Microsoft Add-On Lets Anyone Create Talking Documents (Almost)

Microsoft recently released a plug-in for its popular word processing program that will make it easier for anyone to convert text documents into a format that is accessible for blind and print-disabled individuals.

The new Save as DAISY XML plug-in, designed for Microsoft Office Word 2007, Word 2003, and Word XP, will allow users to save text files created in Microsoft Word into DAISY XML, which is short for the Digital Accessible Information SYstem eXtensible Markup Language. DAISY XML tags and maps the text documents so they can be converted to eBooks and digital talking books later on.

"A DAISY XML document does require further processing to become an audio file," explains George Kerscher, secretary general of the DAISY Consortium. "DAISY XML simply outlines and maps the text and creates the vocabulary that is required by the DAISY Player or other devices to act on the file. It maps the file from a strictly visual presentation to something that can be semantically styled."

"The Save as DAISY XML function saves the file in a format so it can be read by the DAISY Player," notes Al Gilman, chair of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Accessibility Committee.

Most DAISY XML files need to be run through the DAISY Pipeline, a free downloadable transformation suite that supports the seamless conversion of DAISY XML into DAISY Digital Talking Books (DTB). The DAISY Pipeline gives users the option to expand the DAISY XML documents to sound files or leave them as text-only talking books.

However, there are a few DAISY players that can render/play a DAISY XML file without further processing. They include the gh PLAYER Premium and  the Victor Stream from HumanWare. To do this, the player must have internal synthetic speech generation and must be capable of internally dealing with the DAISY XML file, according to Lynn Leith, head of information services and administrative support at the DAISY Consortium.

But regardless of where the conversion to an audio file takes place, "synthesized speech is absolutely essential to the process. You couldn’t do any of this if that kind of technology didn’t exist. It depends on [text-to-speech] for its lifeblood," Gilman says.

Those who will benefit from this technology are the more than 160 million people worldwide who are blind or visually impaired, as well as the hundreds of millions of others with physical, developmental, or learning disabilities. Of those, about 500,000 currently use DAISY Players, Gerscher estimates.

"This new Save as DAISY XML functionality for Microsoft Word has the potential to break down barriers for millions of visually impaired individuals around the world and enhance the experience for virtually anyone who loves to read," Chris Capossela, senior vice president of the Information Worker Product Management Group at Microsoft, said in a statement.

Gilman agrees. "To the extent that Microsoft Word is the lingua franca of the office today, being able to dump to the blind-friendly DAISY format will expose much more of the ephemeral traffic of real work to access by people with print disabilities," he said in an email. "Getting this path set up with tools is a major technological advance, as was the establishment of the DAISY format in the first place."

Created through an open-source project involving Microsoft, Sonata Software, and the DAISY Consortium, the Save as DAISY XML plug-in is available for free download to users of Microsoft Office.

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