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Adobe Flash can often get a bad rap from the standards community, but the reality is that there are many situations where Flash is the most appropriate tool for the job. As well as just being the best technology for some applications, the Flash Player also enjoys near ubiquity in in common desktop browsers. So why then, in 2007, do we still have obstacles in our way to making Flash content accessible?

Accessibility and Flash expert Niqui Merret has compiled an Accessibility in Flash bug and issue list, detailing the current issues as she sees them in her work. Comments, suggestions for the list and workarounds to the listed items are solicited.

Particularly interesting are the items on the list which depend solely on browser manufacturers to fix. Niqui writes:

No tabbing between Flash and HTML elements: 
This occurs in plug-in based browsers such as Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc. This is not an issue in Internet Explorer. This needs to be solved by the Browser manufactures.

It would be great to see Mozilla, Apple and Opera follow Microsoft’s lead in addressing this basic usability issue, or at least let us all know what technical limitation is preventing them from being able to do so. The more we talk, the more we learn, and the more we learn the more we can do to solve these problems. This is 2007, and about time we made some serious inroads in addressing these basic issues.

Your Replies

#1 On August 6th, 2007 9:16 am Matthias replied:

When you have very good markup languages (XHTML, CSS…), why do you need flash? Flash-sites are not easy to use: I want to use my browser “back”-button, I want to be able to open an url in a new tab, and not a popup, I don’t want to wait while the site loads, I want to scroll with my mouse wheel through text, I don’t want music to start playing when I open a site, I want to be able to save an image, to view the site without mark-up…
And why do I have to install a plugin to view a website in a webbrowser?
And the only thing that is good about IE, is it flash support!

#2 On August 6th, 2007 9:42 am WaSP Member drewm replied:

Matthias – for increasingly common in-page content types such as video and audio, there’s no common way to present those without using a browser plugin. YouTube wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful or popular with their audience as they are if all videos had to be presented as animated GIFs.

As far as browser plugins go, Flash is a great option as it handles so many different tasks well and is very widely supported.

#3 On August 6th, 2007 9:43 am Stephane Deschamps replied:

Thanks for pointing it out (the URL as well as your conclusion).

I’m always telling people that my guess is that it’s the only way for browser vendors to avoid eolas-like problems. Technically it seems that the ‘plugin’ is not at the same level as the rest of the page, contrary to what’s happening in IE, so it’s not embedded content per se.

Side effect: you have to click on it to get inside it, and then the problem is to get out of it; resulting in bad usability and very bad basic accessibility (I have no eyes and I must click).

#4 On August 6th, 2007 9:55 am Aral Balkan replied:


Forgive me for being blunt but your comments show a complete ignorance of the Flash Platform as it exists today. Unfortunately, you are not doing anyone a favor by perpetuating these outdated myths about Flash.

You *can* use the Back button on a properly constructed Flash site. In fact, Back button (and history) support in Flash and Flex is far superior to the support available in Ajax applications. The question however, is what does the Back button do in a web *application*. In other words, in a non-hierarchical, non-page-based system. Does it double for Undo? Does it take you to the previous state? The Back button issue does not have a simple black and white answer.

If your browser supports the capturing of pop-ups in new tabs (like Firefox), you can open a URL in a new tab.

Flash is perfect for creating streaming experiences where you *don’t* have to wait until the entire site loads (or, even worse, watch as it gets drawn and sometimes drawn again as is the case with HTML/JavaScript sites sometimes.)

Music that starts playing when you visit a site is an implementation-specific issue, not a Flash issue. It’s like saying you don’t want to see blinking text so let’s not use HTML.

If the implementation lets you, you can save an image and lots more (as Flash has an upload/download API called FileReference.) With Flex applications, developers can enable View Source that gives you not just the source for the application but, if the developer wants to, can give you all the assets, etc., and even provide them in a simple .zip file for you to download. (For an example, right-click one of the examples in my Flex 2 Quick Starts on

Saying “Flash sites are not easy to use” is like saying Ajax sites are not easy to use. Yes, there are unusable Flash sites and applications, as there are unusable HTML sites (MySpace, anyone?) and unusable Ajax sites. Do not write off a technology due to some examples of bad implementations made with that technology.

