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Microsoft Improves Office 2010 Accessibility with Add-Ons

Microsoft released two add-ons for Office 2010, one for Word and one for PowerPoint, on Thursday as part of the company's push to improve accessibility in Office 2010, and a wider initiative to help improve Internet and software accessibility.

The PowerPoint add-on, dubbed "Subtitling text add-in for Microsoft PowerPoint" (STAMP), lets users create captions in PowerPoint or import Timed Text Mark-up Language (TTML) caption files. A basic caption editor allows users to create, delete and edit captions in PowerPoint. Users can also adjust the placement of captions when videos change size, as well as turn captions on and off in presentations. Support for TTML importing includes formatting characteristics like alignment, color and other styling elements.

According to Microsoft, faculty members at Towson University in Maryland are already using STAMP "to caption educational presentations that help the hearing-disabled and others learn more efficiently."

Microsoft has also released an add-on for Word called Save as DAISY, which lets users save Open XML-format documents as DAISY XML and Full DAISY, either from single Open XML files or multiple files.

According to the company, "These formats include synchronized text and .MP3 audio that can be played directly within Windows 7 or DAISY XML, which works with compatible software readers and talking book/Braille reading devices."

Both the STAMP and Save as DAISY add-ons are available now in beta form.

The releases, which Microsoft announced at the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference being held this week in San Diego, come in the wake of recent accusations by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) against one of Microsoft's competitors, Google.

The NFB issued a statement on March 15 claiming that Google's Apps for Education, which competes with some of Microsoft's cloud offerings, falls short in the area of accessibility for blind users. NFB also called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate four public school districts in Oregon and two universities (New York University and Northwestern University) that have adopted Google Apps for Education for possible "civil rights violations committed...against blind faculty and students."

The NFB said the apps in Google's suite contain "significant accessibility barriers for blind people utilizing screen access technology."

In addition to the Office 2010 add-ons, Microsoft has also launched a collection of online resources, software and courses to help developers make their sites and applications more accessible to users with disabilities. Called Microsoft Accessibility Tools & Training, the suite includes seven free training courses, for both technical and non-technical audiences, covering a range of technologies, including Web and desktop software.

Microsoft said it "initially developed the online tools and training courses to increase accessibility awareness and expertise among its own developer groups. In response to growing customer demand for accessibility guidance, however, Microsoft decided to make the resources available, free of charge, to corporations, governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) around the world that want to make technology more accessible."

Other resources available as part of the Microsoft Accessibility Tools & Training suite include a guide to tools that address accessibility issues for various kinds of disabilities, along with links for downloading most of the tools, and content tackling accessible rich Internet applications (ARIAs).

Further information about Microsoft Accessibility Tools & Training and the accessibility add-ons for Office 2010 can be found here.

About the Author

Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters.