IT Forum: Microsoft and DAISY collaborate on accessible document format

A joint development project between the software maker and the Digital Accessible Information System consortium is to develop document plug-ins to convert Open XML-based files into formats more accessible to blind and impaired users.

Microsoft has announced a new initiative to improve the accessibility of Microsoft Office documents for users that are blind, partially sighted or suffer from other impairments that make conventional text documents difficult to use and interact with.

The US software maker announced at its IT Forum conference in Barcelona that it is working with the Switzerland-based Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) consortium to develop document converts that will work with the revised Office 2007 document formats, allowing them to be converted into more visually accessible styles and formats.

The first tool to come from the collaboration will be a converter for Microsoft Word 2007, and will be run as a collaborative development project on SourceForge, the popular open source developer collaboration web site.

"The Open XML to DAISY XML converter for Word will begin the conversion of Open XML-based content into a multimedia format accessible to users around the world, regardless of the degree of their visual impairments," said Gray Knowlton, Microsoft's group product manager for Office. "This technology is something that our customers have asked for, and we are pleased to be able to work with the DAISY consortium to create it."

The DAISY consortium was originally formed in May 1996 by a group of talking book libraries to spearhead work on the conversion of analog talking books to digital formats. In 1997, the consortium turned its attentions to open standards-based file formats being developed for the internet. It has released several specifications for file formats and conversion formats to make digital documents and media more accessible and to create a more pleasant reading experience for people who are blind or print disabled.

"The ability to create DAISY content from millions of Open XML-based documents using this converter will offer substantial and immediate benefits to publishers, governments, businesses and education bodies," said George Kerscher, secretary general of the DAISY consortium.

The plug-in is expected to be launched early next year, and will be compatible with the versions of Word within Office XP, 2003 and 2007.

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