The DAISY Consortium develops and promotes DAISY (the Digital Accessible Information System), the world’s most widely used assistive reading technology for the print disabled. The consortium wanted a solution that could recreate and hopefully exceed the experience of a sighted reader for readers with print disabilities, while enabling content providers to create documents without having to be specialists in the publishing standards for the print disabled. In 2008, the DAISY Consortium released the Save as DAISY add-in for Microsoft® Office Word 2007. Using Open XML Formats, Save as DAISY enables users to easily convert Word documents into multimedia publications for the print disabled that are compatible with existing tools and standards. By making the tool available at no cost, the DAISY Consortium is helping to provide equal access to information for all members of society.
Founded in 1996, the DAISY Consortium includes almost 70 nonprofit organizations and 20 businesses from throughout the world, working together to develop and promote technologies that offer equal access to information for the blind and people with other reading disabilities. DAISY (the Digital Accessible Information System) has revolutionized the reading experience for people with print disabilities, and is the most widely used assistive reading technology in the world.
Originally formed to convert analog audio books for the visually disabled into digital formats, the consortium recognized the opportunity to define a multimedia standard for fully accessible information. Working with its constituent members, the consortium began developing publishing standards and a suite of open-source tools for authoring and reading of DAISY content, including a navigation system that empowers persons who are blind or readers with other disabilities to search information in the way it was authored, by chapter, section, or sub-section.
While a sighted reader can instantly take in the visual panorama of a printed page to see how information is structured (under headings, in paragraphs, lists, or in sidebars) a reader with visual disabilities who relies on audio receives the information in a linear fashion, one word after the other, without as full or as quick a grasp of how the information is organized. The DAISY Consortium wanted to develop a solution for the print disabled that could as closely as possible recreate the experience of a sighted reader.
“We want to provide people with print disabilities equal access to the same information,” says George Kerscher, Secretary General of the DAISY Consortium. “The blind person needs a mechanism to navigate the page as quickly as a sighted person.”
Persons who are blind or have other disabilities can use assistive technologies to access information in computer applications such as Microsoft® Office Word. But many blind and print-disabled users don’t have the technical capability to easily convert documents into assistive reading technologies. On the other hand, even technically proficient users may not be familiar with publishing standards for the print disabled.
The DAISY Consortium wanted to help people who wish to provide rich reading experience, by creating a simple mechanism for producing fully accessible multimedia content. People needed an authoring tool that would be supported by existing assistive reading technologies.
Finally, because the DAISY Consortium wanted to empower all people who cannot read print due to a visual, physical, perceptual, developmental, cognitive, or learning disability with equal access to all types of information, it needed a solution that it could develop at relatively low cost and reach the largest number of people.
In May 2008, the DAISY Consortium, in collaboration with Microsoft and Sonata Software, released Save as DAISY, a free, open-source add-in for Office Word 2007. With the Save as DAISY add-in, users can quickly and easily convert Word documents into DAISY multimedia publications with synchronized text and digital audio.
||With Open XML, we were able to provide a mechanism for the creator of a document to export it into a format that could be used by people with print disabilities—and do it cost-effectively.
||George Kerscher Secretary General, DAISY Consortium
DAISY took advantage of Open XML Formats in Office Word 2007 to enable Save as DAISY users to map the basic elements within a Word document, and translate them into the DAISY format. The XML (Extensible Markup Language) in a document defines what the elements of the document contain, and in Open XML the underlying elements of a Microsoft Office 2007 file can be easily accessed, manipulated, and converted to other formats.
When users convert a Word file with Save as DAISY, they can access the XML representation and separate all the different elements in the document, such as headings, paragraphs, list items, and notes, and export them in the order they appeared in the original file.
With the validation tools incorporated into Save as DAISY, users can convert a Word file into a DAISY file that automatically conforms to DAISY publication standards for readers with print disabilities, with the text in DAISY XML synchronized with synthetic-speech audio MP3 files that are generated by a speech application programming interface available in the Windows® operating system.
“We had to be able to take anything that can show up in a Word document and be able to convert it into the DAISY vocabulary so you would not lose any information,” says Kerscher. “With Open XML, we were able to provide a mechanism for the creator of a document to export it into a format that could be used by people with visual disabilities, and do it cost-effectively. If we had tried to use binary file formats, it would have been a lot more work, and probably cost-prohibitive.”
Because Open XML files are compatible with many different formats, the Save as DAISY authoring tool will interoperate with any of the many DAISY reading systems, whether they were created by the DAISY Consortium or one of the many proprietary reading systems that conform to the DAISY standard. As the DAISY standard continues to expand and evolve, documents created with Save as DAISY and Open XML can be easily regenerated with an updated version of the tool to provide more features and functions.
By working with Microsoft and Sonata Software to develop the Save as DAISY add-in for Office Word 2007, the DAISY Consortium built a tool that document authors can use to easily convert their documents into multimedia publications for the print disabled that are compatible with existing tools and standards.
By keeping development costs down, the consortium can offer the tool widely at no cost to users, helping to meet its commitment to provide equal access to information for all members of society.
Simple Document Creation
By taking advantage of Open XML Formats, the DAISY Consortium was able to develop a document creation tool with the functions document authors need to easily translate documents into a format that readers with print disabilities can use.
“Through Open XML, you can use Styles to identify the elements in your document and associate them with equivalent structures in the DAISY standard,” says Kerscher.
||If you create a document in Open XML now, you can be confident that you’ll be able to move your information forward in the future. You future-proof content by having it in Open XML.
||George Kerscher Secretary General, DAISY Consortium
Because the DAISY Consortium is committed to providing tools like the Save as DAISY add-in free of charge, cost was an important factor in development of the tool. Kerscher is convinced that the consortium could not have developed Save as DAISY with the features and functions it has, and do it cost-effectively, without taking advantage of Open XML Formats. He estimates that the consortium may have saved 65 percent in development time by using Open XML Formats.
“With binary files, things like pagination or footnotes would be extremely hard to extract,” he says. “Having the file elements in Open XML made it very straightforward.”
Compatibility with Evolving Tools
Documents that users convert with the Save as DAISY add-in will interoperate with any conforming DAISY reading system, including portable reading devices, desktop applications, and plug-ins for Internet browsers. And because Open XML can be converted to other formats so easily, documents created with future versions of Save as DAISY will continue to be compatible with the continually evolving DAISY publishing standard.
“If you create a document in Open XML now, you can be confident that you’ll be able to move your information forward in the future,” says Kerscher. “You future-proof content by having it in Open XML.”
Equal Access to Information
Save as DAISY users can produce documents that create an experience for readers with print disabilities that closely parallels the experience of a sighted reader.
By being able to navigate content in the same way a sighted reader can (knowing what content is in a sidebar or under which headings information can be found), people with print disabilities can consume information at the same speed as other people, making them more competitive in school and in business.
“To work effectively with their sighted colleagues, the print disabled need documents with the same reference points, so everybody can literally be on the same page,” says Kerscher. “With Save as DAISY, people can provide equal access to information across all different types of communities.”
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