Microsoft grows DAISY for blind computer users; Adobe wilts

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

"It's already pretty strong. We're making animated graphics accessible, for instance," he said. Some improvements were made during OOXML's ISO ratification process two months ago, and more are coming.

Treviranus, he argues, "may be confusing [a document author's] bad behavior with document standard behavior. The information is there in the standard."

As for criticism from the ODF camp, Shaffner said that ODF may support accessibility "in theory, but we've put out a translator."

What about Adobe?

Microsoft's proactive embrace of DAISY begs the question: what is Adobe Systems, the other leading document creation software vendor, doing to support DAISY?

Nothing directly for now, admits Andrew Kirkpatrick, senior manager for accessibility at Adobe, though he claims "it is under serious consideration. DAISY may be a useful format to export to, particularly in the case of longer documents such as those created by FrameMaker."

We've heard that before, says Kerscher, who says he has repeatedly asked Adobe for a commitment to support DAISY and failed each time.

Agrees Chong: "Adobe has done a lot of work to make reading a document accessible, but it has done far less work on the composition side."

What Adobe has done, instead, is enable the latest version of its page layout program, Creative Suite 3 InDesign, to export into the ePub format. ePub supports the NIMAS standard, which Kirkpatrick characterized as a "subset of DAISY."

O'Reilly Media's Savikas thinks Adobe has made a smart choice by backing the ePub format, which he says is fast becoming the "mp3 of eBooks." But he said his initial experiments with Adobe's ePub feature left him "disappointed."

"We ran tests on a few of our 'Head First' books, and the resulting output was essentially useless," he said. After some "back-and-forth with Adobe," it became clear that the books had to be redesigned with extra formatting metadata for ePub, said Savikas. "Most people who hear that InDesign can export to ePub assume it's as easy as "Save as..." and it's not."

Besides creating a formal program to help third-party screen-reader vendors make their software work better with Adobe software, Adobe is trying to improve the accessibility of its own formats, such as PDF, SWF (Flash) and others, said Kirkpatrick.

"DAISY is popular and may well be a valued format for blind users, but Adobe is not prepared to determine what is the format of choice for blind users," Kirkpatrick said.

Chong agrees, saying that most blind computer users could care less about the war of words over DAISY versus ePub.

"It's not the format that is of concern to the blind, we just want to make sure there are programs that we can use," he said.

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