Latest Accessibility News on Accessify

Validity, Accessibility, Flash: Choose Two

If you’re a Flash developer, and are using the accessibility features of the authoring tool to make your Flash objects directly accessible, you’d probably like to be sure that users of the supported browsers and screen readers can use those features. But common techniques for embedding Flash while still using valid HTML, which is not as easy as it seems, appear to cause trouble when it comes to reaching those users. This all stems from the use of the embed element in the default Flash output HTML, and various tricks exist to quash that renegade element. Andrew Kirkpatrick of Macromedia has put out an evaluation of Flash embedding tricks, testing them for direct accessibility to the Flash object.

A popular method for presenting Flash objects in a valid form is Drew McLellan’s Flash Satay, which strips the object code down to its bare minimum, and removes the embed. This is functional in most cases, and having been demonstrated on A List Apart, has quite a following. But it has some side effects, the worst of which is incompatibility with the screen reader Jaws. Andrew discovered that Satay prevents Jaws from accessing Flash’s accessibility-related internals.

More recently, Bobby Vandersluis presented Unobtrusive Flash Objects (UFO), which alleviates many of Satay’s side effects, as well as passing Andrew’s assistive technology test suite. The HTML page will even validate. Great news, right? Sadly, there are a couple of gotchas that will trouble the hardcore standardistas: first, UFO works by affixing invalid code to a placeholder block via JavaScript. So you haven’t polluted your source, per se, but you’re still inserting invalid code into the document’s DOM tree. That placeholder block is also a little problematic in that it has no semantic value in the context of the document, and in the absence of JavaScript, you’ll only get blank space. (Another script, Geoff Stearns’ FlashObject, exhibits all the same behaviors as UFO.)

This information leaves designers with some unattractive choices to make:

Default Macromedia code
This uses the invalid embed element, but otherwise works for all browsers and assistive technologies. It’s accessible, and it’s Flash, but it’s not valid.
Flash Satay
With the leading screen reader unable to access it, this is valid, and it’s Flash, but it’s hard to call it accessible.
UFO and FlashObject
Since it falls back to embed in all browsers other than Internet Explorer on Windows, this approach also fails the validity sniff test, though it does still allow accessible Flash in the tools Andrew tested.
Nested Objects
Ian Hickson offered an approach based on nested objects, but the test shows that Flash objects mis-render or fail in IE 6 for Windows, the Window-Eyes screen reader, and the Home Page Reader talking browser. It’s the worst possible outcome: validity, but neither accessibility nor reliable Flash rendering.

So, who’s to blame? It’s our good friends, legacy and interoperability. Support for object is still lacking in nearly every browser, surprisingly enough, and this has caused the situation to snowball over a number of years. It’s not fun to talk about, or even to remember, but it’s a problem we’ve been facing for years, and will have to face for a few more. There is no quick fix. In fact, there’s nothing to do in this situation but to make sure that each authoring tool, browser and assistive technology has standardized support for object in the near future. Until then, authors using the accessibility features of Flash will have a Hobson’s choice: cheat on validity, or fail to reach the audience they had designed for.

Is there a middle ground? Could there be a technique that is functional across browsers and platforms, doesn’t impede the Flash loading, preserves access to its internal accessibility features, and remains valid? Code jockeys, prick up your ears: this is your next technical challenge.

Filed under: Accessibility
Comments (2) Posted by Accessify on Thursday, August 25, 2005

WAI publishes business case documents

From Shawn Lawton Henry:

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG) has published Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization

The 5-page resource suite describes social, technical, financial, legal and policy aspects of Web accessibility. It is designed to help organizations develop their own customized business case for Web accessibility. It provides text that can be used as is, as well as guidance on identifying the most relevant factors for a specific organization.

Filed under: Accessibility
Comments Off Posted by Patrick H. Lauke on Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Joe Clark on PDF

What a way to start off the new look of A List Apart with a bang: Joe Clark’s meticulously researched and comprehensive article Facts and Opinions About PDF Accessibility.

You should put the same care into marking up your PDFs that you put into marking up websites.

Filed under: Accessibility
Comments Off Posted by Patrick H. Lauke on Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Mobile Speak Pocket - PDA screenreader

Mobile Speak Pocket is a screen reader that provides you with access to all the functionality of the device, allowing you to discover the exciting world of Windows-based PDA’s and Smartphones. Thus Mobile Speak Pocket users can now enjoy the complete access to windows mobile mainstream devices like a sighted person at mainstream prices.

