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Re: media:Fw: Flash News Flash: It's Accessible

From: David Poehlman <poehlman1@comcast.net>
Date: Tue, 23 Apr 2002 15:27:09 -0400
To: "Snyder, Ethan [JJCUS]" <ESnyder1@CORUS.JNJ.com>, wai-ig list <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-id: <001f01c1eafc$dc973600$19e03244@DAVIDPOEHLMAN>
the only screen reader which currently works with the new flash is
window eyes.  I agree ten fold with what is below.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Snyder, Ethan [JJCUS]" <ESnyder1@CORUS.JNJ.com>
To: "'David Poehlman'" <poehlman1@comcast.net>; "wai-ig list"
Sent: Tuesday, April 23, 2002 3:16 PM
Subject: RE: media:Fw: Flash News Flash: It's Accessible

I'm glad to see that Flash is becoming more accessible, but based on
Macromedia's presentation at CSUN, there are still some major

1.  Users must have the latest version of the Flash Player installed.
2.  Users must use a screen reader that supports Microsoft Active
Accessibility (MSAA) (Do most versions of JAWS and other popular readers
currently IN USE support MSAA?)
3.  Navigating between Flash and non-Flash content, using the keyboard
is virtually impossible.
4.  Elaborate Flash movies may present information/content in multiple
places, simultaneously.    Screen Reading software can only describe
information/content in one place at any given time.
5.  Developers need to understand how to use the new accessibility
of Flash properly, and then they must take the time to do so.

Given the above, I think it is premature to conclude that all
issues with Flash have been eliminated with the latest release of Flash

E. Snyder

Ethan B. Snyder
IM Analyst / IMLDP 2000
Corporate Information Management
Johnson & Johnson

-----Original Message-----
From: David Poehlman [mailto:poehlman1@comcast.net]
Sent: Tuesday, April 23, 2002 9:29 AM
To: wai-ig list
Subject: media:Fw: Flash News Flash: It's Accessible

Flash News Flash: It's Accessible. By Lisa Delgado.

2:00 a.m. April 23, 2002 PDT.

Macromedia Flash designers have a reputation for creating websites that
are, well, flashy - but not friendly to all users.

"Most Flash designers are thinking about how to make things cool, not
to make things accessible (to the disabled).
That's because in the past, Flash was not good for accessibility," said
Chris MacGregor, editor of Flash portal and e-zine

People who design in Flash "consider themselves artists," said
accessibility expert Joe Clark. "They find the idea of a blind
person wanting to (use) their site to be slightly weird."

However, Jason Smith defies that stereotype. In his job as a
technical director at the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, he helped to design an educational
children's science site -- and he wanted to include some
Flash-animated games. But he was concerned about creating
barriers for deaf and blind children using the site.

Flash is considered the killer animation app of the Web
because it enables designers like Smith to create interactive
animations with small-size files. However, Flash has been hotly
for its inaccessibility to people with disabilities.

Before the release of Flash MX last month, Flash content could not be
by screen readers, which are used by the blind
to translate information on a computer by reading it aloud or by sending
it to a Braille display. Also, most Flash audio
content is not accessible to the deaf because there has been no good way
to create Flash captioning.

"Using Flash at all, in Flash 5, made it inaccessible," Smith said.

"We hesitated to use Flash, but we wanted (the site) to be noticed. We
wanted it to be bleeding-edge. We had committed
to a Shockwave game, and since we were going in that direction, we
to try to use Flash."

To make the site accessible to deaf children, he invented a
Flash captioning tool that has subsequently
been purchased by Macromedia. Soon, the whole Flash community will be
to use the tool, because Macromedia plans to
release it as a free downloadable extension on the Flash exchange within

The tool is an ActionScript component that parses a caption XML file and
displays the caption data within a Flash
presentation. A caption XML file can be most easily created using
such as MAGpie, a free multimedia captioning

Smith's tool finally makes Flash captioning practical, said Andrew
Kirkpatrick, technical project coordinator for the CPB/WGBH
National Center for Accessible Media.

"Short of laboriously placing text on the timeline so that people could
see it at the right time, there was no way to do Flash
captioning," he said.

The advantage of the tool is that it not only saves time, it also allows
captioning to be done by someone other than the
original Flash developer, he said.

Smith hopes to use Flash MX to retrofit the site so blind children can
also use it. Otherwise, he will need to maintain a
parallel HTML version of the site for the blind. The disadvantage of
having two versions of the site is obvious: There are two
sites to update instead of one.

