Liveblogging a panel at South by Southwest 2005 (; ) with Michael Jordan and Bob Regan; 2005.03.13 17:02

Author’s note: Bob Regan of Macromedia is a tall, strapping, blunt, confident, somewhat dismissive redhead. Now you know.

Jordan, of Houghton (pronounced “hohten”) Mifflin, produced an accessible Flash educational tool for children.

More than half the room are Flash developers, and at least 70% of them have “opened” a screen reader. Twenty have attempted accessible content, and some nine have “succeeded.” Bob demands all those URLs!

Bob: Most people approach accessibility with the emotional enthusiasm of brushing your teeth. Once you get into it, it’s fun shit.

Mark: Starts with a crossword puzzle. “You can work on this program using a screen-‘redding’ program,” Window-Eyes announces. Bob tabs through buttons and gets lost. “I have to push the Play button.”

“The hardest thing about accessible Flash content is to understand how to work in an environment that’s different from your own. To grossly stereotype everyone in this room, judging from the number of piercings and funky hairdos, you’re all visual people.” You have to get used to a different environment.

The machine reads the clues, and Bob deliberately mistypes an answer. It burps at an incorrect letter and chimes when he gets it right.

Mark: You have to use the ActiveX version of Flash player and IE/Win. For all you people going “Firefox!,” it’s not there yet.

Bob: For all you Firefox people, please, please, please make an accessible version of Firefox or Mozilla. I would love that.

Mark: Works in Jaws 4.5 (preferably, not the later versions); Window-Eyes ≥4.2, and IBM Home Page Reader 3.04.

Goals were: Make all application controls; text equivalents. reading order; meet 508; and provide “an engaging and usable experience for children with disabilities.” Flash was easer than their Perl-based CGI “solutions,” plus it could be distributed on CD-ROM.

Bob: When should you use and not use Flash from an accessibility standpoint? Immersive environments are very powerful for education. Lots of kids can tell you what happens on the second level of such-and-such game, but they can’t tell you how to spell “dog.”

Using an HTML equivalent does not get you off the hook for making an accessible Flash presentation in the first place.

Bob: All these links will be posted on my blog as soon as I’m sober enough to operate my machine. I assume we’re all going out for a drink after this.

Mark: The Flash player automatically makes mouse events keyboard-accessible.

Bob: If you don’t hear the word “button” when it’s actually reading the button, that’s bad. (If you used events rather than a timeline, as people did in version 4, this means you.) When testing keyboard access, we tend to press the Tab key very fast. You want to keep track of how many times you have to press that key before you get the actual effect you want. If it takes 50 keystrokes to play or pause a movie, that’s gonna suck. Anything that’s essential you should assign a shortcut to.

Mark: But you have to assign a key listener or an event handler – you can’t just use the accessibility control panel. But don’t conflict with accesskeys or screen-reader keystrokes; test them.

Bob: How do you know what those shortcuts are? There’s no standard, and you can’t expect people to memorize them. Thea (pronounced Théa) Eaton does this particularly well in her development, apparently.

Several minutes of confused and dysfluent exposition about keyboard focus, with mutterings onstage about how to get things to work.

Bob: This is South by Southwest, so we’re not going easy on you. Sorry.

James Craig asked a technical question.

Mark: Oh, did I just miss a slide?

Your scribe lost interest at about the thirty-minute mark, typeset the word BOOORING in 96-point Univers 55, and held it slightly aloft so people immediately behind me could see it.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.03.13 18:48. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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