To answer your question “why do you need flash?”, there are certain things that you can only do with Flash (alpha channel video, online video editing, online drawing applications, multi-user games, etc., come to mind).

The main point I’m trying to make is: Unless you’ve actually taken the time to review what is possible on the Flash Platform today, please don’t make ignorant statements that perpetuate age-old myths. You don’t do the standards community any favors by doing so.

#5 On August 6th, 2007 10:02 am Justin Thorp replied:

Drew, so how can us common folk help in getting these browser bugs fixed?

Do we all need to send email to some Program Manager somewhere saying that this is important and we want it fixed? Do all these guys/gals hang out at a bar somewhere?

#6 On August 6th, 2007 10:07 am John D Giotta replied:

@Matthias – Learn the technology before you recycle old excuses. I agree that some designers don’t think about users experience minus annoyances, but its because designers built the site. In fact mostly all the sites people complain about are created by designers and not developers and certainly not with a drive for standards compliance.

Personally, I’m a Flash minimalist, but the technology is so much better made then the 1 off attempts at JavaScript. Don’t get me wrong I love JavaScript and I’m a huge advocate but sometimes the additional code I need to write just to add an event listener is a pain in the arse.

Yet, both schools are both guilty of bad implementation. ‘Ajax’ is just as bad as Flash; in that area its like calling the kettle black.

@Drew – About the tabbing between Flash and the browser as commented by Niqui, I’m think it can be done with a little JavaScript… better than nothing.

#7 On August 6th, 2007 3:54 pm Accesibilidad Web » Blog Archive » Recopilación de “bugs” al desarrollar Flash accesible replied:

[...] Vía: Obstacles to Accessible Flash [...]

#8 On August 6th, 2007 4:14 pm lockoom replied:

I would say that you can’t complain on Flash not being more integrated in browser. It is only a plugin. And browser vendors provide API for plugins not for Flash alone. Problem with tabbing into a plugin content is certainly important, but providing how many different plugins are in the wild, it’s not so easy to address.
That’s probably why browser vendors are rather into supporting as much content as they can, native. See W3C HTML 5 initiative. Consider “video/audio” and “canvas” elements. I’d say that these things alone could make 70% of Flash (mis)usege obsolate.
Sure Flash may be useful, sure it can be accessible, sure it could be easy to use, but the question is – why, so often, it isn’t?

#9 On August 7th, 2007 1:20 am Joe Toner replied:

I can one with the current Flash marvelously work. I do not consider it absolutely necessarily ever more standard to develop, where the majority of the Web designers does not even work with the current standards.

#10 On August 7th, 2007 3:37 am Robin Massart replied:

@Aral Balkan

The problem is defining what a web application is. Most “web applications” I come across would be better served by being basic websites. AJAX is too often used because it’s there not because it helps the user. I for one don’t buy into the whole “don’t reload the whole page” mantra of web applications.

I agree that Flash is a better tool than AJAX for building real web applications, but then these should not need the use of a browser in the first place. eg Google Earth.

#11 On August 7th, 2007 7:55 am Aaron Leventhal replied:

The keyboard issues with Flash plugins are an old known bug in Firefox. As the a11y module owner I’m embarrassed by it. Clearly it should be possible to make Flash content fully accessible in Firefox! I would call this our biggest section 508 issue — see our VPAT describing our accessibility compliance at

Mozilla hired a contractor to do the very complex work, but he stopped before finishing. Now it’s too late in the release cycle for Firefox 3 to get the fix, especially since there is still no one available and qualified to do the work.

Why is it complex? Because of cross platform issues with plugins. The plugin API has to be changed in a way friendly to 4 kinds of plugins, so that the both the browser and plugin can hand over keyboard navigation to the other. And, as Andrew said, work also needs to be done on the plugin side. In addition, Mozilla, Opera, Safari, Adobe and others need to agree on the API.

It was hard enough to get someone working on it, and then he disappeared without a word. Frustrating to say the least! I will push to get Mozilla Corporation to put someone on it after Firefox 3.

