The Flash Risk: Ignoring usability for aesthetics

There is a case being heard in a California courtroom at the moment that may have serious implications on the future of pure visual corporate/government websites built on technologies like Flash. There are a number of these websites like this around that typically comprise of a fairly featureless HTML wrapper page for an all-singing and dancing Flash animation. The class action lawsuit brought against Target Corp (the website owner) is on the grounds of its online store not meeting the same accessibility standards as their physical equivalents or California legal guidelines for shopping outlets. Whilst many Flash websites have an HTML equivalent for Target did not and consequently vision and physically impaired users could not purchase goods as screen readers and keyboard shortcuts do not work in Flash environments.

I have never liked Flash websites because their content cannot be easily searched, browser functions like the Back button do not work, maintaining them can be a lot more difficult and it limits the size of your potential audience because of operating system/browser constraints. Flash has its place as a multimedia enhancement for HTML but it should not be viewed as a replacement. Coupled with this ideological perspective the emergence of Javascript-based AJAX and visual enhancements achieves most of the functionality offered by Flash in universally consumable HTML. Although it is uncertain what the outcome of this current lawsuit will be I am sure it will place even further doubt over the applicability of Flash as an HTML replacement or even in the strategy of maintaining a 'rich' Flash website and a simpler, standards and legally complaint HTML equivalent.