RNIB tests Flash accessibility

Out-Law News | 19 Jun 2002 | 12:00 am | 1 min. read

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), a UK charity that has long campaigned for increased accessibility in web sites, last week released an on-line game based on Flash MX, Macromedia’s latest version of its Flash animation product, which is accessible to the blind.

Flash became popular because it allowed for animation and sound in web sites without huge file sizes. However, it has often been criticised because it is inaccessible to those using screen readers to translate the contents of web pages for speech synthesisers or Braille displays. In response to such criticism, Macromedia announced that it would make accessibility a feature of Flash MX, with captioning, descriptors and text for blind and deaf users.

In addition to ethical and commercial arguments for accessibility, there is also a legal argument. In the UK, if a web site is inaccessible to those with disabilities, it can amount to discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act. Many expect the RNIB to bring a test case against the operator of a non-accessible UK web site.

The game, Look Louder, was developed by software company Bluewave to coincide with the RNIB’s fundraising campaign, “Look Loud Day” on Friday 14th June. However, the charity expressed disappointment that the game only works for those using the latest version of the Windoweyes screen reader, version 4.2. If other screen readers are used, the Flash MX files will not be accessible to the user.

The RNIB said that “Macromedia have assured us that that their products will be accessible to many more screen readers very soon.” It added, however, that it is for individual web designers to ensure that the sites they design are usable by people with disabilities.

The game takes the form of a screen-based cartoon character that can be dressed in a choice of “loud” clothing. People using the application have the option to send their creation on to friends and colleagues, encouraging them to visit the site and put together their own badly dressed characters. The site then takes users through to a donation page.

Dean Russell of Bluewave said: "When most people think of accessibility they think of plain text on cream backgrounds, this does not have to be the case."

The game is at: http://lookloud.bluewave.com