berners-Lee and Daniel Weitzner of W3C noted this fact in a letter to the U.S. Copyright Office, regarding its planned pre-registration tool. And while most of us would be content to wait until the next software upgrade allows the office to fix the problem, it seems like only a matter of time before someone with less patience gets a federal judge involved in settling the issue.
Thankfully, common sense prevailed at FEMA: People with enough to worry about won't find themselves jumping through hoops just to fill out a form on a Web site. I hope the Copyright Office follows suit as quickly as possible, and I especially hope other government agencies will take a more far-sighted view when it comes to selecting, buying, and building standards-based Internet technologies.