In the mean time if anyone knows someone with the time, inclination and Mozilla coding skills to do the work, feel free to contact me about the issue. For more info and some initial code to deal with the issues you can visit the bug:

Aaron Leventhal
Mozilla accessibility module owner
IBM accessibility architect

#12 On August 7th, 2007 12:42 pm Luis Neng replied:

Our Portuguese design agency have been working on 100% Flash Projects for a few years and we do care about how to make Flash more accessible. The browser back button is supported by most of our sites since 2004 and we always try to make the website as standard as possible :)

#13 On August 8th, 2007 6:36 pm Keith replied:

It’s kind of surprising that there are so many here who love Flash. However, as someone who hasn’t ever authored Flash (but is interested in web standards, to make the occasions in which I do create or edit web pages less of a hassle) but does have to live with it as a web user, I don’t see where what Matthias says are myths.

One additional thing is that my primary platform is Linux and Flash on Linux is atrocious. If you make it through an entire Flash movie and don’t have to restart X to recover memory, you need to write a article on how you did it.

On accessibility, it may be possible to make Flash accessible, but it’s not intrinsically accessible, if most Flash movies (or whatever) aren’t. I’ve never seen a Flash program in which you could middle-click to open a new tab.

As a web user, Flash is a major pain. In fact, I don’t even have the plugin installed for my browser. I can certainly live without it; in fact, that’s easier than living with it.

#14 On August 9th, 2007 2:22 pm Peter Bex replied:

Currently flash is not accessible, whatever people say. This is simply because flash is not an open standard.

Yes, there is Flash for Linux, but it is either badly implemented (see post #15) or simply not available (linux on sparc? linux on amd64? linux on powerpc?) How about other non-mainstream OSes?

Yes, there’s Gnash (a free implementation of Flash), but it often crashes and it is terribly slow. Also, they had to reverse-engineer the format so undoubtedly there’s stuff they got wrong.

Google can’t index Flash pages precisely because it is not a proper standard. It can’t look inside Flash objects. Even if Google bought a Flash reader from Adobe, there are endless lists of applications that can’t access Flash content.

The only sensible thing Adobe can and should do is open up the damn format. Then we can talk seriously! (business-wise it would be smart too, since Microsoft is just waiting to take over the market with Silverlight) If anyone at Adobe is reading this, PLEASE reply here and let the web community know what your intentions are.

#15 On August 9th, 2007 5:47 pm Matt May replied:

(Double disclosure time: I’m a member of the WaSP Accessibility TF, and I’m an accessibility engineer at Adobe.)

Currently flash is not accessible, whatever people say. This is simply because flash is not an open standard.

Clearly you want to get your licks in on Flash, but this is a cheap shot. First, accessibility is about more than just publishing a spec. If I woke up tomorrow and the SWF format had been submitted to some standards body, I think very little would change about my job. When it comes to accessibility, the players and the authoring tools – and the way they work with assistive technologies – are more important, IMO, than the format.

Second, “accessible” is not a binary condition. I think Flash Player’s accessibility has improved quite a bit over the last few releases, but I wouldn’t say it (or IE, or Mozilla, or any other user agent) is perfectly accessible. Similarly, Niqui pointed out some issues I think are important, but she stops well short of calling Flash Player inaccessible. The question should be, is it moving in the right direction? I like to think so.

Yes, there is Flash for Linux, but it is either badly implemented (see post #15) or simply not available (linux on sparc? linux on amd64? linux on powerpc?) How about other non-mainstream OSes?

Wait. Are you complaining about accessibility to people with disabilities, or platform support? They’re completely different issues.

Google can’t index Flash pages precisely because it is not a proper standard.

This is simply false. Google has been indexing SWFs for three years now.

#16 On August 9th, 2007 5:56 pm Aral Balkan replied:

@Peter Bex:

You are wrong, plain and simple. Google can and *does* look inside Flash movies. In fact, there is a Flash Search Engine SDK. You can find out more about it (instead of spreading misinformation) here:

You state that Flash is not accessible because it is not an open standard. I guess that means that Windows and OS X are not accessible either. In fact, I don’t know if *any* operating system, even Linux, would fit your standard of “accessible” as AFAIK, Linux, although open source, is not an “open standard”. Thankfully, most people do not subscribe to your meaning of the word and I believe that if they did, it would do a great disservice to disabled people everywhere who benefit from the work others are doing to make Flash and other technologies accessible regardless of whether they are open standards or not.

We need less ideology and more pragmatism, people. And for goodness sake, check your “facts” before you perpetuate more misinformation.

