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OpenDocument Plans Questioned by Disabled 375

ComputerWorld is reporting that John Winske, president of the Disability Policy Consortium, is raising some questions about the accessibility of the OpenDocument format. From the article: "Winske, who has muscular dystrophy, said he instantly remembered how Microsoft had to be "prodded and dragged, kicking and screaming" to make its software accessible during the transition from DOS to Windows. None of the prominent desktop applications that can create and save documents in OpenDocument currently work well with screen readers, magnifiers and other assistive technologies -- at least at a level comparable to that of products from Microsoft, whose 40-person Accessibility Technology Group is now widely praised by disabilities advocates."
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OpenDocument Plans Questioned by Disabled

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  • by MMC Monster ( 602931 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:34PM (#15295242)
    As was mentioned in a recent /. article, they can always use word and (soon) be able to export their documents to ODF format.
    • by swillden ( 191260 ) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:41PM (#15295352) Homepage Journal

      Indeed, and not just Word, but Office. The plugin is supposed to support the other apps in the Office suite, too.

      My only concern is that it appears the plugin is not going to be made widely available, in order to avoid removing the pressure for people to migrate away from Office, except in cases where there's no other reasonable choice at present.

      I think releasing the plugin widely will (a) make the point that the OpenDocument goal isn't to kill Microsoft Office, it's to enable wide interoperability and allow competition in the office document space and (b) greatly facilitate its adoption. If lots of Office users can be convinced to use OpenDocument as their default file format, the motivation to migrate away from Office will come naturally from the high price of Office and the instability of some of its components (notably Word).

      And, who knows, maybe Microsoft will rise to the challenge and beat the competition out by producing a superior product that is worth paying for even in a market that's been leveled by OpenDocument? Probably not, but it could happen, and it would be a win for the consumers and the marketplace as a whole.

    • As was mentioned in a recent /. article, they can always use word and (soon) be able to export their documents to ODF format.

      The article in question [slashdot.org].

      However, I don't think that's the crux of the problem. People with disabilites are more concerned that ODF incorporate handling for text readers and such from the outset and not have to be bludgeoned into doing it later. It does no good exporting Word docs to ODF format later if ODF is still incapable of working with the assistive technology required. An

      • I think you are mistaking the function of the document format and the application. Screen reader support does not belong in ODF but in the application. The complaint the disabled have is with the applications that primarily use ODF.

        By opening ODF files in Word, you will have all the functionality available.
      • by swillden ( 191260 ) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @03:33PM (#15295843) Homepage Journal

        People with disabilites are more concerned that ODF incorporate handling for text readers and such from the outset

        Umm, ODF is just a file format, the notion of incorporating handling for text readers doesn't make any sense. In fact, given that ODF is open and ultimately text-based, it will be very easy for people to write text readers for ODF documents, much easier than it was to build them for Word documents.

        The problem, of course, is that even if those ODF text readers are easier to build, that doesn't change the fact that they don't presently exist. Being able to load ODF files into Word, and then to use readers that plug into Word, addresses that problem handily.

      • by Kelson ( 129150 ) * on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @03:34PM (#15295857) Homepage Journal
        People with disabilites are more concerned that ODF incorporate handling for text readers and such from the outset...

        You mean ODF-capable applications, right? Because ODF is just a format for the data. Handling for text readers, magnifiers, etc. is something you build into an application like Word or OpenOffice, not something you build into the file format itself.

        A text reader doesn't care whether you've opened a Word doc, and OpenDocument file, a text file, or an HTML file. It cares that your word processor knows how to feed it text.

        The crux of the issue is that OpenOffice, Kword, etc. need (better) support for assistive technologies. That's not the same as redesigning the OpenDocument format itself.
        • You mean ODF-capable applications, right?

          Yup. Didn't screen it as well as I thought I had, but then my eyes are old, my limbs are weak...

        • Homophones (Score:3, Interesting)

          by tepples ( 727027 )

          Handling for text readers, magnifiers, etc. is ... not something you build into the file format itself.

