New software opens up online world to the blind

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New software opens up online world to the blind

Microsoft is helping to launch new software that will make it much easier to create documents accessible to blind and print-disabled people.

The software allows any OpenXML file to be saved as DAISY XML, which holds the internationally accepted standard for reading and publishing accessible content.

The “Save as Daisy XML add-in” was created as an open source project with Microsoft, Sonata Software, and the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY).

It is available on Microsoft Office Word 2007, Word 2003 and Word XP for free at www.openxmlcommunity.org/daisy.

The add-in converts text files into audio files and allows users to easily navigate information through headings and pages numbers.

“It allows print disabled people to navigate the document the same way a sighted person would navigate a document,” said Microsoft director of Corp Affairs and Citizenship, John Galligan.

“It‘s a vocal version of that document as we would read it as a sighted person.”

Before DAISY XML, blind and print-disabled people had to rely on outside agencies to convert documents into accessible formats, which took time and tended to be expensive.

Now that a document has the ability to be converted into DAISY XML from its very creation, the print-disabled have the ability to be more autonomous in their own information gathering and can participate in areas of life that once seemed off limits.

“They’re not reliant on other people, now the tools are in their hands,” said Vision Australia’s general manager of business Tim Evans.

“When you think about online education, so much of that content is in Word format, so many documents that circulate around are in Word format, and so many emails have Word attachments.”

"Now, with a simple click, you can convert that into an accessible document at a low cost in a quick time frame.”

“They can participate in education and training and employment, the sorts of things that once weren’t available to them.”

With more than 160 million people worldwide who are blind or have low vision and only three to five percent of reading materials in accessible formats, Evans hopes this partnership with Microsoft will alert other industry leaders to a market that has been largely ignored.

“This is one of the major developments in the blind and print disabled community in the last 100 years, it’s the first we’re seeing of a solution in the mainstream that will enable barriers to information access to be broken down,” he said.

“It sends a strong signal that accessibility is an issue and there’s a huge market out there.”

To Galligan, the future of providing accessible technology already looks bright.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more of this, there’s an incredible opportunity for businesses to be thinking about how to use their strengths,” he said.

“We’re an aging population and as people need to rely on technology more and more, I think you’re really going to see innovation around assisted technology.”
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