Transferring Towards Accessible Wealthy Media – A Record Aside

Macromedia launched Flash MX in mid-March of 2002, together with enhancements to the participant and the authoring software to enhance accessibility for folks with disabilities.

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Admittedly, some areas like display screen reader entry couldn’t probably get any worse than they have been in earlier variations of the participant: well-liked display screen readers comparable to JAWS and Window-Eyes ignored Flash content material utterly. Different options, comparable to the power so as to add captions (which has been obtainable since Flash 5), profit from enhancements Macromedia made to the Flash structure on this launch.

The adjustments have additionally routinely improved entry to present Flash content material when seen within the Flash Participant 6, however to maximise Flash accessibility in your customers you’ll have to publish content material from Flash MX.

A goal for critics#section2

Flash is a frequent goal of criticism for folks involved with entry points.  The W3C’s Internet Accessibility Initiative’s Curiosity Group checklist archive is stuffed with posts complaining, commenting, and in search of recommendation on how one can greatest use Flash in an accessible website.

A number of articles on the subject exist, together with Jim Heid’s September 2000 “A Name to Motion: Making Flash Accessible,” which offered constructive ideas for enchancment and helped elevate consciousness of entry points in Flash 5.

Though a lot of the criticism of earlier variations of Flash is justifiable, it’s value mentioning that Flash 5, QuickTime, and RealPlayer all share comparable points accessing content material.

All three are ignored by main display screen readers; all have restricted, if any, keyboard entry; and all have some stage of assist for captions and audio descriptions. (QuickTime and Actual have performed extra on this space, however neither has an ideal answer).  Enter Flash MX and Flash Participant 6.

Part 508 and Flash#section3

The Part 508 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 have separate rules referring to the accessibility of software program functions and web-based functions.  Macromedia wants to handle points in Flash with each the authoring software and the participant, however the bulk of Macromedia’s efforts with Flash take care of the participant and adjustments inside the authoring software to permit authors so as to add extra data for assistive know-how, as do my feedback right here.

The Flash MX authoring software has quite a lot of points for disabled Flash authors, notably referring to display screen reader assist.  Many of those are issues that every one instruments with drawing and visible placement consumer duties grapple with.  Given the widespread distribution of the Flash participant (Macromedia claims that over 98% of internet customers have it), it’s simple to see why the preliminary focus was weighted towards accessibility of Flash content material slightly than authoring.

Entry through assistive know-how#section4

The adjustments made to the Flash participant are closely centered on the power of Flash to trade data with assistive know-how, notably display screen readers.  This space was the best weak point of Flash in earlier variations.  Previously, customers with display screen readers encountering a web page with Flash on it will be unable to entry the knowledge: display screen readers didn’t perceive Flash, so that they have been designed to disregard it.

When most fashionable display screen readers work together with an online web page, they create an off-screen mannequin of the HTML, together with all textual content and hyperlinks.  Flash content material, referenced from an <object> or <embed> tag, is one layer too deep, and display screen readers haven’t any method to get vital data.

Right here’s the large change: Flash Participant 6 now makes use of the Microsoft Energetic Accessibility (MSAA) API to trade data with an online browser that helps MSAA, which channels data to and from assistive applied sciences that assist MSAA.

Immediately, the one display screen reader that permits customers to work together with Flash content material is Home windows-Eyes from GW Micro.  (Freedom Scientific’s JAWS, the display screen reader with the biggest share of the market, is working so as to add assist in upcoming months. )

Platform and browser limitations#section5

The one browser supporting MSAA at current is Web Explorer on Home windows, however Mozilla is implementing it as effectively , so search for a future model of Netscape utilizing MSAA.  There is no such thing as a assist for this type of accessibility for the Mac right now—however to be truthful to Macromedia, nothing much like MSAA presently exists for the Macintosh working system.

The way it works#section6

A consumer with Window-Eyes 4.2 and Flash 6 Participant can now navigate Flash content material in a fashion in line with the way in which she or he navigates an all-HTML internet web page. The consumer will have the ability to learn the Flash content material line-by-line or use the tab key to skip from one actionable merchandise to a different.

In a simple Flash presentation, all textual content is learn to the consumer, the textual content in all buttons is learn, and primary kind components (enter textual content, verify bins, radio buttons, and kind buttons) are additionally learn. Thus far the position of the creator has not modified from the previous—all of this data is accessible by default.

An accessibility panel in Flash MX.

Adjustments within the authoring atmosphere#section7

Because the creator provides to the Flash content material, extra work is required.  Photographs, typically added as “graphic symbols” should as an alternative be added as a “film image.”  The Flash creator then should use the accessibility panel in Flash MX to make sure that the film is accessible and that an applicable textual content different (“identify”) is designated.

If the picture within the film image doesn’t add to the content material of the presentation, the creator can select to cover it from assistive know-how by deselecting “Make Film Accessible.” Equally, if the creator desires to make use of a picture for a button image as an alternative of textual content she should present the textual content equal within the accessibility panel.

In Flash, film symbols typically act as containers for a number of symbols.  In lots of instances, the content material inside the top-level film image is vital, and the creator can repeat the earlier steps to make any “baby” symbols accessible.

