Is Adobe Flex Really Accessible?

Short answer: no, at least not as far as I can tell.

When I first heard that Adobe Flex was accessible, I was naturally quite excited. I had heard about how powerful the technology was for building rich web apps, and I couldn’t wait to try it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to taking a closer look until recently, when I was asked to conduct an evaluation by some folks at work.

Adobe has some sample Flex applications available which supposedly show off there accessibility. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to work that well for me with Jaws 9.0. Almost none of the controls were readable.

Digging around a little more on the adobe site brought me to their page on using Adobe Flex with Jaws where I read:

In order to most effectively use the JAWS screen reader with an Adobe Flex application, users must download and install scripts. These scripts enable some of the accessibility features of Flex and allow users to utilize the standard JAWS keyboard shortcut to enter Forms mode on a larger set of user interface controls than would otherwise be possible. It is important to direct users with visual impairments to this page so that they will have the necessary scripts to use JAWS effectively.

A little background may be in order at this point for those who are less familiar with Jaws for Windows. Jaws is a very powerful screen reading program, and part of its power comes from the ability to use custom scripts. Unfortunately, many users have never installed Jaws scripts, and may not even realize that it is an option.

So, undaunted, I downloaded the Jaws script files to try the demo again. Just one problem. The scripts would not install. I tried on two different computers with a few different versions of Jaws with no luck, and it appears I am not the only one to encounter this problem.

I find this situation to be quite disappointing, as Adobe has done a lot for accessibility in the past. However, as it stands now, the claim that Adobe Flex is accessible seems to be nothing more than marketing hype.

Hopefully, Adobe will put some more time into making Flex truly accessible. It would also be nice if they could get Freedom Scientific (the company which owns and maintains Jaws for Windows) to bundle the scripts with the program as has been done for many other applications. However, until that happens, I can not recommend Adobe Flex.

I would love to be proven wrong, so if you know of a way I can get this to work, please email me at [email protected] (removing all of the hopefully spam-bot foiling q’s.)

Update: This post sparked a response from an employee of Adobe. See this post for further details.

posted by Aaron Cannon on Wednesday, Feb 06, 2008
tagged with accessibility, adobe, jaws, flex, screenreader