Mobile Speak Pocket is compatible with a variety of Pocket PCs and Smartphones. As Windows Mobile technology advances, the device can easily be upgraded.

Mobile Speak Pocket works with a variety of keyboards, braille devices available on the market. The user has the complete flexibility to chose a PDA or a Smartphone and add Mobile Speak Pocket to it. Users can chose between a large variety of languages and voices. We give our customers the choice of different high quality speech synthesizers for each language. Different voices or languages can be combined.

Looks interesting, though I haven’t got a device to test it on. See the Mobile Speak Pocket product page, as well as the other products from spanish developers Code Factory, and let us know if they’re any good.

Filed under: Accessibility
Comments Off Posted by Patrick H. Lauke on Friday, August 19, 2005

IBM to help increase Firefox accessibility

IBM today announced that it is contributing software to the Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox Web browser to make it easier for more users — including those with visual and motor impairments — to access and navigate the Web.

In addition to contributing code that will make it possible for Web pages to be automatically narrated or magnified, and to be better navigated with keystrokes rather than mouse clicks, IBM is contributing Dynamic Hypertext Markup Language (DHTML) accessibility technology to the upcoming Firefox Version 1.5. This will allow software developers to build accessible and navigable “Rich Internet Applications” (RIAs) — a new class of applications that are particularly visual and interactive. DHTML will also allow users to efficiently navigate content more easily using keystrokes rather than a mouse.

Read the full press release: IBM Contributes Open Source Code to Make FireFox Browser More Accessible (via All About Access).

Filed under: Accessibility
Comments Off Posted by Patrick H. Lauke on Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Joe Clark “Sharing the Secrets of Web Accessibility” - one day workshop / 1 September 2005 / London

Creating accessible web sites is no longer an option, it’s a necessity. During this one-day workshop, we’ll teach you how to create accessible sites that work in the real world.

Joe’s advice will help you overcome those tricky areas that most developers get stuck on. He’ll also let you in on many of the little secrets he’s picked up over the years that will help you build accessible sites more quickly and easily.

The day will be full of the tips and tricks that will save you crucial time when designing a standards-compliant site for either yourself or your client. The area of accessibility is a minefield for the developer. This one day workshop will tell you what you need to know, why you need to know it and how to implement it. By the end of the session you will feel confident in saying to any client ‘I can make your site accessible’. For a full breakdown of the day’s content see the schedule below.

This session assumes you have a working knowledge of web standards and basic familiarity with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, published by the W3C in 1999.

If you have any questions or if you prefer to pay by cheque or require an invoice, email

See the full details of Joe Clark’s workshop for a complete schedule and booking information. Only 40 seats available, so make up your mind quickly. If you’ve never seen Joe speak in person, this is a must.

Filed under: Accessibility
Comments Off Posted by Patrick H. Lauke on Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Joe Clark - Sharing the Secrets of Web Accessibility

The fine people at Carson Workshops are flying Joe Clark over to London for a one day workshop, in which Joe will be Sharing the Secrets of Web Accessibility.
If you?ve never seen Joe speak before I can promise you he?s well worth
the admission price, and you?ll definitely walk away having learnt more
than you expected. Places are limited so you?ll have to be quick.
Actually you?ll have to be quick anyway ? the workshop is on Thursday
1st September.

Filed under: Accessibility
Comments Off Posted by Accessify on Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Accessibility checking using Firefox

Patrick Lauke’s Evaluating Web Sites for Accessibility with Firefox, published in the latest issue of Ariadne, is a wonderful, in-depth look at how to use Chris Pederick’s Web Developer toolbar to evaluate sites against a number of WCAG 1.0 checkpoints.

You can’t catch all the accessibility problems, but Patrick’s approach is great for handling all of the problems that are inside the angle brackets in your documents. And if you leave some of these features on all the time, you can recoil in horror at sites you may not have realized are still put together 90’s-era tag soup or deeply-nested layout tables. (Select “Outline Tables” and “Outline custom elements” with <font> to see what I mean.)

And now, time for me to take a page from Ian’s book, slip out of the country, and observe radio silence for a while.

Filed under: Accessibility
Comments Off Posted by Accessify on Thursday, August 4, 2005