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RE: CAn this page be saved from itself?

for

From: Paul Bohman
Date: Sep 15, 2003 10:55PM


Steven C. Perkins asked:

Can this page be saved and made accessible?

http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/lawlibrary/default.asp


My reply:

First of all, I'll state the obvious: the entire page is one big Flash
object.

Second of all, I can infer from your question that you mean "accessible to
screen readers" when you ask if the page can be made "accessible." I just
want to throw out a little reminder that blindness is not the only
disability for which Web accessibility is important.

For example, if you had asked if this page is accessible to someone who is
deaf, the answer is "yes."

Is it accessible to someone with color-blindness? As far as I can tell, yes,
it is. I didn't see any information that was conveyed with color alone that
might be problematic for someone who is colorblind. (Though there are some
issues of contrast with the backround images).

Is it accessible to someone with low vision? Hmm. Perhaps, but there are
problems. In Internet Explorer and Netscape 7, the Flash object enlarges in
accordance with the size of the window. If I fill my entire screen with the
browser, then the text is a reasonable size, but for someone who has the
resolution set to 640 x 480 the text will be quite small. Not only that, but
the background will interfere with reading comprehension, especially on the
right-hand side. I would not rate this site as accessible to someone with
low vision. Even worse, when I opened the page in Opera (my default
browser), the whole Flash object was about 1.5 inches wide! Luckily, Opera
has the capability of enlarging the page up to 1000%, but the designers
obviously did not test their Flash object in Opera at all. If they had, they
could have fixed this obvious error.

Is it accessible to someone who cannot use a mouse? Well, I tested the page
by tabbing through it, and it's obvious that the authors didn't pay any
attention to the tab order of their links either. I would classify this as
horribly unfriendly to keyboard users, though perhaps it is not technically
altogether inaccessible, since the links can be clicked on, you'll just have
a nightmare of a time trying to get to the link that you want.

Is it accessible to someone with a cognitive disability, learning
disability, or reading disorder? That depends on the severity and type of
disorder. The background may be a distraction. They did do a pretty good job
of grouping the information into logical lists, so that's a good thing,
though the sheer number of links will be intimidating to some.

Now, as for people who use screen readers, the accessibility of the Flash
object will depend on which screen reader they have (and which version) and
on the techniques of the Flash designers. I didn't spend the time to test
the page with either JAWS or Window Eyes (the screen readers that can read
Flash), but based on their lack of attention to tab order, I can already say
that this Flash object was not designed with screen reader accessibility in
mind, because tab order is very important to screen reader users.

With those thoughts in mind, the answer to your question is that yes, the
page can be made more accessible.

There are two ways of making Flash objects more accessible:
1. Improving the accessibility of the Flash object itself.
2. Creating an accessible HTML alternative.

If the designers are excited about their Flash design, they are probably
unwilling to give it up, which is understandable, even if it isn't ideal.
The truth is that they designed this Flash object to look like a Web page,
so there is really no justification for using Flash at all! They could have
accomplished the same look and feel with HTML (and, in this case,
JavaScript).

If they are unwilling to give up the Flash interface, I would tell them to
create an HTML alternative to the whole thing. At the very least, they
should duplicate the links and put them into the same logical categories.
The quick and dirty way to do it would be to create one big Web page with
all of the links. Over time, they could improve the HTML version to make it
more user-friendly.

Of course, having two versions of the same Web page opens up a can of
worms--it means that you have double the work of maintaining both sites.

And, they would have to make sure that the link to the HTML version was
prominent on the page (and *before* the Flash object).

The best long term solution for this particular page would be to scrap the
Flash object altogether. There are appropriate uses of Flash. In fact, Flash
has some amazing potential in terms of accessibility for people with
cognitive disabilities, as well as for instructional purposes. But a menu
system is not the best use of Flash.

Paul Bohman
Technology Coordinator
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
www.webaim.org
Center for Persons with Disabilities
www.cpd.usu.edu
Utah State University
www.usu.edu



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