The creator can add data to the “mother or father” film that gives extra context to the consumer, or if the content material is healthier described collectively, the creator can add an total description of the contents of the film image and deselect the “Make Little one Objects Accessible” possibility on the accessibility panel.  A complete Flash presentation is much like film symbols on this manner, and might be summarized with this similar method.

Objects that may’t be presently made accessible embrace invisible buttons and a few particular kind parts: combo bins, checklist bins, and scroll bars. These parts serve helpful functions, and I’m hopeful that Macromedia will develop accessible variations of those parts.

Accessible Flash in Motion#section8

Let’s take a look at a particular instance the place we will see the earlier methods in motion and study two key limitations of present Flash content material.  Zoot Swimsuit Tradition is a Flash presentation made by WGBH Interactive as a part of the net complement to PBS’s American Expertise program on the Zoot Swimsuit Riots within the 1930’s.

The primary Flash display screen reveals an inventory of interview subjects which are within the class “Music & Dance.”  A display screen reader consumer would hear:

“Loading web page, load performed.  Loading web page, load performed.  This function comprises interviews categorized into two areas, music and dance, and style.  Zoot Swimsuit Tradition. Music and Dance space. Button Vogue. Button The Large Band Scene. Button The Pachuco Hop. Button Downtown LA. Button Pachuco Perspective. Button Theaters. Button Dance Halls. Button Servicemen. Button Music off.  Backside.”

If the consumer used the tab key to scan the web page, she or he would solely hear the buttons learn.

Delivering the content material#section9

Right here’s what was performed to make this content material accessible:

  1. An outline was added to summarize the presentation and supply context for the consumer (the primary sentence after “load performed”).  A visually-impaired consumer coming into the presentation would profit from extra context that’s solely obtainable visually, so explicitly speaking that there are two sections and their names is a good suggestion right here.
  2. Descriptions have been added for every of the seven buttons that hyperlink to interviews.  If these buttons contained easy textual content, this step can be performed routinely by Flash’s auto-labeling function.  Nevertheless, these buttons have two layers of textual content to create a shadow impact, and they’re arched.  Arched textual content is damaged up into plenty of little textual content bins in Flash and the knowledge is handed to the display screen reader based mostly on which letters are on the identical line.  The result’s a jumble of letters, and the jumble is learn twice as a result of there are two variations whenever you embrace the shadow textual content.  For every button, a reputation (e.g. The Pachuco Hop) was explicitly designated within the accessibility panel and all baby objects inside the button have been hidden by deselecting “Make Little one Objects Accessible.”

Room for enchancment#section10

Right here’s what may very well be improved:

  1. Tab order.  It’s possible you’ll discover that the tab order will not be what you would possibly count on.  Flash 6 Participant determines the tab order, generally with undesirable results.  On this case, the order is suitable if not easy.  It might solely be an issue if the primary and final buttons have been combined in with the buttons to the interviews, so the choice was made to go away the tab order unchanged.  Altering the tab order requires a easy ActionScript command, however is a course of that requires meticulous care in naming objects.  Including a tab order area to the properties panel can be a fantastic enchancment.
  2. Doc construction.  Not like XHTML, Flash has no implied construction.  On this presentation, construction would possibly assist to establish the style part button as a distinct sort of button than the buttons to the interviews.  In a presentation with extra data, construction in Flash and a simple method to navigate by structural stage would profit customers.
  3. Voicing technique.  Window-Eyes repeats “Loading web page, load performed” at any time when there’s a change within the MSAA illustration of the Flash content material, and the display screen reader strikes focus to the highest of the Flash content material.  Consequently, when any button is adopted this phrase is repeated, and in shows the place objects are animated or the place textual content adjustments, the phrase is repeated for each change until the change is hidden through the accessibility panel. Websites utilizing plenty of animation will, due to this fact, have to carry out rigorous testing with assistive know-how to make sure that the presentation capabilities accurately.
  4. “Skip to content material” hyperlinks.  This instance doesn’t require a skip hyperlink, however because of the manner Window-Eyes helps Flash, this isn’t presently attainable.  This creates an issue for authors occupied with creating these hyperlinks since a button resulting in a location within the Flash content material after an extended checklist of navigation buttons will truly outcome within the display screen reader restarting on the high of the content material.


From the creator’s perspective, growth is difficult for just a few causes:

  1. To check your work with a display screen reader, you will have to be minimally conversant in Window-Eyes.  There’s a free demo model of Window-Eyes that’s obtainable for obtain, but it surely has a steep studying curve. For thorough testing, seek the advice of with common customers of Window-Eyes.
  2. When utilizing Window-Eyes, the yellow focus ring that seems round buttons when tabbing will not be proven.  This hinders the debugging of tab-order issues.
  3. There is no such thing as a method to browse accessibility settings with out choosing every merchandise.  It might be useful if you happen to might see all of the settings in an inventory, just like the one the film explorer offers for textual content.
  4. display screen reader assist will not be at a degree that eliminates the necessity for an HTML different.  Many customers utilizing older variations of assistive know-how won’t improve for a while, because of the expense of the software program.  For bigger initiatives, publishing SWF and HTML recordsdata from a database could alleviate the workload, however an HTML export possibility as was obtainable for Flash 5 can be helpful, and an HTML export possibility that used equivalents entered into the accessibility panel can be even higher.
  5. Accessibility is required for usability, however most builders don’t actually perceive usability as utilized to assistive know-how.  Flash authors might want to study accessing content material by way of a single level of focus, and the way that differs from the expertise of taking in a complete web page in a single look. A drag-and-drop recreation could also be a fantastic thought with imaginative and prescient and a mouse, and the entire data could also be obtainable to a display screen reader, however can a display screen reader consumer actually use it?  Extra analysis is required to grasp and improve the usability of rich-media for assistive know-how.

