This question and answer interaction took place in General Forum on 10 June 2004.
Q: I have just come across the W3C Accessibility guidelines and as I am at the beginning of what will probably turn out to be a series of Web based ( mostly CD rom) resources it seems to me it would be good practice to adopt the recommendations. I have two questions:
A: Good questions. My response to the first is that whilst the W3C accessibility guidelines aren't the be-all and end-all of accessibility, they are the best, most widely respected and most internationalisable of all the accessibility guidelines around. It is, therefore, a pretty good idea to follow them and work towards compliance with at least the Priority 1 items. The Australian Government Information Management Office (which used to be NOIE) recommends the W3C Web Content guidelines as the standard for accessible design: http://www.agimo.gov.au/practice/mws/accessibility
So while the W3C guidelines have no real legislative force and aren't the only ones around, they are pretty much the de facto standard. If you wanted a guide to making an accessible web resource, you could do a lot worse than to look at the following two resources on the Australian Flexible Learning Framework's resources database:
Access and Equity in elearning: Forum Document: Tips For Web Developers Meeting The Priority 1 W3C Guidelines and
How to make draft webpages W3C-compliant
Mark Pilgrim's Dive Into Accessibility is also an excellent resource: http://diveintoaccessibility.org/.
The second question is trickier. My view is that Flash isn't the most accessible tool in the world, and will trip up a lot of screen readers and other assistive technologies. But you can (and should) make it better if you're committed to using it. The W3C itself has some ideas on generating accessible Flash. I don't think they're all that, er, flash, but they're worth reading as a reference: http://www.w3.org/WAI/GL/WD-WCAG10-NONW3C-TECHS-20000623/. Note how out of date the document is - I get the feeling the W3C just sort of gave up on Flash. It seems to be ana rea of dispute. Some say that Flash just isn't accessible; others that you can make it as accessible as any other rich media.
You'll get more mileage out of this little tutorial: http://www.webaim.org/techniques/flash/ and from Macromedia's own Flash MX accessibility guide: http://www.macromedia.com/macromedia/accessibility/features/flash/.
In my opinion, it's the same as any other design decision. You have to look at your audience, and you have to ask if Flash is giving you something you need. If it is, then you can work to making it as accessible as it needs to be for the audience.