Clarifying the Idea – A Record Aside

In “Flash Entry: Unclear on the Idea,” I
dissected Macromedia’s plans for making Flash accessible to
folks with disabilities.
On the time, Macromedia had ignored accessibility fully. As soon as it
had belatedly dedicated to fixing the issue, the corporate didn’t
know simply what it was moving into.

Article Continues Beneath

Folks preserve telling me to cease being such a bitch, so here’s a a lot
cheerier and fewer disempowering replace. Macromedia now not ignores
accessibility and does know what it’s moving into,
however solely the very earliest steps have been taken.

The display screen reader drawback#section2

The brand new Flash MX authoring surroundings and the equally
new Flash Participant 6 resolve a number of accessibility issues.

Display screen reader compatibility is the primary Macromedia entry milestone.
Display screen readers—which, by the best way, will not be known as
“voice browsers” or “textual content readers”—are software program that reads net pages, and the rest in your
laptop, out loud. (I’d present you an image, however aside
from a number of uninteresting configuration screens, these packages have
no overt seen type.) The main display screen readers are:

  1. IBM House Web page Reader
  2. JAWS (by Freedom Scientific)
  3. Window-Eyes (by GW Micro)
  4. Outspoken (by ALVA Entry Group)
  5. Emacspeak (freeware for Linux)

Sometimes, display screen readers may output textual content to Braille shows
as an alternative of and even along with voice output. Braille shows are
fascinating, rarefied, and expensive gadgets. Tieman, Freedom Scientific, and ALVA are notable producers. Not all that
many individuals use them, partially as a result of not all that many individuals learn
Braille (possibly 10% of blind folks).

In bizarre HTML web sites, display screen readers can learn textual content on the web page,
plus textual content equivalents like alt, title, and
longdesc. They will additionally:

  • let you know the variety of pictures, frames, and tables on the
    web page (sure, buddies, the reality might be revealed—each display screen
    reader besides OutSpoken for Macintosh can deal with tables fairly
    adequately, so go forward and use them)
  • record each hyperlink on the web page
  • announce or ignore punctuation
  • enunciate phrases letter-by-letter and numbers digit-by-digit
  • communicate at superhuman speeds (is 300 phrases per minute quick
    sufficient for you?), which skilled display screen reader customers can

Take a look at a helpful little QuickTime video known as “Introduction to the Display screen Reader.”

Almost each blind or visually-impaired individual on-line who makes use of a
display screen reader does so on the Home windows platform. Other than the massive
basic put in base of Home windows machines, the explanation for Home windows
dominance traces again to a Microsoft software program infrastructure often called
Energetic Accessibility. MSAA acts as an
middleman between the construction and look of Home windows software program
packages (together with Home windows itself and varied browsers) and
“adaptive expertise” like display screen readers.

Adaptive expertise can ballot MSAA to seek out out the place the cursor
is positioned, the place textual content, toolbars, and icons are positioned and what they
say and imply, and extra.

With the intention to make a pc accessible, a display screen reader producer
merely has to jot down software program appropriate with MSAA calls, plus the
normal caveats about compensating for particular person packages’
incompatibilities (together with Microsoft’s personal software program). That is
not a small job, however it’s a a lot simpler job with MSAA than it
could be if adaptive-technology makers have been compelled to reinvent the
wheel, which is definitely the case on, say, Mac OS, which presents nothing
in the best way of an accessibility infrastructure. The Gnome Accessibility Undertaking is an ongoing
however incomplete effort to jot down an entry infrastructure for Linux.

In the intervening time, the one display screen reader that works with Flash Participant 6 is Window-Eyes by GW Micro. The large identify in that subject, JAWS, will apparently be made
appropriate within the subsequent dot-level improve.

Why ought to Flash be accessible?#section3

Due to the U.S. authorities’s Part
508 necessities. Although sprawling and arduous to know, 508
requires that expertise offered to or used inside the U.S. federal
authorities and a restricted variety of exterior entities be accessible to
folks with varied disabilities. That features net applied sciences of all types.