Entry through captions, audio description, subtitles, and dubbing#section12

Flash might be captioned and subtitled, and now that Flash authors can incorporate video into Flash, that is extra vital than ever.  Since caption and subtitle textual content will change typically, it must be hidden from display screen readers to keep away from repetitive voicing of “Loading web page, load performed.”  Builders can embrace captions and subtitles in Flash content material in 4 methods:

  1. Sort textual content immediately onto the stage at completely different factors within the timeline.
  2. Use Flash’s XML parsing engine to show caption information contained in an XML file, comparable to that created by the Media Entry Generator (MAGpie) 2.0, the brand new model of NCAM’s captioning and audio-description software which shall be in public beta launch quickly.  Macromedia plans to supply a downloadable extension that does the onerous work of writing ActionScript for this activity, and present plans embrace the power to detect the consumer’s language choice and use that data to supply subtitles in that language when obtainable.  The interviews which are a part of the Zoot Swimsuit Tradition website show captioning performed utilizing MAGpie 2.0 and a captioning extension created by Jason Smith on the American Affiliation for the Development of Science.
  3. Caption your video or Flash content material manually or utilizing MAGpie, making a QTtext file. Convert the QTtext file to a film and import it into the Flash presentation, ensuring to synch the beginning of the video and the QTtext film.
  4. Use “burned-in” captions.  Burning captions into the video throughout the encoding course of is an old-school method that always produces awful trying captions, but it surely does work.
  5. Captions might be made to be “closed,” or consumer selectable, by together with an interface merchandise that can be utilized to point out or conceal captions.  There is no such thing as a choice setting for the show of captions or subtitles, which is unlucky however tolerable, and similar to what is feasible in QuickTime.

Synch, sound, and bandwidth#section13

A big downside Flash might want to take care of is the free synchronization of media components.  Captions obtain and play extra easily than video does, generally leading to a lack of sync. One other subject is the way in which that XML parsing is finished, if caption information is to be delivered this manner. As soon as the caption information stream begins, it retains going till completed. Strive taking part in one of many Zoot Swimsuit Tradition movies and proper click on to pause the video just a few seconds in. The captions ought to pause, however don’t. This isn’t fascinating conduct.

Audio description might be included in Flash, however the creator will want audio recordsdata which are made for the duty, ideally by educated describers.  MAGpie 2.0 will assist authors who’re taking the duty on themselves decide timing for audio description clips and may also be used to file the outline. A dubbing soundtrack might be integrated into Flash as effectively.

There are additionally no choice settings for audio description or dubbing as there are in Actual’s RealOne Participant. Authors could discover that creating separate variations for described and non-described content material saves bandwidth, slightly than having all customers obtain additional information for audio description that almost all of them don’t want. Equally, a Flash presentation containing a three-minute video and 4 completely different language variations of the audio program will create a substantial enhance in obtain measurement.

Is Accessible Flash Nonetheless a Dream?#section14

What actually issues is whether or not entry options truly assist customers. With adjustments launched in Flash MX and Flash 6 Participant, Macromedia has taken an enormous first step towards making Flash accessible to all customers, however they would be the first to say that there’s >extra work forward.

Folks involved with accessibility points will discover shortcomings in Flash, as can be simple to do with HTML. Somewhat than deriding Macromedia, we have to work with them to progress towards higher options.

Some Flash authors will refuse so as to add extra data till they’re compelled to, both by a authorities shopper working underneath Part 508, state-level, or college rules, or by attainable future legislative mandates that cowl the personal sector. If a shopper asks a design home that makes use of Flash to create a website and accessibility is a part of the specification, hiding behind the inaccessibility of Flash is now not an possibility. In lean occasions, authors-for-hire can solely flip away a lot work earlier than starvation units in.

Most authors will come willingly, wanting to push the envelope of Flash growth in a brand new course, and these folks will create fashions that others can study from. As with HTML, errors shall be made and listserv threads on the correct manner to make use of “identify” and “description” will abound, however on the entire, the group will transfer within the course of progress and accessibility.

A lot work stays: builders want schooling and coaching, extra assistive applied sciences want to fulfill Flash midway through MSAA, and enhancements to the participant and authoring software must be urged. Macromedia’s Flash MX and Flash 6 Participant must be used to make and ship accessible Flash content material, and folks ought to talk about successes, limitations, and methods. Macromedia must be applauded for his or her efforts, and inspired to proceed.

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