          Unless you want difficult words, foreign words, trademarks, homophonic words, etc. in the document to be properly pronounced when it is read aloud.

        • Seriously. There are better ways.

          Pretend it was the other way around. Word processors had no GUI. They just talked to you, and you were supposed to talk to them. Then, being deaf and mute, you got some "assistive technology" that would do voice recognition on this so that it could display text for you. Your "assistive technology" crap provides a button bar, so you can click on a button to save a file. When you do so, the button press plays an audio file saying "computer menu file save" into the word process
      • by lynx_user_abroad ( 323975 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @03:48PM (#15295985) Homepage Journal
        People with disabilites are more concerned that ODF incorporate handling for text readers and such from the outset and not have to be bludgeoned into doing it later.

        ODF (Open Document Format) is not an application. It is merely an open specification for how to represent the contents of an Office-type document.

        People with disabilites are concerned that the applications which currently support ODF do not support text readers and such to the same level that the Microsoft Office suite supports those devices. With assistive technology, they can access electronically-stored documents in MS Office proprietary format better than they can (currently) access electronically-stored documents in ODF format (without using the plug-in).

        But wait; there's a flaw to that argument Microsoft doesn't want anyone to notice.

        When it comes to accessing electronically-stored documents, we are all handicapped. None of us can access any sort of electronically-stored document without the use of the assistive technology commonly known as a computer/operating system/office application stack. But if the document is stored in MS Office proprietary format, it becomes unavailable to those individuals who are handicapped by not having paid Microsoft a license to access the document, and there ain't no way around it.

        Nobody want's to be disabled. But we all are, to some extent. Where disabilities can be reasonably addressed, they should, and I don't think anyone has any problem doing this where it's reasonable to do so. But to handicap the entire population in a half-assed attempt to make access more 'equal' for everyone is patently absurd.

        Kudos to those disabled individuals who succeeded in convincing Microsoft to 'do the right thing' by making documents stored by their office suite accessible to people requiring less-common assistive technology, like text readers and such. Maybe they can help the rest of us (or the rest of us can help them) to convince Microsoft to once again 'do the right thing' and make documents stored by their office suite accessible to the rest of us. All they need to do is either open their file formats or support ODF.

        In the meantime, those of us 'less disabled' disabled individuals will focus on building applications which allow electronically-stored documents to be accessed by everyone.

      • by iabervon ( 1971 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @03:57PM (#15296062) Homepage Journal
        ODF doesn't have support for interacting with documents, either with a GUI for people with no special requirements or any special interaction pattern. It only specifies what's in the document, not what you can do with it.

        Now ODF does lack support for audio documents, such as voicemails or podcasts, but I don't know of any office software that supports this. Generally, even blind people tend to want to produce documents consisting of text that sighted people can read, instead of only being audio. On the other hand, it should be possible to write documents in Braille, because Unicode has characters for it.

        From the article, companies that make applications that support ODF have been putting a lot of effort into accessibility. It's hard to say whether they should be considered to have been dragged into it; they didn't put as much emphasis on it until it came up as an issue with adoption in MA, but before that they didn't have enough user interest to find out what was needed.
    • That's the beauty of having an open format. Everyone can use the program they like best to deal with the documents. In this person's case, the best program is MS Office.
  • Hold on! (Score:2, Redundant)

    by MindStalker ( 22827 )
    Didn't we just read the other day about a plugin to make MS Word open OpenDocument. Once MS Word can open the documents shouldn't you then be able to preform all of the other functions..

    Case closed.
  • by mboverload ( 657893 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:36PM (#15295274) Journal
    As long as you can drink it?
    • Free as in stale Miller High Life from the bottom of the keg... just doesn't have the same ring does it :)

