Can Flash become the best defense to a Visually Impaired Website Access Law?

Techcrunch reported today on a potential ruling in the state of California that all web sites need to be accessible to the visually impaired. The article singles out AJAX sites (and other script-based sites) as potentially coming up very short of standards that may come from such a ruling. Flash-based sites and apps could be hit the hardest.

The case stems from a lawsuit against Target and argues that a site’s inability to cater to visually impaired users limits their right to enjoy its goods and services. I don’t disagree that there are measures that can be taken universally to make sites friendlier to users with certain disabilities. I wonder if we can place some responsibility for a solution here on the browser. If browser’s today are smart enough to filter out RSS and various tags, perhaps they can enhance the site experience for certain users. Still, that wouldn’t solve the problem for most RIA’s today.

A long time ago when I was pushing Flash to execs at Fidelity, one of my arguments was Flash’s accessibility features, which could become very advantageous to the aging/retiring customers, the target market of┬átheir retirement income business strategy. I wonder if it’s time we bring such abilities of Flash to the forefront again.

With all the buzz about new features in Flash, we seldom discuss enhancements to accessibility features. Is this a lost feature set, I wonder? This potential ruling by the state of California (and beyond) could make us take a more accessible application development approach much more seriously… and fast!

I’m curious… do any of you have experience with coding accessibility features? It would be nice to see some examples.

chuckstar

3 Comments

Ryan Stewart

Great post dude. I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t know about a lot of the accessibility stuff in Flash. I sent an email around internally to find out if we’ve got anything new in Flash Player 9. The stuff I’ve seen for Flex all refers to it as “Macromedia” and talk about FP7.

I’ll blog if I hear anything.

=Ryan
rstewart@adobe.com

josh chernoff

I think I seen something about text to speech with flash some where on then net but I cant find it any more. When I do I’ll forward a link

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis

Personally, I’ve never been sold on the advantages of Flash over the HTML/CSS/JS stack in terms of accessibility. At least in terms of text (re)presentation, the HTML/CSS/JS stack seems to provide end-users with visual impairments much greater built-in control. But that’s just by-the-by: developers on all platforms and technologies need to be thinking about how to maximise the accessibility of their content and applications.

While the pace of accessibility improvements to Flash does seem to have slowed since the Macromedia days, they never entirely stopped. A striking recent addition is that the most current Flash Player 9 Update beta gives the NSAPI-based plugin the ability to expose Flash content to the Microsoft Active Accessibility framework for use by assistive technologies on the Windows platform (the ActiveX plugin has long had that ability):

http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flashplayer9/

There’s a very good survey of the current state of Flash accessibility support at Niqui Merret’s blog:

http://niquimerret.com/?p=94

If you’d like to see examples of Flash that uses the Flash accessibility featureset, take a look at RNIB’s case study of J K Rowling’s homepage:

http://www.rnib.org.uk/xpedio/groups/public/documents/publicwebsite/public_jkrowling.hcsp

The Adobe Accessibility blog is another good source of information on Flash and Flex accessibility:

http://blogs.adobe.com/accessibility/

W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 are being designed to provide generic, testable guidelines that apply to proprietary technologies like Flash just as much as to standards that are open to all implementors, so they’re definitely worth a look:

http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag20

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