It’s not broadly understood that 508 rules have been in
impact and enforceable
since June 21, 2001. They’re not coming
down the pike; they’re right here already. In apply, there isn’t any
precise enforcement; we live in a sort of grace interval.
However the necessities finally will be enforced, and
noncompliant merchandise couldn’t be purchased by the U.S.
authorities thereafter.

In easy and fairly unexaggerated phrases, if Macromedia didn’t
make Flash accessible, after a sure level it may by no means set up
one other copy of Flash on the computer systems of the biggest single purchaser of
info expertise in the US.

How’s that for “letting the market determine”? For those who
wish to preserve your greatest shopper, you adjust to its calls for. And in
apply, IT distributors all over the place are frantically modifying their
software program and {hardware} for 508 compliance, which can profit each
disabled person of that {hardware} or software program whether or not inside or exterior
the American authorities. 508 has the impact of requiring
accessibility for the whole English-language laptop business

(A legalistic element: Technically, authorities companies are
liable for compliance, not exterior distributors, and we have already got
seen complaints about
offloading 508 compliance to software program and {hardware} makers. The impact
is identical: Flash must be accessible when utilized by entities lined
by 508.)

That’s the actual cause Macromedia goes to all this hassle.
It’s also true that the corporate now believes accessibility is the
proper factor to do for all the same old moral and enterprise causes, however
the inciting incident was the prospect of completely shedding U.S.
authorities gross sales.

And as for the query “If Flash is all about visible
presentation, why ought to we hassle making issues work for the
blind?”: Blind and visually-impaired folks aren’t the
solely ones with related entry wants—deaf/hard-of-hearing and
learning-disabled individuals are two different teams, to not point out these
with mobility impairments that make navigating the net tough. In
any occasion, audiovisual media have been made accessible to folks with
disabilities for many years. I personally have been watching captioned TV for almost 25 years. Audio description
for the blind has been aired on TV within the U.S. since 1988. First-run
motion pictures are captioned,
described, or each. Static HTML web sites are made accessible.
So are theatrical and dance performances and museum displays.

Is Flash so very totally different that it must be exempted? Hardly.

MX/6: The primary hurdle#section4

Macromedia’s new “authoring surroundings,” Flash MX,
and the brand new Flash Participant 6 provide substantial, actual, and solely barely
incomplete display screen reader help. Amongst different issues, you possibly can assign
textual content equivalents (just like alt and
longdesc in HTML) to buttons, enter fields, motion pictures, and
a number of different objects, all of which display screen readers can discover and skim

Textual content per se is mechanically “uncovered” to display screen readers,
which means that many components of many current Flash websites are immediately made
accessible should you’re utilizing Flash Participant 6 and the suitable adaptive
expertise. Authors don’t need to carry a finger.

Related Macromedia websites:

That final merchandise reveals the constraints of MX/6’s accessibility
so far. It’s a accomplished model of the Voluntary Product Accessibility
Template created by the Info Expertise Trade Council.
It’s meant as a fast approach to test compliance with 508

provides some evasive solutions and nearly begrudgingly concedes
Flash’s inadequacies:

  1. Incomplete keyboard entry [§1194.21(a)],
    together with an incapability to make use of varieties fully through keyboard [§1194.21(l)]. It’s a a lot
    greater deal than folks suppose; display screen readers are notoriously choosy
    in coping with onscreen varieties, and whereas we have to insist that
    display screen reader producers get their merchandise working correctly,
    accessible code must be there to make use of within the first place. (In Flash,
    the scroll bar, record bins, and combo bins will not be accessible)
  2. Incomplete management over coloration decisions
    [§1194.21(g)]. Admittedly
    tough or unimaginable to do; right here in the actual world, coloration schemes can’t be randomly or open-endedly changed
  3. Cease animation [§1194.21(h)]. The spec requires “at
    least one non-animated presentation mode”; it isn’t fairly the
    identical to deselect “Play” from the contextual thực đơn on any
    particular Flash animation. In impact, should you animate one thing, you
    have to supply an equal unanimated model, which defeats the
    objective of animation in lots of circumstances
  4. Caption and describe an animation [§1194.22(b)], a extreme
    failing that Macromedia fudges right here
  5. Present a text-only web page [§1194.22(k)].  Macromedia cops
    out and offloads this job onto HTML

I simply completed writing a e-book
about “conventional” HTML net accessibility, so please
consider me once I let you know that the present Net Content material Accessibility
Pointers are outdated and poorly defined. HTML is itself not
fully as much as the duty of constructing net pages accessible. However the
capabilities or HTML are a helpful baseline of comparability.