      In truth I'm really just trying to poke fun on High Life, not Open Source.
      • <poor college kid> I like high life! </poor college kid>
        • I like it in the can... but I had some on draft the other day and could barely finish it. Maybe I just had a bad glass. I thought you poor college kids like PBR... or is that just for the hipsters.
          • no, the poor college kids from the south like PBR. here at penn state, the main cheap beer is Natural Light (tastes like pisswater) or Natural ICE (pisswater with a headache). High life is gold in comparison.
            • Somebody needs to write a dissertation on the regional drinking preferences of poor college students... you sir may be the one. I will stay away from the the Natie Light.
  • Disabled (Score:5, Funny)

    by mattwarden ( 699984 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:36PM (#15295281) Homepage
    As someone without a working soul, I have felt very accommodated by Microsoft's team.
  • Software industry group Open Source Victoria has teamed up with NSW technology company Phase N to develop a plug-in for Microsoft Office users to view documents in the Open Document Format. From here: http://www.theage.com.au/news/breaking/opendoc-pl u gin-for-ms-office-users/2005/10/20/1129775888552.h tml [theage.com.au] So it is being worked on, just give it time since MS isn't helping at all.
  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <yayagu AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:37PM (#15295297) Journal

    From the article:

    Getting support for OpenOffice, Workplace or Sun's StarOffice software built into screen readers and magnifiers won't be easy. According to assistive technology vendors, which are generally small companies, the economics of supporting applications that have limited market demand don't work in their favor.

    Kind of reminds me the first time I went looking for a job: We need someone with "x" years experience, sorry; But, how do I ever get those "x" years? Also, I would think these companies are suffering from the Microsoft Syndrome (it's the biggest market, therefor that's all we'll write to) and are missing an opportunity. I hope they roll the dice and buy into their own futures. What is there about entire state governments switching to Open Document Format (ODF) that sounds like "limited markets"?

    Also from the fine article:

    Winske, who has muscular dystrophy, said he instantly remembered how Microsoft had to be "prodded and dragged, kicking and screaming" to make its software accessible during the transition from DOS to Windows
    First, it's unfortunate the example set by Microsoft is what sets the stage and expectation for anyone else. OSS is not Microsoft. And, I hope OSS and ODF is given the time and opportunity to step up to accessibility issues rather than being brushed aside.

    As for the article's claim these documents today don't work well with screen magnifiers, etc., while I haven't done the research, I find it difficult to believe there aren't some tools out there that either are sufficient or could bridge the gap until a more mature suite of extensions and support are added to OpenOffice and others.

    • > We need someone with "x" years experience, sorry;

      StarOffice is older than dirt. It has "x" years experience, plus some.

      > it's unfortunate the example set by Microsoft is what sets the stage and expectation for anyone else. OSS is not Microsoft. And, I hope OSS and ODF is given the time

      Second, please stop conflating ODF and "OSS". This whole issue has become so much more problematic because it keeps getting hijacked by the OpenOffice advocates. OpenOffice has these problems with or without ODF.

      And f
    • by SydShamino ( 547793 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @03:21PM (#15295696)
      First, it's unfortunate the example set by Microsoft is what sets the stage and expectation for anyone else. OSS is not Microsoft.

      You are absolutely right. OSS developers are not like Microsoft developers. Microsoft developers work on neat features proposed by engineering, and boring features proposed by marketing based on customer demands (like useability). Far too many OSS developers work just on what they damn well want to!

      Of course everyone who is volunteering their time should be able to do so as they wish, and everyone in a job should have the right to do something they enjoy, yadda yadda. But nobody's job is 100% fun all the time.

      Even if it is generally untrue, the stereotypical OSS developer response [slashdot.org] is as stated by a post just a few down from yours: "Surely there are...disabled people who can write code? Get busy, and stop expecting others to take care of you." Harsh, considering many disabled would not be alive without constant care from others.
    • What is there about entire state governments switching to Open Document Format (ODF) that sounds like "limited markets"?
      The fact that those state goverments together aren't as big as any one of the top 100 in the Fortune 500. Collectively, they are a fair size market - but comparatively, they are vanishingly small.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:37PM (#15295298)

    It seems like this group has fallen for Microsoft's repeated lies that OpenDocument == OpenOffice. Accessibility is a software issue, not a document format issue. They should be complaining that OpenOffice, KWord, AbiWord, etc aren't accessible, not that OpenDocument isn't. OpenDocument is just as accessible as .doc format now that Word has a plugin to save in OpenDocument format.

