Microsoft Word Plug-in Will Aid Visually Impaired

The project will convert Open XML-based documents into Daisy XML, designed for the visually impaired.

BARCELONA—Microsoft and the Daisy Consortium are working together to create a text-to-audio translation plug-in for visually impaired users of Open XML-enabled Microsoft Word documents.

The resulting "Save as Daisy"(Digital Accessible Information System) plug-in for Microsoft Word will make it possible to convert Open XML-based documents into Daisy XML, a standard for reading and publishing navigable multimedia content used by individuals who are visually impaired, Reed Shaffner product manager for Microsoft Office Word and accessibility, told eWEEK in an interview at the Microsoft TechEd: IT Forum conference here.

"This is a great opportunity for us. Even among the disabled community, Office is the primary application used by blind people for word processing. What we can really offer with Daisy is an exponential increase in content, like from academia, and ease of use that they have never had before," he said.

The project is beinghosted on SourceForge, with the first beta code expected by early next year and release by March 2008, Shaffner said, noting that the plug-in will work with all Word documents created with Office XP, Office 2003 and the current Office 2007.


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"Essentially what will happen is that the plug-in will convert an Open XML file to an intermediate Daisy XML file in the Talk Book format. Customers can then use one of many tools, which are already available, to create a bunch of different accessible outputs, be it Braille or a really rich audio file that allows them to navigate by heading or page number and navigate tables with much more detail than they would typically be able to," he said.

The ability to create Daisy content from millions of Open XML-based documents using this translator for Microsoft Office Word would benefit publishers, governments, corporations, educators and, "most important … everyone who loves to read," said George Kerscher, secretary general of the Daisy Consortium.

While Microsoft would be driving the development of the basic converter, it would be an open process, with the company looking for feedback from the community and users from the disabled community as it started to develop beta versions.

"We are designing this specifically for the Open XML format, but the code will be on SourceForge, so this is a completely open project. We will most likely build it on the .Net 3.0 framework, which means that even though it is designed for Open XML, you can see it working on any Open XML implementation on Linux. Anyone else can also take it and use it for their own purposes," he said. "Once we get past the initial architecture and move further down the path, we will start looking to the community to extend this, add features, provide additional support and make it richer. There will also be additional versions of the tool going forward, based on the feedback we get from the SourceForge project."


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Microsoft also anticipates doing further work with Daisy beyond this project, and will be looking to explore scenarios such as moving this into the PowerPoint world or adding features to the existing translator, Shaffner said.

The move has been welcomed by Charlene Gaynor, CEO of the Association of Educational Publishers, who said the Open XML-to-Daisy XML translator will support an "outstanding critical need for individuals with print disabilities, but it will also help us fulfill our commitment to improve the learning experience for those students served neither by text-only nor audio-only books today."


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