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Open XML based document formats and accessibility

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From: Moore, Michael
Date: Jan 23, 2009 4:05PM


I am currently compiling an analysis of the impact of moving to an open
XML based standard for document sharing and retention.

The standards that I am looking at are ODF (Open Document Format), OOXML
(Office Open XML), and XHTML.

So my first question is, are there other standards that I should be
looking at? I have not considered PDF because I believe that it is not
an XML based standard, feel free to let me know if I am wrong.

Next considering accessibility and compatibility, which formats can be
authored and read using existing open source or proprietary software
that is compatible with common assistive technologies like Window Eyes,
ZoomText, JAWS, and Magic?

I believe that XHTML offers the greatest level of accessibility but the
format does not readily lend itself to all business processes. There is
a definite need to be able to create common "Office" documents and
presentations.

Thus it would seem that ODF or OOXML would need to be considered as part
of the mix and I am particularly concerned with legacy accessibility
support for those types of documents. OOXML documents seem to be
reasonably well supported using MS Office 2007 with JAWS 9 and above,
but what about earlier screen readers? How well do earlier versions of
JAWS work with earlier versions of MS Office that contain the conversion
plug in to allow them to work with those versions of Office.

Turning to ODF, I know that there are plug-ins for MS Office that allow
editing and reading of ODF files but do any of you have any experience
testing documents using these formats with assistive technologies and
either an MS Office Plug-in or a natively compatible software package
like Star-Office or Open Office?

Since both formats would require many/most folks to either install new
software or a plug-in for existing software what are the accessibility
implications for people with cognitive disabilities?

Finally are there more questions that I should be asking?

Mike Moore
Texas DARS Accessibility Coordinator