20 July 2005 3 pm edt

JK Rowling site goes accessible Flash route

Yesterday the JK Rowling site relaunched in an accessible Flash version designed by Lightmaker Group in collaboration with Macromedia, the RNIB and the RNID. Usability testing by partially sighted test subjects helped fine-tune the site, whose accessibility features include:

A press release forwarded to us by Macromedia access maven Bob Regan says that the site “will detect the presence of screen reader technology and will adapt the experience so that hidden content is easier to find.” Bob’s blog entry provides additional whos, hows, and whys.

I adore JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Bob Regan is a great guy who’s done a lot to make the web (especially the Flash-based web) more accessible. Clearly everyone involved in the project, from JK Rowling down, had the interests of all Harry Potter fans at heart. And yet.

If the official JK Rowling site had been designed with web standards instead of Flash—and I admit that would make it a very different site, although not necessarily a bad one; it might even be richer in content and easier to navigate—then all these well-meaning experts and usability test subjects would not have had to knock themselves out working around accessibility problems, such as movement and background sounds, made possible by Flash. (To be fair, the experts have made this site more accessible than many HTML sites.)

I also can’t help but point out that if this had been the Flash site of Joe Blow and not JK Rowling, this army of experts would not have shown up to make the site accessible.

Which makes this site a double-edged one from Macromedia’s point of view. On the one hand, it demonstrates how accessible a Flash-based site can be. On the other, it shows how many expensive experts it may take to make a deep Flash site accessible.