Open-source tool creates OOXML docs for the blind

Microsoft has helped develop an audio file format called Daisy that translates Word files into a 'talking' digital book format, making documents more accessible for users with impaired vision
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

Microsoft has helped develop an open-source tool that translates Word files into a "talking" digital book format, which makes documents easily accessible for the 160 million people worldwide with impaired vision.

The tool was developed in an open-source project with Sonata software and the Digital Accessible Information System (Daisy) consortium. It translates OOXML files into the Daisy format, which can be used in software such as Book Wizard Producer and the Daisy pipeline, to create a talking book.

Listening to a Daisy audio file is different from an MP3. With an MP3, the listener can only navigate between tracks. But someone listening to a Daisy format file can do things a sighted person would do when reading a document, such as skip to specific page numbers, hear a table of contents and look up references in an index.

"When you don't see print, you lose more than the ability to read words... you lose the ability to see the page, jump around in the text and be drawn to bolded or italicised information," said Jim Marks, director of services for students with disabilities at the University of Montana, who lost his sight in the 1980s.

"Daisy enhances the reading experience to most closely approximate how sighted people read print," Marks continued.

The Daisy format vastly increases the information accessible by visually impaired people — currently only about five percent of published material is in formats that can be accessed by people with disabilities, according to Vision Australia general manager business development Tim Evans.

"This is a major step forward to increase the amount of information that is accessible to our clients," said Evans.

The software is designed not only for the visually impaired, said Microsoft's corporate affairs director John Galligan — it can be helpful for those suffering from dyslexia or disabilities resulting from a stroke. According to Vision Australia's Evans, there are 1.7 million people in Australia who have a print or learning disability such as dyslexia — almost a tenth of that country's population.

The tool, called Save as Daisy XML, can be downloaded from the Open XML Community website. It is compatible with Microsoft Word 2007 and 2003.

Because the project was open source, developers will be able to use the code for their own Daisy translators. Those interested can access information at the SourceForge open-source project site.

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