Microsoft grows DAISY for blind computer users; Adobe wilts

Accessibility format gets boost from maker of world's biggest text-authoring tool

Letting users of Microsoft Word -- the most popular text-authoring tool on the planet -- save documents in DAISY format with one click is a "great step in the right direction of creating accessible content," said Ogami, who has tested the plug-in.

George Kerscher, secretary-general of the DAISY Consortium, was even more effusive.

"We would like all publishers to make their content painlessly accessible," he said in an interview earlier this spring. "Microsoft is the first one to step forward to do this."

Growing a DAISY plug-in

The plug-in was developed by Microsoft, the DAISY Consortium and an Indian software vendor called Sonata Software. It is also being hosted on SourceForge as an open-source project.

Andrew Savikas, a publishing software guru at O'Reilly Media and head of its annual Tools of Change for Publishing conference, said the Word plug-in was "long overdue."

When Microsoft started switching from binary to XML document formats in Word 2003, "this kind of conversion / transformation became much more transparent to implement," he said. He conceded, though, that "you could argue that a plug-in like this should have come from a third party, rather than from Microsoft, who I'd assume aren't interested in developing and supporting a bunch of plug-ins for formats they don't control."

Chong called the plug-in "wonderful," but cautioned that there remains a gap between theory and practice.

"If the initial Word document wasn't marked up properly by the author [with metadata] in the first place, then it's as bad as not having the document at all," he said.

Jutta Treviranus, a professor with the Adaptive Technology Resource Center at the University of Toronto, argues that this dearth of "consistent guidelines" for authors interested in creating potentially accessible documents in Word is only one of several problems.

In a paper she co-published earlier this year, Treviranus argued that Word 2007's native document format, Office Open XML (OOXML), violated other fundamental tenets such as not conflating stylistic metadata with structural metadata.

"I have grave concerns with the DAISY XML that will be produced" from a Word 2007 document, Treviranus said.

Meanwhile, Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance, argues that Microsoft's format remains inferior to the OpenDocument Format he champions.

"The accessibility of ODF was reviewed and subsequent changes were incorporated in ODF v1.1, establishing ODF as the benchmark, exceeding the accessibility features of any other document format," he said.

Reed Shaffner, a product manager for Microsoft Office, admits the Save-as-DAISY translator is far from perfect today. Highly structured documents -- an IRS 1040 tax form, for instance, with its multiple fill-in boxes -- still pose difficulties for the plug-in.

Shaffner is quicker to defend the OOXML format's accessibility features.

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Eric Lai

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