Flash MX: Moving Toward Accessible Rich Media

by Andrew Kirkpatrick

18 Reader Comments

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  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. 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.


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  7. 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.


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  8. 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.


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