RIA – Rich Internet Accessibility?

It is interesting to be getting into the RIA realm. I see the benefits on several levels (‘stickiness’ from a business perspective, general usability), but I am also very aware of the challenges.

I have a background in accessibility, so that is a large concern for me even as I want to turn to using these new technologies. I engaged a co-worker who works in the search arena, to ask him about ajax/flex/flash. His first response was the same as the accessibility response, that they’re less than ideal. What struck me, however, was the difference in how to deal with the issues.

One thing I need to remember is that there is SOME difference between the two. We were looking at rapidly changing content — that content doesn’t need to be ‘understood’ by a search engine. However, it does need to be available to users of assistive technologies. From a search perspective, a hybrid site in which the ‘main’ content is text, and therefore indexable, is ok. It’s not from an accessibility standpoint.

Avenue-A Razorfish just published an article on SOFA — (search optimized flash architecture. The idea is that the content is written to the page in XHTML and then presented via flash. The concern is that this could be considered to be cloaking. However, if the content is the same, simply presented in a different format, this should be immaterial.

I am really enjoying my work. I’m learning plenty, and am also finding there are plenty of opportunities to share my thoughts and opinions and explore other areas as well. I don’t know if it is partially due to the small size of the company and the tremendous growth they’re undergoing that processes are still fluid and there is opportunity to make an impact, but it is definitely a great environment for me!

In other news, if anyone is an information architect or a flex developer looking for a new job with a fantastic company, drop me a line… !

3 thoughts on “RIA – Rich Internet Accessibility?

  • Hi, I saw your question in comments at Ryan’s blog, but CNET requires membership to comment there, so I’m commenting here…. 😉

    ” I did have a question about flex/flash accessibility — my understanding is that it leverages MSAA (Microsoft Active Accessibility), so if you’re running another browser, you’re out of luck. Am I mistaken?”

    The text-to-speech process in Adobe Flash Player uses the Microsoft Active Accessibility API, so it must be used on Windows, but people who use JAWS and Window Eyez and other renderers for that API should be able to use any capable browser — to my memory, it’s not an IE-only thing. (In practice, a lot depends on versioning of the screenreader — it’s been uneven support over the years.) Bottom line is that standard screenreader setups will work for SWF as they do for HTML.

    Text-to-speech is only one small part of making a network experience, clear, useful, and accessible to the widest reasonable percentage of the world, though. Video can reach many people whose English skills are low, for instance. But those are separate issues.


  • @John:
    thanks for your comment. I’d just as soon have it posted here, anyway! After I asked about MSAA I did a bit of research and saw it was a platform, not a browser, solution, so that alleviated some of my concerns, thanks.
    I am really intrigued by the fact that flash can detect a screenreader, that seems like something that web developers of non-rich (poor? 😉 ) applications have been trying to do for a long time. I’m torn as to whether or not it is a good thing — I still hold fast to the idea that we should ‘dumb down’ sites for users of assistive technology. That being said, a former colleague brought up a good point: we develop user interfaces based on a visual mental model: the page metaphor, etc. Non-sighted users would not share the same model, so perhaps there is a better way to present information.

    Ah, so much to consider…

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