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Task 7: Designing for Accessibility

Web standards like HTML are designed to be machine-readable and are written in plain ASCII text. Flash's SWF files are not. This makes them difficult to use with screenreader software. What's more, Flash movies are often animated, making it even harder for software to translate what is going on for the sensory impaired.

Maintaining a dual Flash/HTML site has often been used as a technique for meeting accessibility requirements, but this method is expensive and not very tidy from a visitor's standpoint.

Flash MX Solution

Macromedia has added accessibility features to Flash MX. Flash Player 6 is designed to work in combination with Microsoft's Active Accessibility technology, allowing screen reader software to describe Flash movies.

Flash MX automatically makes static text boxes accessible. You can add names and descriptions for other objects like movie clips, buttons, and form fields. Additionally, you can choose not to expose certain objects (like decorative animation for example) to screen readers, or not to expose any objects at all.

Screen readers are built to read aloud information, describing static interfaces. So in order to maximize the benefits of Flash accessibility, you will need to keep animation to a minimum unless it exists in movie clips that aren't exposed. Additionally, screen readers are expensive technology, so you're not likely to have them laying around the office for testing purposes. Because of this, additional information and testing resources can be found at Macromedia's website.

Try It

To add text descriptions to an online Flash form, complete the following steps:

  1. Open a new Flash document. Use the Text Tool to draw out two input fields, and drag a PushButton from the Components panel onto the stage. These three objects will act as a sample form.

  2. Click the stage to deselect any of the objects, and click the blue Accessibility button on the Property inspector. The Accessibility panel should now open, displaying the properties of the movie itself.

  3. Check Make Movie Accessible and Make Child Objects Accessible but leave Auto Label unchecked. Then type "Sign-up form" into the label box. Descriptions are optional.

  4. Select the first input field. Check the Make Object Accessible option and type "Username" into the Name box.

  5. Repeat step 4 for the second input field and PushButton component, using the names "Email address" and "Submit button". When the movie is exported, the labels of each of the form elements will be available to a screenreader.

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