#17 On August 10th, 2007 2:51 am Peter Bex replied:

@Matt May: I wasn’t aware of that. But I have seen several of our clients’ websites which were originally built with Flash which were NOT indexed by Google, in the past year, even. So clearly there’s still something wrong there.

Platform support is just as important as supporting people with disabilities, IMHO.

@Aral Balkan: OK, point taken with the Google thing. But how on earth can you state Linux is not an “open standard”? There is the Single Unix Specification, which is open enough (about as open as Adobe’s PDF spec, I think). By virtue of the open sourceness of Linux, you don’t have to guess at how things are supposed to work. I agree that a full spec is something different, but it’s better than the current Flash situation. But this is besides the point, we’re talking about a web standard, not an OS (which I don’t happen use, by the way. I used it as an example).

This website is called webstandards, people. HTML and CSS are web standards. PNG and SVG are web standards. Flash is not a web standard. It is just some binary format some people get the right to look inside and some don’t. The fact is that I still can’t watch Flash on any of my systems. I can access sites created with the W3C standards perfectly well. Pragmatic enough for you?

#18 On August 10th, 2007 10:20 am Luis Neng replied:

@Peter Bex: There are search engine optimization techniques like swfaddress, just try to search in google: swfaddress seo
Another example, search for: spirituc design

A bad done standard HTML won’t be indexed either, so IMHO, it’s a matter of best practices :)
And there are best practices for HTML and best practices for Flash. They are just different media presentation platform.

#19 On August 13th, 2007 5:54 am The times they are a-changin’ at Aral Balkan replied:

[...] This follows Drew McLellan’s post on the WASP blog on Obstacles to Accessible Flash which highlights current accessibility issues that Flash is affected by due to browser limitations. [...]

#20 On August 13th, 2007 6:08 am Flash Myths and Misinformation at Aral Balkan replied:

[...] There have always been myths and misinformation about Flash. Five years ago, when we were at the height of the age of the Skip Intro, this was perhaps understandable. But it is discouraging to hear the same misinformation being regurgitated over and over even today and it’s difficult to find the time to keep writing the same responses to the same tired myths. (For an example, see this uninformed comment on a recent post at WASP, and read my response to it.) [...]

#21 On August 13th, 2007 6:53 am julien replied:

Let’s face it : without the Flash platform this entry wouldn’t even have been posted, so isn’t that enough to leave us Flash developers alone while you keep on discussing about those damn boring web standards, have it your way but Flash / Flex / AIR / etc… are great and most people that complain about it do it only for one reason : they’re unable to use it correctly:) And if Flash is not accessible, well stop using it, no one forced you to … but stop spitting on Flash it’s too easy :)

#22 On August 13th, 2007 1:43 pm Isofarro replied:

“This website is called webstandards, people. HTML and CSS are web standards. PNG and SVG are web standards. Flash is not a web standard.”

R.I.P JavaScript. On the bright side, that neatly solves every single accessibility problem about Rich Internet Applications – vanquished in a puff of logic. Not a solution that’s practical or realistic, but nevertheless, our Linux brother has one. Amen.

#23 On August 13th, 2007 3:47 pm Webdesign replied:

@Aral: Today I had a meeting with a client of mine and he asked me why his site is not well indexed by Google. He though it was the Flash problem. Then I shown him a few examples that it wasn’t the platform problem, it’s his content problem. I believe there are still a bunch of myths out there regarding to Flash + Google, so I’m glad what you’re doing at your blog. Let’s do something about it!

Content is the King, Experience is the Queen. The World Wide Web will be so boring if every pages are look like this: Boring page example :)
I’m wondering if Jakob Nielsen have Flash installed on his PC. Oops! His page is not a valid HTML standard.

#24 On August 14th, 2007 3:24 am Adrian Higginbotham replied:

Aral: “Do not write off a technology due to some examples of bad implementations made with that
technology.” correct of course but it’s so damn difficult to find an example of good accessible Flash and near impossible to find one that is accessible and exemplifies the benefits of Flash. suggestions anyone? – Matt M glad to see the distinction between the Flash player and Flash as a catch all. Assistive technologies, user experience and user expectations & skills aren’t in the main yet anyware near letting us make a sweeping statement about the ‘accessibility’ or otherwise of a particular piece of content beyond the account of a single user so we can only really discuss the accessibility merrits of Flash (in the disability sense) in terms of the player. In my experience Flash and accessibility from a screenreader perspective is about where we were at with ‘The Web’ overall in about 98-99. It’s possible but it’s difficult and rarely worth the effert.

