Flash MX: Moving Toward Accessible Rich Media

by Andrew Kirkpatrick

18 Reader Comments

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  1. Ok – we might be overreacting to FlaskMX, but there is no structure and it is not open. I think what alot of us would hope for is that Macromedia would embrace SVG a W3 recommended vortor redering technology which uses xml. SVG is up to par at this stage and provides great document structures which will help us grow beyond alot of these problems.

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  2. OK, wonderfull aritcles. A good clarification about accessibility problem in Flash. But I’d like to read on these pages something about Flash MX and the future of web design. Macromedia think it’s Flash-based, and you?

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  3. > But I’d like to read on these pages something about Flash MX and
    > the future of web design. Macromedia think it’s Flash-based, and
    > you?

    Gosh, the PRESENT of web design is Flash-based. It’s also HTML-based. And XHTML-based. And XML-based. And CSS-based. And DOM-based. And CMS-based. It’s a lot of things, and they all meet different needs.

    It’s understandable that Macromedia would take a “Flash everywhere” position. If your company made Flash, you might make similar statements. If XML was a corporate product instead of an open and emerging standard, the corporate owners of XML™ might issue equally broad proclamations.

    Flash is an amazing tool, Flash MX is better than its predecessors, and the badly needed accessibility enhancements discussed in this week’s articles make it better still. But powerful as it is, and integrated as it is with Cold Fusion, XML, and so on, it’s still just one tool among many.

    The future, I expect, will offer designers and developers even more technologies to choose from, and they’ll pick the ones that best serve their project and audience.

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  4. Flash content having little or no structure not only poses accessibility problems for users. Any search engine that chooses to index SWFs will basically get a load of unstructured, possibly jumbled text. Links will only be found by looking for obvious URL strings in things like getURL.

    Of course, part of Flash’s appeal to designers is that it doesn’t force them to think logically about structure, but that’s also its weakness and makes true accessibility difficult. It’s the best animation format we have, ideal for many interactive features, and I’m guessing it’ll be one of the top video formats in a year’s time, but for the foreseeable future I’ll be sticking with XHTML for structure, text content and navigation.

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  5. I think I mostly agree with Mr. Zeldman on this one, Flash has it’s place in the Web. Obviously you don’t want to use Flash, even now that it supports MSAA, for handing out technical documentation but, it might be great for generating interactive graphs for physics lectures. Just so long as those interactive graphs are as fully accessible as we can make them, Flash should be fine.

    However I think that point should be that some things are easier to make accessible than others for some applications. If you have a lot of text, HTML will always be the easiest choice to implement accessibly.

    And one unrelated comment, is Apple doing anything to implement something like MSAA in OS ten plus? They’d better get on this.

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  6. IMHO, Macromedia’s not really pushing a ‘Flash everywhere’ philosophy, it just seems that way because Flash is so damn popular. MM’s attitude is more in line with Zeldman’s “just one tool among many” view and John Dowdell has an excellent article at the MM developer center on this:

    “Where’s HTML in MX?”
    http://www.macromedia.com/desdev/jd_forum/jd005.html

    To be fair to the conspiracy theorists, however, I can see how Macromedia is trying to have Flash be one tool among many that THEY create. It’s hard not to think so, when you look at the broad and ever-increasing scope of their authoring tools, which currently generate html, xhtml, xml, css, flash, asp, jsp, coldfusion, jpgs, gifs, pngs… the list just keeps going. And that’s just the front-end stuff!

    Anyone else uneasy with this all-solutions-to-all-people strategy?

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  7. Quato from: http://www.macromedia.com/desdev/jd_forum/jd005.html
    Sometimes people in those threads got on an SVG rant, but that has very little relevance to this discussion. SVG is just a file format for vector graphics, and never solved the practical problem of widespread computer viewability. Flash solved both those problems years ago, and then solved reliable animation and interactivity, and is now moving towards video integration, efficient application development, connectivity and communications, and viewability on portable and embedded devices too.

    SVG is a W3 recomendation with many advantages for search engines, metadata and 508 accessability issues. Flash solved “viewability” years ago! SVG is only getting going now and it offers much more functionality that an swf can. All we ask is ‘please include” svg functionallity. Adobes LiveMotion does. Remember Adobe missed the internet boat at the beginning. Macromedia had killer apps incl. flash out befor Adobe were on the drawing board. That was years ago. Macromedia, dont sit on the fence. It’s time to move on. Implement SVG in flash. In combination with actionscript … should be awesome.

    In the meantime if Flashplayer 7 would support SVG It could save us an extra plugin

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  8. According to Adobe, LiveMotion does not support SVG. In the LiveMotion FAQ, Adobe explains why SVG is not supported (http://www.adobe.com/products/livemotion/pdfs/lm2_faq.pdf).

    Considering how much Adobe has put into advancing SVG as a standard, it’s suprising that the one tool that is ideal for demonstrating how much better SVG is compared to SWF, is instead pushed as an alternative for generating SWF content.

    As for accessibility, Flash MX has a major headstart over LiveMotion. LiveMotion may have a better UI than Flash, but it still falls short when is comes to creating accessible content.

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  9. While I appluas Macromedia for the effort they are putting into making flash accessable, I am not sure that it is really possible. Flash is, after all, an interactive and highly audiovisual medium. I have not seen flash used to merely convey information that would be easily accessible to an impaired user. More often, it is used to add audiovisual flair to a page or in more avant-garde sites used to create an entirely new medium that isn’t translatable into text any more than a painting is. The point of flash is to make pages cooler, and that coolness will be totally lost on users who can’t experience flash in all its glory. My recommendation? If you have important information, make it available in a non-flash format, like XML. This is better not just for accessability but also for versatility, searchability, and is generally more appropriate.