    • None of the prominent desktop applications that can create and save documents in OpenDocument currently work well with screen readers

      I think that's what they are saying...
    • FTA:

      None of the prominent desktop applications that can create and save documents in OpenDocument currently work well with screen readers, magnifiers and other assistive technologies -- at least at a level comparable to that of products from Microsoft, whose 40-person Accessibility Technology Group is now widely praised by disabilities advocates.

    • by cerelib ( 903469 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @03:10PM (#15295593)
      Their complaint is not about the document specification, it is about the fact that the major software that supports the OpenDocument formats does not have adequate accessibility. If major markets, like state governments, are going to switch to a certain format then disabled people have every right to voice their complaints.

      I find it funny that many people seem to be pointing at the fact that Microsoft Office will have an ODF plugin and that those disabled people should just use that. This only affirms the fact that Microsoft Office is a superior product to all of its competitors, or at least the open source ones supporting OpenDocument. I am sure all the /.ers will be bashing on Microsoft again for their supposed lack of innovation and good products by the end of the day.
      • Missing the Point (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Yobgod Ababua ( 68687 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @03:28PM (#15295785)
        Yes, the article is (properly) critquing the applications that currently support ODF, but it is still (improperly) casting that as a shortcoming of ODF itself. It's like saying that "gif images" are somehow flawed because of limitations in Microsoft Photo Editor or Photoshop.

        The whole point to having a well documented, open FORMAT, is that any APPLICATION (proprietary, open, free, expensive, shoddy, polished, whatever) can implement that format and interoperate with all other applications that do so, and be guaranteed to be able to continue to interoperate for as long as they want.

        Yes, MS Office is still in many ways a superior product to "alternative" office software, but it's (currently) superior accessibility features have no (zero!) relation to the fitness of the ODF format, postscript, PDF, plain text, or any other format. What _does_ have an effect is that MS likes to make it's formats labyrinthine and preferably legally encumbered, which means that if you save all your data in an MS format, you tend to be limited to using MS applications (for as long as they let you) to access that data. With a well specified international STANDARD FORMAT like ODF now is, consumers (disabled or not) get to choose whatever applications they want.

        The point to people pointing at the MS Office plugin is really that adding support for a new format is not difficult to do. If we want the features of MS Office it's an argument that MS needs to add native support for _all_ current international office document standards to Office, not that somehow those standards are defective because MS refuses to use them. Note that Office still doesn't have native PDF (another international standard in common use) support either.
  • by TheRecklessWanderer ( 929556 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:38PM (#15295307) Journal
    You will never please everybody. If you try, you will end up pleasing nobody. If you don't like something, then don't use it. That's the Canadian way!
  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:38PM (#15295311) Homepage Journal
    None of the prominent desktop applications that can create and save documents in OpenDocument currently work well with screen readers, magnifiers and other assistive technologies

    Is this not the point of having an open format? Anyone anywhere is free to write an app or plugin - heck, build a set-top box even - that can easily handle the needs of the disabled or anyone else to use the format. As with most if not all features of anything open-source, if the need is there the solution is within reach.

    • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:56PM (#15295499)
      Is this not the point of having an open format?
      Yes.

      But there are advantages for proprietary companies in having a closed format. Particularly if it is in use on 90% of the workstations out there.
      Anyone anywhere is free to write an app or plugin - heck, build a set-top box even - that can easily handle the needs of the disabled or anyone else to use the format.
      Yes. And that's the "problem".

      If anyone can do it, then once someone does do it, there won't be much of a market for those other companies.
      As with most if not all features of anything open-source, if the need is there the solution is within reach.
      Yep. But it doesn't generate the same revenues that proprietary products do.

      So, having a universal format that is licensed is good for their profitability (provided the license isn't too expensive).

      But having an Open format that is Free to anyone to write to means that their market may be replaced by a Free (as in speech, as in beer) app that does everything their current apps do, but does it better.

      Example: Some blind guy wants to edit a document that was sent to him.

      Right now he needs MS Office.

