Is Flash content accessible?

DO-IT Factsheet #1023

Adobe Flash is an animation technology that allows web developers to build dynamic content featuring multimedia and interactive applications. Flash content downloads quickly and can run on any browser that supports and is equipped with the Adobe Flash Player plug-in. Flash has become increasingly popular on the web, including the websites of educational entities. Its most frequent application in education is simply to add an animation or dynamic menus or photos to a web page. However, educators are beginning to explore its potential for developing dynamic, interactive educational applications that engage learners and individualize the learning experience.

Historically, Flash content has not been accessible to all users, including screen reader users, mouse-free users, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and other people with disabilities. However, with the release of Flash MX in early 2002, Macromedia (since acquired by Adobe) made significant improvements to their product's ability to produce accessible content. The most notable improvements are a new Accessibility Panel, which allows developers to control how elements are exposed to screen readers, and integrated support for Microsoft Active Accessibility [1] (MSAA), which provides screen readers and other assistive technologies access to the content so that they can, in turn, deliver the content in meaningful ways to the user.

Macromedia's enhancements alone, however, did not make Flash content accessible. Assistive technology vendors now must build support for Flash into their products. As of July 2003, the only screen readers that claim to support Flash MX are GW Micro Window-Eyes [2] version 4.2 or higher and Freedom Scientific JAWS for Windows [3] version 4.5 or higher.

In addition, Flash developers must make their content accessible. Macromedia did a commendable job of promoting and documenting how to do this. Among other efforts, the Flash MX Accessibility Control Panel is prominently visible by default, and an excellent training video on making accessible Flash content is available from the Macromedia website.