#25 On August 18th, 2007 7:55 am Tahity replied:

Somebudy did say something about google that is working on an algorytm tha reads swf ?

#26 On September 3rd, 2007 6:01 pm Luis Neng replied:

Google does index SWF files, however the text must be inside the SWF (static) and the SWF shouldn’t be compressed.

#27 On September 13th, 2007 6:46 pm NBA replied:

I agree that Flash is a better tool than AJAX for building real web applications…

#28 On September 16th, 2007 10:03 pm NBA replied:

Google can’t index Flash pages precisely because it is not a proper standard. It can’t look inside Flash objects. Even if Google bought a Flash reader from Adobe, there are endless lists of applications that can’t access Flash content.

#29 On September 18th, 2007 12:28 am Kredi replied:

@ Jameson
I agree to you.I hope the development will be quick…
Google can index flash pages but not the flash objects in fact…

#30 On September 21st, 2007 6:22 am Teamkillers replied:

Among Flash’s greatest strengths, we’ve seen that it offers users the ability to view all of the steps in the process in one visual display. Flash also enables users to attack the application steps in their own order.

#31 On September 26th, 2007 4:58 am Kizzume replied:

I am upset that in 10 years time there STILL haven’t been any options for embedding sound and video files (in a way that is consistent) except for Flash.

Maybe there’s some way it can be done in Java, but I don’t want to talk about my beef with Java here–this is a discussion about Flash. I think browser plugins as a “standard” to handle audio and video is NOT the way to go. I think it’s tragic that so many places like YouTube have been forced to use Flash because of the lack of real web standards that have barely moved forward in 10 years. If there were standards for doing this, I’m sure that the web would be filled with a lot more audio and video clips, and yes, it would be filled with a lot of amateur pages that have really bad coding and lots of cut and pasted coding–people have to learn to make pages somehow, and that’s the way most people learn.

I have a real hard time supporting a standard that makes it possible to turn a webpage into a kiosk.

It doesn’t mean that everyone using Flash HAS to make it so if you use the right mouse button on their page that you only get to see Flash options and no options that let you see the raw code. :rolleyes: Okay, that was a lame attempt at sarcasm, but you get what I’m saying.

That’s really my biggest problem with Flash. I learn by example, and with Flash I don’t have that option. Yes yes, I know there are tutorials, but most of them are worded in a way that my ADHD disallows me to learn with–where I get to read 20 pages of how to do things I’m not interested in and 1/20 of a page on the things I am interested in. I need direct examples that I can modify and ask “let’s see what THIS does when I change THIS in this document”. In Flash, the only things I can do that in are FLA files that people are offering for free, which usually don’t amount to much–I can never find any that do things I’m interested in doing.

If I had the money, I’m sure I could take some classes on flash, and I might even be able to afford buying it instead of reinstalling the demo every 30 days.

I think it’s a bad idea to make doing something like playing an mp3 something that takes 5 pages of code to write in flash action script OR be forced to use someone else’s SWF that has their logo on it that can’t be removed or works like crap because it’s the free version.

Being able to do that kind of thing in HTML is LONG overdue! We should be upset at the pathetic state of web standards, not at Flash, because if web standards improved, NOBODY would ever “need” to use Flash. It would be a preference instead of a necessity.

#32 On October 3rd, 2007 1:35 pm Afvallen replied:

I know that search engines are more and more capable to read flash. If i remember google has been reading flash a while back ago. What I as a user, surfing the internet and website owner find difficult is that most flash website dont navigate easily or properly or people dont have any plugs available so they cant view the flash.

#33 On November 3rd, 2007 9:51 am Vectorpedia replied:

Flash is a great alternative to multimedia……alpha channel video, online video editing, online drawing applications, multi-user games

#34 On November 3rd, 2007 12:37 pm rollos replied:

Flash has been well and was also used frequently, in spite of the problems with browser plugin and firewall settings. The main problems are search engine. Today every Webmaster is trying his side for search engine optimization, and flash is not a good option.

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