      Two years from now, he'll run an app that doesn't even display the document. Straight from file to speech and from speech to file. The speech recognition won't be tied to the MS Word (or even OpenOffice.org). It will be a distinct app. That means less effort on the part of the programmers. And being a distinct app means that it won't be tied to variations in the word processing program that the current ones have to interact with.

      Simplicity and modularity. All of a sudden, the market for apps for the blind is taken over by Open Source and Open formats.

      And it spreads to other markets.





    • A U.S. law requires that most software used by the U.S. Government be accessible. (http://www.section508.gov/ [section508.gov] has the details.) A government-focused, open-source group may want to develop these capabilities, rather than expecting the disabled people themselves to do so.
    • It's not, but it's a real weakness of the open source community.

      Of course anybody can build a word processor with excellent accessibility support, but, uh... nobody in the open source community *has* done it. And since accessibility isn't one of those "fun" tasks in programming, it's very likely that nobody ever will-- at least not until some major corporation sponsors it and takes the helm.
  • We'll see how fast I'm beaten to the punch, but...

    Why not use an ODF-compatible version of Word? That way, all the existing Word-compatible accessibility features will still be there. Especially with MS support for the standard, this doesn't seem to be that big of a deal.
  • Interpretation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Shrithe ( 972491 )
    I sympathize, but that's not a reason to not adopt open standards, that's a reason to develop better software. Microsoft is going to try to paint it the other way though, and I worry the press will but into that interpretation overall.
  • Misunderstanding (Score:2, Informative)

    by Nerdfest ( 867930 )
    Perhaps I'm missing the boat on this one, but isn't accessibility an application issue? ODF is just a content format, and it's conceivable that one could create an app that would make is usable by blind people (as an example).

    As I said, perhaps I missed the point.
  • by Ckwop ( 707653 ) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:39PM (#15295327) Homepage

    This has nothing to do with OpenDocument as I can create any program that can read and write the format. In fact, if Winske was such inclined he could write a program to do this himself. Try doing that with Microsoft's format!

    It's vitally important that disabled people are able to use computers. Computers allow them to connect with people in a way where they're truly equal. As a light hearted aside, a disabled guy from Romania who I met when I was there just a few months ago was able to totally own me in Unreal Tournment! To paraphrase a famous gun nut: God created man, colt^H^H^H^Htechnology made them equal.

    If anything, OpenDocument will allow much more deeply integrated software for disabled folks. I think once this starts to become a reality, disabled people will really enjoy the format.

    Simon

    • Try doing that with Microsoft's format!

      No need, they've already done it for him. In exchange for this service he gives them a little money. Its Win-Win. Now if someone else wants to provide the same quality service for free, I'm sure he'd be happy to accept it.
    • Technically, you're correct - there's nothing in ODF that prevents accessibility features from being added to the tools that manipulate it.

      However, that's cold comfort to someone who needs them now, only to find that none currently exist. The fact of the matter is that a move to ODF will mean a loss of accessibility features, until and unless those features are made available.
  • Disabled Rights (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gid13 ( 620803 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:40PM (#15295329)
    1. Wouldn't Microsoft likely implement ODF and then all their amazing accessibility stuff would be right there and ready to go? I always thought of MS as the "make ours able to open their stuff, keep changing our stuff so they can't open it, and make ours the default" crowd.
    2. If they don't, I'm all for disabled rights, but there is no damn way that I should be required to pay a company to read public documents so that a blind person can have equal access WHEN THE SOURCE OF THE PROBLEM IS THE COMPANY'S REFUSAL TO IMPLEMENT AN OPEN STANDARD!!! Talk about rewarding the wrong behaviour.
    • If they implemented the open standard, you'd still pay them. The problem is the software implementing the open standard isn't implementing accessibility features. Until ODF vendors get their act together, MS is probably the only game in town for Office document creation without violating accessibility laws.
  • by Hektor_Troy ( 262592 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:42PM (#15295356)
    Why should they be forced to use a proprietary product for a fully open standard, just because they're disabled? Shouldn't this be something that the OSS movement jumped on?