    Also, do you seriously expect Macromedia to use an open format for Flash? They have a natural monopoly right now, and if they opened their format they would lose that. Flash is the best application for creating Flash content, because it defines flash content. I don’t see what advantage an open standard would offer macromedia.

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  10. SWF for a big chunk has been figured out, or at least been optimizable via FLASM for awhile now (check sourceforge).

    I believe this debate is close to the whole 508 deal. If it goes through the farce of 508, then opening up to a publically open swf format is important in making those changes viable.

    The biggest telltale for svg will be from the community. It is possible to create an svg interpreter for flash (new draw commands) for many basic vectors. Check out were-here or any other flash site – there are talks about flash 3d (x, y, z) engines, and many agree on some type of xml/standards input.

    However, where do we draw the line between shockwave and flash? Where will Macromedia?

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  11. It’s all information that is being conveyed, one way or another, right?
    You indicated that “[you] have not seen flash used to merely convey
    information that would be easily accessible to an impaired user” and
    that “The point of flash is to make pages cooler”. I think that what
    makes well-designed Flash pages cooler is when the user-interface to the
    information is improved and makes accessing the information easier.

    A great example of using Flash to improve visual access to a large
    volume of information is the “Deep Time” feature at PBS’s Evolution site
    (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/change/deeptime/index . html). This
    example doesn’t work with a screen reader, but the information within
    the presentation is valuable. If it is possible to make the content
    accessible within Flash, shouldn’t we? Some aspects of the visual
    interface are difficult to imagine translating well to an audio-only
    rendering, but I believe that more research is needed on what the best
    ways to offer information for people using assistive technologies before
    dismissing Flash as a medium not to be used to deliver real information.

    It is a real challenge to figure out ways to present visual content in text and audio, but it can be done. A person who is blind may nt be able to observe a painting through their own senses, but certainly can participate in a discussion of how a particular work fits into some historical context if information about the painting is provided in text.

    If assistive technology can be used to strip out the same information
    that a developer might include in an XML format, what’s the difference
    for the user?

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  12. How can I access .swf files from my visual basic code? How can I render .swf files on my vb form?

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  13. Over the last few years we’ve been attempting to address accessibility alongside the delivery of rich media for eLearning. Our own implementation, though based upon a Macromedia solution (Shockwave) would not have been achievable using Flash.

    As well as providing full keyboard access for navigation and interactions (basic multiple choice through to drag and drop). We have rather than relying on third party screen readers incorporated full and configurable TTS as part of the solution.

    Throughout all of this we have attempted to adhere closely to recommendations described by the IMS Accessibility Working Group (http://www.imsproject.org/accessibility/index.cfm). In particular we have tried to develop a solution based around Direct Access rather than Compatible Access (imsacc_wpv0p6.pdf #2.4). Whilst Flash MX from what I have understood so far has attempted to address what is described as Compatible Access. To my mind means unpredictable results and expensive TTS solutions.

    Our ongoing efforts are available to demo at the following address http://www.canvaslearning.com. Click on ‘DEMO’ and then select CANVAS LEARNING PLAYER DEMO (note: The Author Demo though related, is something altogether different)

    You will require Shockwave, and (on win32) will need a SAPI conformant voice engine (http://activex.microsoft.com/activex/controls/sapi/spchapi.exe). The player will also install a couple of Shockwave Xtras. On the other hand all of this is free and you won’t need Window-Eyes or Jaws.

    To make keyboard access more usable, we’ve grouped navigation and materials separately. This in fact works to such an extent that many able users actually prefer to use the keyboard as opposed to the mouse. The keyboard controls are as follows;

    Control & Right arrow: Next group item
    Control & Left arrow: Previous group item
    Control & Up arrow: Switch group
    Control & Down arrow: Select deselect item

    Happy to field any questions or comments.

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  14. Flash ignores fundamental web user interface principles, it’s proprietary, it’s slow, it’s destroying the web one web page at a time, and it gets worse every day. Every day another vile Flash-only web site infects the web. Every day another pernicious Flash advertisement hijacks your web browser. Flash has its uses, but as long as it continues to be so grossly misused that it endangers the web as a whole (and it does, mark my words), there is no alternative but to boycott it (and the people who use it) entirely. Just say “no” to Flash—and not just “no”, but “Hell no!”.

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  15. Does anyone have any information on how widespread the use of Flash is among those with accessability issues? I wouldn’t think that those with visual imparements would have embraced Flash already. Even though FlashMX now has some 508 compatability, if users don’t have the plug-in, does it matter?

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  16. Marc,

    A simple but no brainer solution for purveying content to handicapped users:
    put the info in <noscript> tags at the pages top,
    handicapped users mostly have scripting disabled anyway, so they’ll have it interpreted by their software.
    (…and google reads it too!!)

    Position the <noscript> content at the bottom of page
    (position:absolute; top:150%),
    so it doesn’t annoy those who have JS deactivated.

    Marek

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  17. I forgot to clarify:

    >so it doesn’t annoy those who have JS deactivated…
    The non handicapped users able to enyoy/read Flash content
    who have JS deactivated for security reasons are ment.

    Marek

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  18. Marek,
    You state:
    “handicapped users mostly have scripting disabled anyway”.

    This is totally unsupportable. You can not find data on this topic. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that disabled users are very much like non-disabled users. Some turn js off, most leave it on.

    AWK

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