So Where Is All The Accessible Flash?

I attended the TechShare conference last week and was interested to observe the creation/use of a screen reader accessible flash user interface to play accessible (with audio description and captioning) videos in the session “Accessible Video With Flash Technology”. I have heard/read for some time that screen reader accessible flash players are perfectly feasible but, not able to remember the last time I actually came across one in use on the web, it was good to actually see/hear one in action.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the UI used here was compatible back to JAWS version 4.5; I can’t remember the Window-Eyes and Hal compatible versions quoted but they weren’t the very latest.

So why the gap between what’s possible and what happens? I can safely say that I can’t recall any accessible, usable flash players on the web, let alone audio described videos. I’m sure (I hope) someone will point some out to me; I’m not saying they’re not out there – but they are few and far between and none springs to my mind at the moment. Without going into how to define “accessible” and “usable”, let’s just say that as a pretty knowledgeable/experienced JAWS (primarily) and occasional Window-Eyes user who uses the web extensively, I can’t recall any.

Is there a problem with lack of resources for developers? I’m not sure how many in the room were developers, but one who was did ask where they could find this information.

Is it too time consuming/costly to deliver accessible videos with flash technology? Taking the user interface and the content separately – I’m not a flash developer but I would think adding labels to buttons on an interface takes very little time – and would not be seen as an “extra” if development software behaved in such a way as to make labelling default/almost compulsory behaviour. At the very least, I’m convinced that if a dialog box popped up whenever a file was closed leaving a button unlabelled explaining/encouraging labelling but not making too much of a meal of it, most people would label.

Regarding video content itself – I think this is a different matter. There are degrees and types of accessibility where videos are concerned. There’s a difference between “audio description” and somebody describing a little of what they’re doing; between subtitling aimed at people speaking a different language and captioning aimed at hearing impaired people. What people can/should/do do depends on a whole range of factors and is much more complicated than the labelling buttons issue. But it’s highly welcome that flash has the capability to support audio description and captioning.

I do wonder whether, by discussing accessible UIs, audio description and captioning all under one heading of “accessible video” (as it was at this particular conference session), we mislead developers/commissioners about the distinctions between the issues and end up in a situation where nothing is done very well: if “accessible video” comes to mean in people’s minds video with audio description and captioning which (by the way) gets played via a screen reader accessible player, will they, not having the budget/skills to do audio description and captioning, neglect to make the interface accessible too?

One of the main reasons there is such a lack of accessible flash (by which I mean accessible interfaces to control the flash on the web), and a reason it matters so much, is the expansion of so called “web 2.0” sites like myspace and youtube where the lines between those developing interfaces/content and those using/interacting with it are blurred/non existent. Techshare conferences and the like can only ever reach a certain proportion of developers/those who have a hand in development, which is why it is becoming more and more important to make accessibility as default/automatic as it can be, through the development tools used.

If I go to a play/show which isn’t audio described I still have a chance of enjoying it/experiencing it in some way – at the very least, if it is highly visual, I can have fun in my head making up what’s happening on stage whilst listening – but having an inaccessible user interface is the equivalent of being shut out of the theatre, or even not being aware of its existence.

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2 Responses

  1. Well, I heard Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are users. Is that proof of existence? I have seen accessible Flash elements like a captioned movie, but have not seen accessible Flash components like a music player with controls, let alone an accessible Flash interface, where everything on screen is Flash. And by accessible, I mean keyboard accessible. A big Flash blob that the keyboard treats as one item is NOT accessible. More and more companies are moving to Flash everything, so I too am eager to see accessibility addressed during design instead of after the fact to “get the sticker”.

  2. Hey, cool tips. Perhaps I’ll buy a bottle of beer to that man from that forum who told me to visit your site 🙂

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