    None of this "prodded and dragged, kicking and screaming" crap, but just jump in to it?

    I know, I know ... scratch an itch, but wouldn't it be cool to actually help those, who need it - instead of just helping yourself?
    • Why should they be forced to use a proprietary product for a fully open standard, just because they're disabled? Shouldn't this be something that the OSS movement jumped on?

      And in the end, that's what bothers me about certain segments of the OSS movement and Open Office in particular. Their sole focus is on 'beating Microsoft' - useabilty, documentation, interoperabilty, etc... etc... are seen as benefits only as they apply to that goal.

      If they don't, they are dismissed with an airy 'well, its open sourc

  • at least at a level comparable to that of products from Microsoft, whose 40-person Accessibility Technology Group is now widely praised by disabilities advocates."

    Reality will not ever count as "disabled accessible". A few companies will see the profit motive of targetting a (excuse the pun) captive audience, and if you need such software, you should support those companies by buying their products.

    But to complain about a standard, when you actually have a problem with needing to pay for the best imple
    • I seriously do not mean this as a troll, but c'mon - Just buy Windows and use MS Office

      Yep that's right, every corporation, every public body, every charity that has (or might have) a disabled employee... just buy MS windows and office.

      Oh, you wanted a single standard solution across your org? - no problem, an MS enterprise license is sooo much cheaper per seat, why not just give it to everyone, no interop issues, and it is the de-facto standard you know (after all everyone with a disabled employee has to..
  • by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:46PM (#15295410)
    I'm suprised nobody's mentioned the obvious solution to this problem. We just need to make an ODF import/export plugin for The Gimp.
  • The reason Microsoft had to be dragged kicking and screaming was more related to the fact that they are a proprietary format than anything else. With an open format any foundation that helps disabled people could fund their own document reader. The app(s) could be updated and supported as needed and owned by the institutions that created them, rather than relying on a company like Microsoft to continue support and updates for screen readers, magnifiers, etc...
  • He's either being paid or he is a fool who doesn't know what he's talking about.

    A document format doesn't have accessibility issues. If he worries about that, he's barking up the wrong tree. And if he praises MS so much for their work in that area, he should be happy that there is already an ODF plugin for Word.

    That, and the fact that even if he were right, I couldn't agree to keeping everyone in the middle ages because a minority is left behind. We don't abolish television because it's less accessible to b
  • by planetmn ( 724378 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:53PM (#15295475)
    It's pretty apparent that, once again, Slashdot has taken an article completely out of context.

    The gentleman in the article was critisizing the State of Massachusetts decision to require ODF on the basis that ODF compatible software isn't friendly to the disabled. This has nothing to do with whether or not Word can or cannot read the format, nor about whether open formats are better than closed.

    He is merely stating that making the decision based on currently available technology does not support his group. From the article:
    Winske said he likes the concept of open-source technology and hopes that OpenDocument will one day be accessible. "I have no problem with it," he said. "The Mozilla Project and Firefox have proved that if people build a better mousetrap, people will use it. It's a matter of making that mousetrap accessible."

    -dave
    • by swillden ( 191260 ) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @03:55PM (#15296050) Homepage Journal

      The gentleman in the article was critisizing the State of Massachusetts decision to require ODF on the basis that ODF compatible software isn't friendly to the disabled.

      Right. I think everyone here is clear on that.

      This has nothing to do with whether or not Word can or cannot read the format

      Wrong. Because Word can read the format, and there are good accessibility tools for Word, there are good accessibility tools for OpenDocument. In other words, the complaint is moot, which is an important point.

      nor about whether open formats are better than closed.

      I'd disagree here as well. The problem is that most of the applications that support this new open format don't currently have good accessibility support on Windows. There are a few reasons for that. First, it's a new format, so lots of the ancillary components aren't available yet. Second, most of the development effort on these applications takes place on non-Windows platforms, which provide good accessibility support at the desktop environment level, so applications don't have to.

