WebAIM released the results of a survey of screen reader users and the results are interesting for what they tell us about HTML use, but the commentary around user’s thoughts on Flash content and PDF documents is of particular interest at Adobe. The results state that 71% of screen reader users responding feel that Flash content is very difficult (34%) or somewhat difficult (37%) to use, and 48% of screen reader users responding feel that PDF documents are very difficult (17%) or somewhat difficult (31%) to use. I think that it is worth putting some additional context around these numbers.
Given that the Flash player has supported accessibility since 2001 when Player 6 was released, and the Flash authoring tool provides support for developers to add accessibility to Flash content, why are Flash developers not adding necessary information to their projects? Some are, to be certain — there are examples of Flash being used properly such as what is offered at Social Security (http://ssa.gov/pgm/flash/overviewcaptioned.htm) and the U.S. Department of Education (http://federalstudentaid.ed.gov/mystory/index.html) web sites, but you don’t need to look too far to find inaccessible examples.
Flash is a tool to make content, but many developers aren’t providing the necessary information. We’ve published books with information relevant to the topic such as Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance which I contributed chapters to and Universal Design for Web Applications: Web Applications that Reach Everyone which Matt May on the Adobe accessibility team co-authored with Wendy Chisholm. We also have information available at the Adobe Accessibility web site — please point these resources out to Flash developers who don’t make their content accessible.
The story is similar for PDF documents – there is tooling readily available to make PDF documents and forms accessible, and many authors do take the time to add necessary accessibility information, but not everyone does. For PDF, please point authors to the Acrobat 9 accessibility guides at http://www.adobe.com/accessibility/products/acrobat/ or to the Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance book chapter on PDF.
I feel that it is important to not over generalize from the WebAIM survey data for Flash and PDF. It is fair to say that users are rating these formats less favorably than any of us would like to see but that does not mean that the formats are not accessible. Users have interacted with examples in these formats from which they have formed impressions but that does not mean that developing accessible content in Flash or PDF is impossible. This idea is echoed in Adrian Higginbotham’s comments to the WebAIM blog announcement of the survey results where he acknowledges challenges with some Flash content but finds success with others.
Flash and PDF are tools and the accessibility of the content depends on whether the developer is making an effort to produce accessible content. Please encourage authors and developers to handle accessibility properly.