I just did my first Flash in the past two weeks. Loved it, but I kind of struggled, but hope to learn more.
I'm not familiar with it. I'm familiar with the program itself, but not…. I haven't used it. OK, so we'll keep this fairly high level then. The first thing we need to understand when we're talking about Flash and Flash and disability is the history of Flash accessibility because the history is fairly dark, in that until this release of the player, of the Flash player, the content of a Flash movie was not accessible at all to someone who was using a screen reader, and it had very limited accessibility to somebody with mobility impairments.
And so about two years ago, there was enough of a concern amongst our customers who were using Flash on a regular basis, particularly in the government, that the company decided that it was time to do something about it. Now, what they did at that point, was to embrace a standards approach to accessibility of Flash. Which means that rather than providing direct access to a screen reader, they chose to use the Microsoft Active Accessibility Standards as a means of communicating between the Flash player and the assistive technology such as a screen reader.
Now for those of you who are not technical and don't know what MSAA is: On the other side, a screen reader or other assistive technology picks up that information and renders it to the user on the other side. So this is important and it's going to become more important later as we go on.
But the idea there is that, using a standard, we could reach a broader number of assistive technologies down the road. Initially, the only screen reader that implements support for this as we launched was WindowEyes from G. And this is a relatively small portion of the screen reader market. The largest screen reader on the market is, of course, JAWS. And JAWS support came later. That was released in September.
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Flash MX was released in March. So it took them about an extra 6 months to add in support for the Flash player. Another thing to keep in mind is that because this is based on MSAA, and the changes were made specifically to the Flash player. This only works on the player that runs in Internet Explorer on Windows. That decision was made to prioritize that player first because that's where the largest number of screen reader users and people with disabilities in general were. We wanted to make sure we were going there first. We will be adding support to other players going forward.
And when we have our next major release of Flash … which will be sometime in the future, I can't say when … we will be adding support for additional players. And our plan is, with each major release, to increase the accessibility of another player. Because it is a fairly significant undertaking, to add in support.
Now one of the biggest problems that we have, because this is limited to the Windows operating system under Internet Explorer, while that may have reached the broadest number of people with disabilities, it has not reached the broadest number of developers. And we need to make sure that we're encouraging our developers to be testing their work under Windows, using Internet Explorer with a screen reader.
A couple of things about Flash and disabilities that we need to make clear from the very beginning is that it's not automatic. Simply because the player is able to communicate with the screen reader, doesn't mean it has anything interesting to say.
And it's very, very important that we understand that. One of the greatest myths about accessible Flash design is that it parallels accessible html design, and it's just not true. It's not simply a matter of proper structure and description. Accessible Flash design requires more attention and thought on the part of the developer than does html.
And it's much harder to automate. We're going to take a look at some of the reasons behind that today as we go through this. You know, the question becomes, if you use, a lot of accessibility policies, at least the local accessibility policies, at the level of a department or office lets say, "Oh, no no no!
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You can't use Flash. That doesn't prohibit using Flash development. And, you know, if you ask anybody, the W3C Web content work group, they'll tell you that. But the question about appropriateness is a tricky one. And the way I like to frame the issue is this: For someone with a learning disability, the least accessible form of content is plain text.
And that tension between addressing the needs of people with visual disabilities and addressing the issues of people with cognitive disabilities is inherent to design and it's not something that can be resolved easily. Flash does a very good job of presenting information and structured information in ways that aren't possible with plain text. And so we want to be thoughtful about that. We want to be thoughtful about the fact that Flash is being used merely for kind of showiness or fluff or flash, part of the time.
We want to make sure that the way we're using it is to provide an alternative way of understanding and taking in the same information that we're proving in text. So, for example, in a chemistry course, a lesson on hydro-dynamics. An animation, an interactive animation showing a pressure and volume and changes in pressure and volume can really help somebody with a learning disability, or someone like me who is simply a visual learner, understand information in ways that wouldn't be possible with plain text.
Now at the same time, we need to be sure that that's not the only way that we're providing that information. That information is available in a text description. And perhaps with some numerical data along side of it, so that the relationship, those equations, are available and understandable for someone who isn't able to see the Flash animation. So I think that one of the first things that we need to be thinking about when it comes to whether or not a particular piece of Flash content can be used or should be used, we have to answer the question of what role it's playing within the content.
We need to be thoughtful about that. The question of the accessibility of Flash content within section is mildly clear. Section is a little bit more explicit in the way that it allows the use of third party content. It treats it all as a piece of software. So a small Flash navigation bar on a Web page, is treated with the same set of guidelines and standards that we use to measure the tool Dreamweaver … or Word … or any other piece of software.
Now the problem with those guidelines is that they're very broad. And so they don't hit really close to the actual problems that we see with Flash content. And so I thought would I would do today is take a few minutes and walk you through some of the common problems that I found so far, when it comes to designing accessible Flash content. Before I do that, are there any questions? So, captioning is something that we wanted to make sure we added in, in this release, because we added a lot of support for video.
And so it's very easy to add video and we needed to make sure at the same time it was added, it was easy to add captions as well. Magpie is a free tool that helps generate the caption files, including the timing. But it won't automatically generate the text associated with it. Joe] I can tell you're lying 'Cause when you're replying Stutter, stutter, s-s-stutter, stutter I can tell you're lying 'Cause when you're replying Stutter, stutter, s-s-stutter, stutter.
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