      However, the open format makes it much easier for accessibility components to be developed than it would be to build the same things for a closed format. So the fact that an open format is better is valid, and there's every reason to expect that we'll see a market for ODF-compliant applications that focus on the needs of the disabled, and that it will be larger and healthier than the market for similar apps that use proprietary formats.

      So the fact that open is better than closed *is* relevant, it's just that the benefit comes in the longer term.

      He is merely stating that making the decision based on currently available technology does not support his group.

      And the point is that he is *wrong*.

      With present technology, the disabled have two primary options to read ODF documents:

      1. If they use Windows, they must also use Microsoft Office, and the ODF plugin.
      2. If they use OS X, Linux, Solaris, *BSD, etc., they can use OpenOffice (NeoOffice for Mac), or KOffice, with the accessibility features provided by the environment.
  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:54PM (#15295481)
    ...in such a twisted way it makes me wonder if Microsoft money isn't behind it somehow (perhaps in a "we'll make a sizable donation to your organization as long as you speak out against OpenDocument for us" way); OpenDocument format has nothing to do with accessibility (which is an application issue almost entirely orthogonal to document format), and it seems odd that someone would even be aware enough of the OpenDocument standardization effort without recognizing that, especially someone active in the area of accessibility.

    Smells like deliberate, faux consumer-interest, FUD.

    That being said, given mandates like the ADA, if people want OSS to take an bigger role on the desktop, accessibility and cooperation with assistive technology is a big area where more needs to be done. Sure, it may not be as much interest to developers, but given mandates like the ADA, it may be essential for many large decision-makers in deciding whether or not to adopt a particular solution.

    • That being said, given mandates like the ADA, if people want OSS to take an bigger role on the desktop, accessibility and cooperation with assistive technology is a big area where more needs to be done. Sure, it may not be as much interest to developers, but given mandates like the ADA, it may be essential for many large decision-makers in deciding whether or ot to adopt a particular solution.

      That's not a problem that can be solved in baby steps, because Microsoft platforms don't support assistive techn

  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @02:54PM (#15295487)
    instantly remembered how Microsoft had to be "prodded and dragged, kicking and screaming" to make its software accessible

    That's nothing, you should see the tantrum when you try to ask them to unbundle their media player and internet browser to make that software inaccessible.
  • by Zaphod2016 ( 971897 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @03:00PM (#15295515) Homepage

    Having read through the first 30 comments, it looks pretty clear to all that this is a misunderstanding.

    However, I expect I will see more "misunderstandings" as the mighty Vista continues to gather bad press. Is this intentional misinformation? Stupid people being too noisy? A typical case of "slow news day causes unnecessary problems"?

    I will suggest that all pro-open format bloggers take a half an hour to write a short post explaining the difference between application and format. I suggest writing as clearly and non-geek as possible. Remember: if it cannot be understood by those great unwashed masses, it serves no purpose besides preaching to the choir.

    In my experience, in the post-Google world, the best way to combat bad information is with VOLUMES and VOLUMES of good information.

    • They're saying that there is no disabled-friendly software supporting ODF. ODF can be the most open format in the history of humanity, but if there's no accessible software, it may as well be the most closed as far as the disabled are concerned.
  • Stockholm Syndrome (Score:3, Insightful)

    by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @03:03PM (#15295530)
    Note: the issue, on examination, is that MSWindows doesn't support assistive technology, and thus the disabled count on companies which add assistive support on a per-application basis.

    Well, DUH! -- under those terms the disabled remain hostages to the market-share leader.

    Saying, "We love Microsoft because they have the best assistive technology [1], and therefore oppose anything that Microsoft doesn't support" becomes a roundabout way to establish Microsoft as a de jure monopoly. In the logical extreme, laws like the ADA give Microsoft the power of law by the use of its human shields in the disabled community.

    And, yes, those are horribly mixed metaphors. Sue me.

    Now that Microsoft has turned lack of assistive technology into a powerful weapon against having to compete on the merits, would anyone care to guess how long it will be before MS offers platform support for assistive technology? Get used to the plantation, folk, cause'n yo suit Massah jes' fine wheah yo is.

    [1] Well, actually it isn't theirs. But we tend to overlook that part and give them credit anyway.

