I came across an agency claiming they produced accessible Flash today, they go by the name of DDX. You can read about 'DDX Flash SEO' on the HTML version of the equivalent Flash page.

Here's what they say:

Accessibility
View your content on mobile phones, screen readers and other text based browsers.

Judging by their full-Flash, low-contrast, slow-loading website, I was doubtful.

Testing

They reference a website, Mambo.com.au, so I gave it a look over.

SEO?

I'm going to ignore all the inherent problems with the accessibility Flash itself, and concentrate on their main claim here; Search Engine Optimisation.

Sure enough, the site is indexed in Google, and looking a the cached page allows you to view the content in a reasonably accessible way.

So can I get this plain old HTML content without going through Google?
No.

Click on any one of those links from the Google cached page and you're back in Flash-ville, bummer.

Accessibility?

I tested the main “accessibility” claims on DDX's website:

View your content on...

  • ...mobile phones - Pass, worked on my old Nokia 6170;
  • ...screen readers - Fail, tried it out in Jaws + Voice Over: I get “We have detected that you do not have the Flash 8 player ...”;
  • ...text based browsers - Fail, I tried Lynx, which also gives me “We have detected that you do not have the Flash 8 player ...”.

What's going on here?

So this website works fine on my Phone, with Google, but not screen readers or text browsers.

This points to User Agent Sniffing. Testing this theory with the Firefox User Agent Switcher plugin reveals that different versions of the website are being delivered to Google, my phone, and traditional web browsers... Naughty.

The technique described above is a well known black hat SEO trick called Cloaking. Life isn't that black and white though; while this a very frowned upon practice, I can see that the agency is using it with the best possible intentions, however misguided they are. The content being displayed on the website is the same as what's being shown to Google, this isn't really black hat SEO.

What's wrong with the way this has been done then?:

  1. Accessible? Not in the slightest.
  2. As they are sniffing the UA, they need to keep the list of UA strings up to date, or new browsers are going to get the wrong version. (Probably the case with my Lynx test.);
  3. Who are you to tell me which version I want? Suppose I have a modern browser, but want to see the basic HTML version; or I have a capable phone, and want to see the Flash version?;

On a side note, more of a Usability thing this; it broke my back button! Visiting this website stops me navigating back. This is probably because of the advertised deep linking technique that sets my browser's history with JavaScript;

Lies

Lets look at that statement again:

Accessibility
View your content on mobile phones, screen readers and other text based browsers.

And later:

your Flash project can now also be search engine optimised, indexed and have a high degree of accessibility and usability.

Misleading, dont'ya think.

A better way

I've looked into the a better way of achieving to SEO and accessibility with Flash: CMS editable Flash. The primary concept is progressive enhancement; default to plain old HTML, and enhance as necessary, while giving the user choice over what they use.