The fact that it only works with window eyes has me worried but I guess
it is implementation.

Flash upgrade improves Web site accessibility
By Carolyn Duffy Marsan
Network World Fusion, 03/04/02

Monday unveiled new versions of its Flash multimedia player and
authoring software that work with screen readers, a move that Web site
accessibility advocates
say is a boon to disabled users of the Internet.

The software, which will be available March 15, supports Microsoft's
Active Accessibility (MSAA), a standard interface for enabling assistive
devices such
as screen readers to work with Windows-based applications. Developers
can use Macromedia's latest software to retrofit existing Flash content
to support
screen readers as well as create new accessible Flash content. Screen
readers are devices for visually impaired Web users that provide voice
output for
text displayed on a computer screen and keystrokes entered on a

Macromedia's release of Flash Player 6 and Flash MX is good news for
public-sector network executives, who are scrambling to meet new rules
regarding Web
site accessibility. The federal government's
Section 508
rules require agencies and their contractors to ensure that users of
assistive devices can navigate their Web sites or face penalties and
potential lawsuits.

The U.S. government's new Section 508 rules went into effect last
summer, but similar regulations are cropping up in other markets such as
Canada and Europe.
Therefore, a growing number of multinational companies are starting to
grapple with Web site accessibility.

"Section 508 has effects far beyond the U.S. government," says Bob
Regan, accessibility product manager at Macromedia. "We're seeing
similar requirements
all over the world. The entire European Union adopted similar rules in

Earlier versions of Macromedia's Flash player and authoring tools did
not work with assistive devices like screen readers. So developers
concerned with
Web site accessibility had to use regular HTML content instead of
multimedia tools like Flash.

Now Flash MX has a new panel that makes it easier for developers to
provide descriptive text alternatives for graphic elements, such as
animations created
in Flash. Developers can create a single text equivalent for a Flash
animation, and they can make sure the text equivalents are not
repetitive for users
of screen readers.

The Flash Player 6 allows users of screen readers to activate buttons
and navigate to places on the Web where they couldn't go before - a
major change given
that an estimated 25% of Web sites use Flash content, according to
Macromedia. Sony Classical, Bose and E*Trade are among the companies
that use Flash
content on their Web sites.

Flash Player 6 works with only one screen reader, however, GW Micro's
Window-Eyes. Due to its support for Microsoft's accessibility standard,
Flash Player
6 doesn't work with JAWS for Windows, the other major screen reader on
the market.

The Macromedia offerings are significant despite this limitation, says
Andrew Kirkpatrick, a Web accessibility specialist with the National
Center for Accessible

"It's a very positive step in the right direction," Kirkpatrick says.
"In a perfect world, a solution would come up that works with all the
screen readers
and is easy for developers. But unfortunately, we're not in that world."

Kirkpatrick has been testing the new Flash tools for the last few months
and says they represent "an exciting change from the past. Before, if
you had a
Flash presentation on a page, nothing could read it. Now someone with a
screen reader can access that content."

Macromedia may have a leg up on other multimedia companies with the new
accessibility features of Flash. For example, Apple's QuickTime software
and RealNetwork's
RealPlayer both allow developers to add accessible captions to
multimedia presentations but they don't allow users to navigate into the
presentations as
Flash does.

"All multimedia players have problems with accessibility on the Web,"
Kirkpatrick says. "It would be great if we could get all the other
multimedia players
to expose information to screen readers like Flash does."

Indeed, Macromedia may open up a whole new market for Flash. Government
Webmasters "haven't thought about using Flash because of accessibility
Regan says.

In addition to improvements in accessibility, Flash Player 6 features
native video and the ability to load MP3 and JPEG files. The Flash MX
authoring tool
boasts a new scripting language based on Java, faster XML data transfers
and support for the Unicode standard used in multilingual applications.

Flash Player 6 is a free download, while Flash MX sells for $499.

Contact Senior Editor Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Received on Friday, 8 March 2002 23:22:04 UTC