Accessible Flash? Maybe

, Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Whenever someone wants to build an accessible Web site, I always try to conceive the design from the simplest elements on up, rather than most complicated pieces on down. That usually means some more intricate components, like a Flash application, are usually out. Yes, I know it’s a generalization. Yes, I know you can make Flash accessible. But it’s not always easy, especially if you’re making more advanced applications. Even the Adobe site gives us caution:”Creating this kind of content may require guidance for novice developers.”

But if you’re not ready to give up your Flash application or your site’s accessibility, you still have some options. But you need to plan for it. You can’t make the Flash application now, and then decide to make it accessible later. And for your more advanced applications, you need a competent Flash developer who will work with you and understand your accessibility needs.

Flash actually offers some elements that make it more accessible than standard HTML web content. Two that are of note:

  • Vector images. With vector images, someone with low-vision can zoom in on their screen and the Flash content will remain crisp.
  • Key-stroke enabling. You can create interactive Flash applications that do not require mouse interactions.

Using these features, the following tips, and some common sense, you can have your Flash and accessibility too.

  • Use vector images from the start. Just putting your jpg files into a Flash application doesn’t magically make them vector images. If you put a non-vector image in a Flash piece, it will pixilate when zoomed into. Lots of zooming + User’s Low Vision = Useless images.
  • Program your Flash piece in such a way that it can resize when a zoom is applied. The entire Nickelodeon site is in Flash, but when you try to zoom in, the Flash does not resize, and someone with Low Vision will not be able to use the site.
  • When your Flash application has text, make it a text item. Don’t just import a text-as-image into your Flash application. Advanced screen readers can read text in a Flash file. But unless you’ve programmed it carefully, a screen-reader can’t tell what your image is trying to spell out.
  • If you’re going to ask the user to interact with the Flash element, utilize Flash keystrokes. This makes it easy for people who cannot use a mouse to get to your content.
  • If your Flash includes a movie, provide synchronous captioning. To meet 508 and WAI standards, a transcript is not enough. Two plug-ins that provide this functionality include Hi-Caption and MAGpie.
  • Give the user control. If you’re showing a movie, allow the users to stop, rewind, and fast-forward. Don’t use timers.
  • If your application is a simple one (such as a rotating photo gallery), offer a non-flash alternative.

And lastly, follow all the rules you would also follow for accessibility of a typical HTML-only site. Provide good color contrast. Don??t add flickering elements. Offer sensible navigation. And make sure anyone, disability or not, can enjoy your site.

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