Unlike previous versions of the software, Flash MX includes an
accessibility panel that enables designers to add names and
descriptions to objects in Flash movies - much like the "alt" and
"longdescr" tags are used to describe images in HTML

Buttons, movie clips and entire movies can all be labeled with names and
descriptions that are accessible to screen readers.
In addition, any text in a Flash MX movie is automatically accessible.

The site, Kinetic City, is still under development. However, examples of
captioning done with Smith's tool can be seen in a
Flash piece on zoot suit culture, created by WGBH Interactive.

Macromedia executives Kevin Lynch and Jeremy Allaire praised the zoot
culture piece for its accessibility at the keynote
speech of FlashForward, a Flash design conference held in San Francisco
early this month.

The piece was originally designed in Flash 4 as part of the companion
website for a PBS program on the zoot suit riots
sparked by racial tensions in Los Angeles in the early 1940s.

The WGBH Interactive Web designers used Flash MX to retrofit the zoot
culture section of the site, adding screen
reader accessibility. They also added 15 video clips on subjects such as
zoot suit fashion and the big band era, and they
used Smith's tool to caption them.

"The main impetus was to demonstrate what the new version of Flash is
capable of, in terms of accessibility," said Peter
Pinch, director of technology for interactive content at WGBH

"It's very exciting to be able to reach a broader audience than in the
past - to think that blind, visually impaired and deaf
users can enjoy our content, as well as everyone else," he said.

WGBH Interactive is the interactive media division of WGBH, a broadcast
company with a long history of pioneering
advances in accessibility, including TV captioning and Descriptive Video
Service. DVS describes the visual content of a TV
program during gaps in the dialogue, so blind listeners can follow the

While many multimedia companies treat accessibility as an afterthought,
WGBH Interactive has made accessibility central to
its work.

Last year, the company produced the first fully accessible DVD, Abraham
and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided. It was the
first DVD to include a "talking menu" so blind people can access all the
DVD's features and it also includes captioning and

The zoot suit culture piece is only one of many captioned Web video
projects the company has created, said Jon Alper,
director of technology, research and development at WGBH Interactive.

For example, the company produced a captioned online performance of
music band Mango Blue on QuickTime TV. It
has also captioned several Nova Online videos, including Cracking the
of Life, about the human genome, and Dying to
be Thin, about eating disorders.

QuickTime, RealPlayer and Windows Media Player -- and now Flash -- all
support captioning.

When the company's Web designers retrofitted the zoot suit culture
they were able to embed captioned video
directly within the Flash movie because unlike earlier versions of
Flash MX does not require a third-party player such
as QuickTime for short video clips.

Smith said he was glad to see his invention put to a new use. "When I
created the tool, it was based on animation; but
when I saw it works seamlessly with video, I was very excited that it
works for both," he said.

While Smith and the designers at WGBH Interactive have been
in creating accessible Flash sites, other Web
designers are playing catch-up.

Many Web designers for U.S. federal government websites first became
concerned about Flash's inaccessibility when
Section 508 went into effect in June 2001, said Bob Regan, Macromedia's
product manager for accessibility.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that all electronic and
information technology used by the federal
government, including websites, be accessible to people with

"We had a lot of people whispering, 'Is Flash going to be accessible?'
We'd say yes, and they'd breathe a sigh of relief,"
Regan said.

Of course, disabled Internet users are even more relieved that Flash is
finally becoming usable for them.

For blind people, coming to an inaccessible Flash site is like hitting a
brick wall on the information superhighway.

Curtis Chong, director of technology for the National Federation of the
Blind, described his frustration. "I'd go to a site and it
would ask me, 'Do you want to install Macromedia Flash?' and I'd say
I don't want anything to do with Macromedia
because if I install Flash, I won't be able to see anything on the

Flash's screen reader accessibility has come none too soon, Chong said.
"It's late in coming, but that doesn't take away
from the fact I'm glad (Macromedia) did it. I wish they'd done it
I hope they keep on doing it and set an example for
the rest of the industry."

Jamie Berke, a deaf captioning advocate, applauded the development of a
Flash captioning tool.

"I think it is great," she said. "I expect that there will be more Web
captioning tools developed because of the impact of
Section 508."

However, she warned that captioning tools aren't enough: Web designers
need education in using them.

"Tools for captioning have long been available," she said. She lists
captioning tools and services on her site, Closed
Captioning Web.

However, only a small percentage of video on the Web is captioned.

"The key is the mind-set of Web video producers, who must learn to
automatically include captioning as part of their
production process.... Producers have to be made aware of the existence
the tool and encouraged to use it," she said.

Source URL: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,51638,00.html
Received on Tuesday, 23 April 2002 15:27:38 UTC

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