  • by OmniGeek ( 72743 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @03:04PM (#15295542)
    I recall reading some comments on this issue recently, where folks developing accessibility software to work with MS Office mentioned the need to reverse-engineer their interfaces every time MS releases a new version, 'cause the connections to that closed-source monster must be kludged and cobbled.

    Now, it should be obvious to the average code monkey that doing accessibility plug-ins ONCE, with OPEN access to the source code, so they can be properly integrated with the office suite (after which one need only do updates for each new release, with the benefits of full integration and full access to the code changes), is a MUCH better option than having to kludge compatibility from a standing start with minimal integration for every release. Long term, an Open Source office suite is clearly superior for this purpose, assuming that it does its primary job well -- a condition clearly met by several FOSS office suites. With ODF in play, the situation just gets better.

    Disability activists and the FOSS community are natural allies; we need only recognize this and start to act that way. Perhaps there's some FUD from a Malevolent Source involved in the publishing of this article?
  • by penguin-collective ( 932038 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @03:11PM (#15295603)
    That view is frustratingly short-sighted. Microsoft Office is a tool developed for people with no disabilities; accessibility will never be a primary consideration. Using Microsoft Office with a screen reader or a magnifier is at best a crutch.

    Much better interaction styles are possible for the disabled. In the past, they haven't been commercially viable because Microsoft Office formats have dominated the market With open document formats, there would finally be new companies entering the market with high quality tools specifically for people with disability.

    Let's not even dwell on the fact that the disabled have experienced first hand how frustrating it is to be at the mercy of Microsoft; do you really think that other groups aren't equally frustrated with Microsoft's predominance but lack the lobbying power to get Microsoft to hire a 40 person crew to address their needs? And what happens with the next paradigm shift? GUIs will have transparency, high resolution visualization, and other features, and it will take many years for accessibility tools to catch up--do you want to continue to be at the mercy of a single company to meet your needs in perpetuity?

    Adoption of open document formats is a huge win for the disabled, without any downside. You can even continue to use Microsoft Word, since there will be plug-ins. But you may want to work with the OOo people to improve accessibility there. And you will see ODF apps aimed at people with disabilities soon after the format becomes reasonably widely adopted. Please, don't screw this one up, for your own sake and the sake of everybody else.
  • This is absolutly a non-story .... with the plugin for Word/Office/whatever, the ability of ODF applications to work with assistance devices will be - by defination - *exeactly* as good as what it currently is in word.
  • Hey I don't like MS as much as the next slasdot user but disabled? Windows ME aside isn't that a little harsh?

    Oh wait, maybe I should go RTFA first...
  • OpenDocument : .DOC :: OpenOffice : MSOffice

    Simple as that. The "disabled advocates" are clamouring for application functionality but are shooting down the document format in their confusion.
    • Yes, "confusion".

      This is pure rhetoric.

      Besides, it's an open format. Suppose Openoffice lacks screen reader support. Someone can and may just write a compatible application for the task reading ODF as it's ... open...

      The argument is a non-starter for that reason alone.

      Tom
  • by Serious Simon ( 701084 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @04:01PM (#15296100)
    OOo developers have definitely worked on accessibility. But there is still ample room for improvement. See: http://ui.openoffice.org/accessibility/ [openoffice.org]
  • Don't blame Wincke (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NatteringNabob ( 829042 ) on Tuesday May 09, 2006 @04:43PM (#15296512)
    Blame ComputerWorld, Carol Silva, and Slashdot for poor headline writing. Wincke says, in the very last paragraph of the article, that he has *NO* problem with FOSS or ODF. His complaint is that the third party accessibility tools don't support {Open|Star}Office. So, in otherwords, Wincke would have no problem at all with ODF *as long as it was supported by Microsoft* whose Office applications are supported by third party products.

    A suspicious person would suspect that the Microsoft PR department fed ComputerWorld and Ms. Silva a deliberately misleading article about ODF in order to inacurrately frame the issue, but I'm sure nothing like that would ever occur to a fine, public spirited company like Microsoft.

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