This article is maintained here for archival purposes. The content presented here may be outdated and may not represent current best practices or represent the opinion and recommendations of WebAIM. For up-to-date information, please refer to the WebAIM web site.
Accessibility and Macromedia Breeze
Macromedia is a leading provider for distance education delivery systems using the Breeze presentation platform. Breeze delivers content using live, presentation, or training modules. This flexibility of delivery methods coupled with the broadband friendly Flash delivery process makes this system desirable for many educational institutions. This article will review some of the main functionalities of Breeze as well as introduce some of the accessibility considerations that should be kept in mind when creating content using Breeze. The source for much of the information presented in this article comes from www.macromedia.com/software/breeze and www.macromedia.com/macromedia/accessibility/features/breeze. Please visit these sites for a more in-depth review of the accessibility of Macromedia Breeze. This article refers to Breeze version 4.1.
The presentation module is the core module for the Breeze platform upon which the other modules run. The presentation module includes a centralized library where content is stored that students and instructors can access. Someone assigned to an administrator role manages the content library. Content can be developed using a Breeze plug-in for Microsoft PowerPoint. This plug-in allows a content developer to add audio, create quizzes, and add other multimedia options to a PowerPoint that is then published to the Breeze content library as a Flash movie. Video can also be converted to a Flash movie or Flash video and uploaded to the Breeze library. All of the content in Breeze is delivered via Flash through a standard web browser that has the Flash player installed.
The live module of the Breeze platform allows for various types of synchronous activities. These include such features as live 2-way video and audio, dynamic chat, content slides, polling and questions, whiteboard, application sharing, file sharing, and screen sharing. All these features are built in Macromedia Flash which allows for a streamline synchronous experience to virtually any computer in the world with Internet and a Flash player.
The training module in Breeze is for delivering and managing content that can be synchronous or asynchronous. It can be used to manage courses, content libraries, and live meetings. Features include the ability to create courses, manage courses, generate reports, develop content, implement quizzes and surveys, and track students and participants.
As curriculum is developed and delivered using the Breeze platform, checks and balances need to be in place to ensure that professors, trainers, instructors, teachers, and instructional designers are creating content that is accessible and usable for the widest possible audience. Although not all content can currently be made accessible within the Breeze system, content creators can use accessibility best practices and universal design techniques when creating content for Macromedia Breeze to ensure maximum accessibility. Accessibility best practices and techniques that can increase the accessibility of Breeze to a wider audience include:
- Setup a proper Breeze account
- Create accessible PowerPoint presentations
- Include transcripts for all audio
- Include pauses when publishing slides in PowerPoint
Creating Accessible Content in Breeze
Setup a proper Breeze account
When you create a Breeze account you can choose to have Breeze produce content for either Flash Player 4 or for Flash Player 7. Because Flash Player 4 does not support accessibility features within Flash content selecting Flash Player 7 will allow students and users to have some support for accessibility if it is built into your content.
Breeze uses Microsoft PowerPoint to author its presentations. To use PowerPoint for content creation within Breeze, you will need to download and install the Breeze plug-in for Microsoft PowerPoint. After installing the plug-in you will notice a Breeze menu on your main menu within PowerPoint (see Breeze menu graphic below).When creating your PowerPoint do not try to include too much information per slide. This can be a cognitive overload for students. Also keep transitions, nonessential audio elements, and animations to a minimum. These items can cause distractions and create confusion. If you do employ graphics or animations be sure to use text to describe these items. This can help to make the presentation accessible to individuals that are blind or have low vision. Textual explanations can also help the overall usability of your presentation allowing for easier searching and indexing by Breeze. For more information on creating accessible PowerPoint presentations see WebAIM's PowerPoint tutorial.
Include transcripts for all audio
In order for Breeze content to be accessible to individuals who have hearing loss, all audio content should have a text equivalent or transcript. If you are creating a PowerPoint presentation that will be narrated, it is fairly simple to add the transcript. Before you record your narration, take the time to write down what you will say in the notes section of the PowerPoint slide. This extra step will allow users with hearing impairments to view the slide notes of what you are saying during that slide. Not only will adding the transcript to the slide notes allow access to the hearing impaired, but it will also increase the usability of the presentation by allowing Breeze to search and index the text on your slide notes. This will allow students to search for very specific content and jump to the exact location in your presentation they are looking for rather than wasting time watching or searching the presentation in its entirety.
If you are uploading other content with audio such as video you need to include captions and/or transcripts when producing the video. If content developers have been following accessibility when creating video, this should not be much of an issue. A simple conversion software can convert any type of video to Flash video, which can then be uploaded to the Breeze server.
Controlling timed elements
When publishing the presentation from PowerPoint using the Breeze add-in there is an option to set the length of time for each slide as well as include a pause after each slide. The default setting is a length of 5 seconds per slide and no pause after the slide. For those that might need more time to read the slide and digest the information, a longer period of 7-10 seconds per slide is recommended. Because there is no option to select time for each individual slide, choose a time that would match the average time it takes to read the information on the slides in your presentation. If your presentation is content heavy, select a longer period per slide. However, this will not solve the problem for al users. Creating a pause at the end of each slide is a better solution.
By pausing at the end of each slide the user controls when to move on to the next slide. This is beneficial because it allows those that have cognitive disabilities the time to understand the content of the slide. It may also allows individuals with assistive technologies, such as screen readers, to use their devices to read the information in the slide. Typically the content of each slide is accessible to screen readers, but many times the navigation to get to that information is not. Breeze has included some keystrokes that will allow users to browse presentations in Breeze. These keys are:
- Shift + Page Up = Next Slide
- Shift + Page Down = Previous Slide
- P = Play/Pause
- S = Stop
- M = Mute
- V = Change View
Although these keystrokes work most of the time, it is not consistent. Depending on the presentation some of the keystrokes will not work. In addition, these keystrokes will not work in the Breeze Live Module. If you are using JAWS, Macromedia recommends that you turn off the Quick Keys mode. However, even with this mode turned off, navigating through a Breeze presentation can prove difficult.
Distance education is and will continue to become an integral part of education. As it continues to grow, it will exclude students with disabilities unless action is taken to remedy the inaccessible content and delivery systems. Macromedia Breeze is one of the leading systems used to deliver distance education and although it currently is not fully accessible, content developers can help some of the accessibility issues by following techniques and best practices for creating accessible web-based content. For more information visit www.macromedia.com/software/breeze and www.macromedia.com/macromedia/accessibility/features/breeze