Weblogs: Web Accessibility

Accessibility in the News: November 2005

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Microsoft fought back bitterly after the US state of Massachusetts decided to adopt open standards in its document formats, and selecting Open Office's Open Document Format (ODF). Microsoft is petulant that it will not support the Open Document Format in its Office product range. Yet, Microsoft played the disability card, pointing out that disabled people work better using Microsoft Office (well, more accurately, people using JAWS).

This point is valid largely due to the proprietary work carried out in partnership between Microsoft and Windows-reliant screen-reader vendor, Freedom Scientific. JAWS has been heavily customised to work better with Microsoft Office, and for that reason alone, the Microsoft Office product is a better platform for users of that screen reader.

Joe Clark gets stuck in with A file format cannot be 'accessible', and nails the issue with a direct question: If Microsoft Office could output ODF documents tomorrow, would the blind employees stop complaining?. The real problem, as Joe notes, is Microsoft's refusal to support ODF export (not to mention that this is an example of the Stockholm Syndrome - a psychological dependence or loyalty a hostage feels toward his kidnapper).

Microsoft claim that supporting ODF is far too difficult because ODF doesn't support all the features that the Microsoft Office format supports. But, as Jeremy Allison points out: Does Microsoft Word refuse to save as plain text because it will remove the "advanced formatting information" ? No. In the same way is is also happy to save as RTF. It doesn't seem to bother you that you're losing the "advanced formatting information" in that case, so it shouldn't bother you here either.


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