Among the many issues you are able to do in HTML that you could’t do in Flash:

  1. Set and alter textual content languages (although you possibly can
    detect a language setting utilizing ActionScript)
  2. Add titles to just about the whole lot
  3. Add lengthy descriptions to sure knowledge sorts (like frames
    and iframes); Flash doesn’t use equal knowledge sorts, however you possibly can
    nonetheless make frame- or iframe-like parts in Flash
  4. Mark up acronyms and abbreviations (dubiously helpful in
    HTML, however the functionality is there)
  5. Embrace a number of ranges of different content material (like
    or the numerous options in <iframe>)
  6. Group and annotate type parts (utilizing
    enter, legend, fieldset, and
    the like)

Notice that some commentators accuse
Macromedia of pulling a Microsoft by growing self-contained
proprietary programming realms that undermine the universality of
HTML and standardized net applied sciences. Macromedia denies it, but when
that occurs, Flash must be no less than as accessible as HTML. At
current, it isn’t.

The 508 necessities and the record of what’s doable in HTML
are in some ways an unfair comparability. Flash isn’t HTML, and
even a few of the HTML-specific entry capabilities will not be very
helpful (like acronym and abbr). Textual content-only
pages aren’t very helpful,
both, however they’re required beneath 508. Colorblindness is poorly
understood, and the present necessities, which name for primarily
random or arbitrary coloration substitute, not solely are absurd within the
actual world however don’t essentially resolve the inaccessibility for
folks with coloration deficiencies.

HTML has been round lengthy sufficient that its capacities have influenced
accessibility necessities. Accessibility specialists are, furthermore,
usually hostile to good visible design. There’s a substantial
bias inside net accessibility towards “common” HTML and
away from “proprietary” software program like Flash and PDF.
Individuals are simply gonna need to recover from that. DVDs, house videotapes,
tv, and the flicks are all accessible in barely totally different
however functionally comparable methods. HTML, Flash, PDF, and no matter new
expertise comes alongside can all be accessible in their very own methods.

This problem could make clear the final objections of some Flash critics.
As a substitute of complaining about Flash-only web sites, shouldn’t we
be involved about applicable options? An HTML website must be
out there in parallel with a Flash website; the HTML website must be as
HTML-like as doable, with the Flash website as Flash-like as doable.
You possibly can have comparable however not similar content material and features in each

Equally, Flash-only websites must be as accessible as doable in
Flash-specific methods, whereas HTML-only websites ought to have HTML-like
accessibility. The 508 and WCAG specs as written don’t mirror the
multiformat actuality of the net.

Probably the most vital deficiency in accessible Flash is the absence of
primitives—built-in procedures and capabilities—for
captioning (for deaf viewers) and audio description (for blind

Flash animations—even very discreet, tasteful, extremely usable
animations, together with people who do nothing however transfer textual content round
onscreen—are a type of cinema. Cinematic works are already
made accessible in quite a lot of media and settings (TV; tape and disc; film homes; on-line). There is no such thing as a
such factor as an ideal system in any of these media; some entry
provisions are solely barely sufficient.

Nonetheless, knowledge buildings are already in place for captioning and
audio description in non-Flash media. There are, in impact, slots
into which you’ll stick caption textual content or a recording of an audio
description. In “conventional” on-line video of the
QuickTime/Actual/Home windows Media ilk, we undergo from a profusion of knowledge
buildings, together with RealText,  QTtext, SMIL, and SAMI.

It’s not significantly simple so as to add captions and descriptions to
conventional on-line video, which in some ways is considerably worse
than very previous media like TV. However it’s no less than doable. (See, for
instance, MAGpie.) You
can hack your method by means of the present textual content primitives in
Flash to create a captioned animation; WGBH has a pleasant instance up the place
caption textual content, although arduous to learn (screenfonts stay a difficulty), is
really selectable.

It’s also theoretically doable so as to add a second audio observe utilizing
the present Flash sound buildings that may perform as descriptive

However the actuality is that it stays unimaginable to caption or describe
a Flash animation inside a Flash authoring program itself.
You the viewer can not merely choose a standardized, common command
within the Flash participant itself to activate captions or descriptions. If
there weren’t already a variety of small failings in
display screen reader entry, the absence of captions and descriptions alone
could be sufficient to make Flash Participant 6 noncompliant with Part
508. As it’s, the absence merely makes the participant extra

Macromedia is aware of all this, partially as a result of I’ve talked to them at
nice size to verify they (a) don’t overlook captions and
descriptions and (b) don’t blow it after they attempt to implement
these options. The difficulty is that the event crew for
accessibility at Macromedia is small (by no means greater than 4 folks
full-time, often extra like 2½ folks). The corporate properly
selected to get display screen reader entry working first and fear about
the whole lot else later.

I’m informed that rudimentary captioning help will seem in a
dot-level Flash improve this yr or subsequent. It’s a honest supposition
that MAGpie will play a big function. Freebie suggestion: Add help
for SMIL, which is a full-fledged W3C advice.

There stays the final drawback, relevant to all audiovisual
media, of the shortage of coaching in accessibility, which Macromedia
builders will be unable to unravel however should finally be solved
anyway by somebody, someplace, one way or the other. Even when we had an ideal
technical infrastructure for audiovisual accessibility, there’s
no coaching on find out how to do it correctly. I’m very concerned in that
course of (see the warning about subtitling your individual DVDs);
information on that entrance will doubtless be introduced in 2002.

Authoring instruments and competitors#section8

Because it seems, accessibility is rather more sweeping than it seems
on first blush. Two classes of software program—packages used to
create web sites, and browsers—should themselves be
accessible. It’s not sufficient for knowledge (like a .html
or .swf file) to be accessible; all of the software program you employ
to create, view, browse, or take pleasure in these information must be accessible,
too. Within the Net Accessibility Initiative terminology, that is
often called authoring-tool and user-agent accessibility.

Flash MX, Dreamweaver, Homesite, Freehand, and different Macromedia
merchandise don’t meet even minimal accessibility tips. (These,
too, are implicated by Part 508, by the best way.) Then once more,
nothing exterior of WAI testbed tasks meets the specs, and
nothing in all probability will meet the specs for a few years.

Additionally in Macromedia’s protection, its chief rival, Adobe, has a
extremely imperfect accessibility file, too. PDF and different
Adobe-centric points would be the focus of a future article.

Macromedia has taken severe steps to repair its accessibility
deficiencies. There’s nonetheless loads that’s lacking, however
Macromedia is conscious of almost the whole lot that must be accomplished and
will presumably repair all of it. (They haven’t any selection, actually, in the event that they
wish to preserve the U.S. authorities as a buyer.) Macromedia has not
been open and upfront sufficient about what its software program can not but do,
and has not fairly admitted that it’s nonetheless not Part
508-compliant, which U.S. authorities patrons (and now everybody
else) is aware of anyway.

Nonetheless, the Macromedia case is a concrete instance of a high-profile
firm with a kewl product embracing accessibility in
an unbegrudging method.

So what’s your excuse?

Footnoted public declaration: As soon as Macromedia will get captioning and
description and some different odds ’n’ ends taken care of,
I hereby volunteer to do any crucial quantity of labor on a number of
Josh Davis Flash tasks. Sure, we’re going to make Praystation or ethical
equal totally and elegantly accessible, at which level
everybody who ever doubted it was doable will simply need to shut up.

May folks within the know please notify Josh Davis of this plan?

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