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Muggle me! Accessible Flash!

The web site for JK Rowling (the author of those rubbish Harry Potter books) is worth noting.

It’s made of Flash, can sniff whether a user has assistive devices and offer an accessible version that can be navigated by the keyboard. Bob Regan explains how it does it.

As is usual in the world of accessibility, people have complained about it (It doesn’t work with JAWS 0.9 alpha on Netscape 3 on Eniac! Discrimination! Fascists!) but I think it’s great. I’m not a great fan of Flash for interfaces, and I don’t like this one but as I’m not a Potter-mad adolescent, I’m hardly the target audience. I can see why a game-like, investigative experience was chosen.

Basically, I’m a pragmatist. We need much more discussion of the potential accessibility of Flash, because people who love Flash aren’t going to stop using it because of access problems. Macromedia will continue to add accessibility features for two reasons: (1) Bob Regan is a good bloke who genuinely cares, even if he does (gasp!) work for a corporation and (2) Macromedia needs to be the right side of section 508. I imagine Flash is the tool of choice for schools and universities’ e-learning materials.

So that leaves developers to learn how to make their Flash accessible, and the Rowling site makes a great learning tool; it’s a starting point; a conversation-opener: in the same way that you need the CSS Zen Garden as well as the w3c spec to get designers using css.

Any more accessible Flash sites or tutorials out there?

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4 Responses to “ Muggle me! Accessible Flash! ”

Comment by Patrick H. Lauke

it still pains me to see, though, that it’s an “all or nothing” site with regards to the visual flair and design. you can either have the flash, or you get betsie-like plain text…no in-between. would have been nice to maybe just give the non-flash version a nice, clean xhtml/css makeover that, while being more or less static, still conveys the feel and attention to detail of the flash version. ah well, budgets etc probably got in the way…

Comment by Bruce

I agree, Pat. But I think that the effort and attention to the Flash accessibility – which has always been a black art – justifies some applause. Too often we as a community delight in pointing out shortcomings (and you’re right that the plain jane version of the site is a short-coming) and we fail to praise.

It’s not just the accessibility community, it’s the wider Standards community. Check out all the bitching on the IE blog , even when Microsoft announce CSS bug fixes and PNG transparency.

Pointing out shortcomings in a constructive way as you do (and I hope I do) is one thing, but occasionally the community can be quite vituperative. Many vendors must feel they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

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