Weblogs: Web Accessibility

Growing momentum behind accessible Flash

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The interest and conversation around accessible Flash continues to gather momentum. More and more web development professionals are seeing Flash for what it is - another useful tool in the web developer's toolbox. Today, the message that accessible Flash is no oxymoron is louder and more cogent than the digg-baiting misinformed opinion that Flash sucks (Note the strong counter argument from Steve Webster - the only comment worth reading and considering).

Accessibility issues

Niqui Merret has put together a list of accessible Flash bugs and issues covering tabbing into and out of Flash elements, Wmode, Firefox's mediocre MSAA support, poor support of updates, issues with setting the reading order, non-interoperability of Flash and Mac's Voice Over.

The responsibility is on the browser and assistive technology vendors, as well as Adobe themselves to correct these deficiencies.

Adrian Higginbotham, in a comment on Niqui's blog, points to a mozilla.dev.accessibility thread titled Focus issues with Flash in Firefox where a response from Aaron Leventhal, the accessibility module owner, who is taking responsibility to push for fixes after the release of Firefox 3, believing it to be the worst gap in Firefox's 508 compliance.

There's even a reply from Aaron Leventhal himself on the Firefox issues in Niqui's comments, and that is positively encouraging. Also encouraging is the public responses from Andrew Kirkpatrick and John Dowdell, both employees of Adobe.

The conversations are beginning in earnest, between Flash developers with accessibility experience, Adobe, and Firefox. That's a great start, and I encourage this public conversation to continue.

In a post titled Voice activation and Flash, Grant Broome notes about Dragon Naturally Speaking: Flash reveals the controls via MSAA but Dragon does not seem to have a method of displaying them accurately yet. In fact it seems to struggle with matching links with numbers in simple CSS..

Co-worker Flash Guru Steve Webster adds in that Flash support for MSAA on Windows appears to be coming in the next beta version of the Flash Player 9, which is another bit of encouraging news.

Bridging the chasm between web standards and Flash

The Web Standards Project took another step towards bridging the gap between web standards developers and accessible Flash developers by highlighting Niqui's work and encouraging Mozilla, Apple and Opera to tackle the issue of tabbing between HTML and Flash elements.

There is a good deal of useful crossover between the Flash and HTML/CSS developer groups. We share a common scripting language. With AJAX powered applications we share the same accessibility problems as Flash developers, and so by joining our combined experience we have a better understanding of how to tackle similar problems.

One key example of this collaboration was Lawrence Carvalho's Text Resize Detection published on A List Apart in September 2006. This idea was taken on an extended into Flash by Niqui Merret, Bob Corporaal and Aral Balkan.

Another bridging of the divide is that Christian Heilmann was invited as a speaker at the Flashforum Konferenz 2007 in Cologne in September. Steve Webster notes: Christian's aim is to help other Flashers around the world to 'come out' and convince their standardista colleagues that Flash is not always evil. I've already agreed in principle to Aral to talk about the business benefits of web accessibility at a Flash conference.

Disclaimer: I work with Drew McLellan, Christian Heilmann and Steve Webster at Yahoo! Europe, and consider all three of them friends. Also, I am friends with Grant Broome, Niqui Merret and Aral Balkan. To my knowledge these events have come together independently. I'm reporting the positive movement in accessible Flash - I'm glad to see what's shaping up to be a very constructive relationship between Flash developers and website developers.

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