Windows Plug-in Aids Visually Impaired

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft has announced a Word plug-in to make it easier for visually impaired users to use its program. The plug-in will read Word 2003 and 2007 files out loud, and will also convert files from Open XML (the standard format used to save Word 2007 files) into DAISY, a format which is easier to use for producing digital audio files.

DAISY (Digital Accessible Information Service) is a not-for-profit group based in Zurich, Switzerland. Formed by "talking books libraries," DAISY promotes open standards to make it easier to produce digital files. (Source:

Reed Shaffner, who heads Microsoft's accessibility work with Word, said, "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...ease of use that they have never had before."

Once a Word file is in DAISY format, a user will be able to convert it into a variety of formats, such as Braille or highly-detailed audio files which they can easily navigate by page or section. Such files can even allow users to find their way through tables.

Microsoft aims to have the plug-in adopted by public bodies such as the government, schools and libraries. This may prove difficult, as such institutions often require the use of open formats. Open XML is currently not classed as an official open format by the International Organisation for Standardisation (IOS), which regulates such claims.

Microsoft is lobbying for such classification and the IOS will vote on the issue next February. In the meantime, they will be producing the DAISY plug-using Sourceforge, an open coding system. Shaffner says this will allow the public to help refine the system. "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."

The Word plug-in should be available in early 2008. Shaffner added that it's likely Microsoft will work on a similar project for PowerPoint. (Source:

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