So you got a gig with Uncle Sam and the first thing he tells you is your Flash App must be 508 , “Accessibility Compliant“?

If you are like some developers you may have never heard of such thing and could be a bit worried about not being able to deliver on your first big gov gig.

If you have had to make web sites 508 compliant and used tools like Bobby http://www.mardiros.net/bobby-accessibility-tool.html to help you make accessible content in the past you still may be scratching your head as to how to do this with Flash.  After all Flash is still well known for its visuals; well don’t fret.  Flash content is 508 compliant if you make use of the accessibility features and after a little bit of reading you will be well on your way.

My recommendation is that you start here:  
http://www.macromedia.com/resources/accessibility/

 Just about everything you need to know about 508 compliance and Flash can be found on the Accessibility Resource Center.

Outside of this material I can offer some simple but sound advice:

First you should consider this fundamental concept.  Unless you use screen reader software on you computer to actually navigate and run software, you probably don’t know how to use something like Jaws and you probably have no concept of what good usability looks like for someone who does. 

If you want your application to be compliant, just following the documentation will get you there.  If you want the application to be well designed for the visually impaired, then you should get yourself an individual intimately familiar with screen reader software to help you test and design your application.

Now this is not just about design and usability.  To insure your application is compliant you will no doubt want to test it and be certain you can navigate to anything on the stage, the different states of your application and that any text you have displayed can be read.  This seems simple enough but most of the support calls we receive from developers regarding accessibility are not because they did not successfully make their Flash application accessible but that they did not know how to use the screen reader software to enable them to properly navigate and read the Flash content.

For example, Imagine yourself just a day or two away from your publish deadline and you attempts to test for 508 compliant thwarted by a seemingly impossible bug. The second you turn on the screen reader software you can’t navigate the Flash application with the keyboard!  Don’t panic, just see this technote: JAWS disables keyboard navigation in Flash movies and don’t just think, but know that just because it may not make intuitive sense to you does not mean that anything is broken.  The inverse also applies; just because you can navigate it well, it does not mean your target audience will have an easy time of things.

Talk about your stressful situations. Unless you want to drive yourself mad, don’t ever leave anything that is a "requirement" to the last minute.   I suggest before you begin spend a few weeks getting to know the ins and outs of supported screen readers, looking at examples of accessible sites and using the screen reader to navigate not just Flash applications but generally around the internet.  That will be the next best thing to having an expert on you team and can go a long way towards less sleepless nights and more business from Uncle Sam in the future.

As I have said before, test early and test often.  Although in the case of Accessibility you want to give yourself time to learn what is essentially an unfamiliar medium give yourself a standard by which to validate the quality and functionality of your applications.

For more resources on Accessibility and 508 compliance try these links:

Good luck.