New Word add-in helps convert documents into 'talking books'

Last year, Microsoft reaffirmed its support for DAISY, the "talking book" standard developed for the visually impaired. Today, the ability for Word to save files in that enabling format has been unveiled.

Developed as an open-source collaboration project on SourceForge.net, the "Save as DAISY XML" add-in allows any Open XML-based file to be saved into the standard. It can be downloaded for free on Sourceforge.

One of the stated goals of the DAISY (Digital Accessible Information SYstem) Consortium, a nonprofit group formed in 1996, is to increase the availability of printed material to those with cognitive or visual disorders preventing them from being able to read standard text. The consortium estimates that only five percent of all published material is made accessible to this group at no additional charge.

DAISY files do not force the listener to consume the document in full (imagine if you had to read every single word on every Web site you looked at every day) but allow for auditory scanning with a series of simple commands. DAISY material can be consumed on dedicated devices, of which some 300,000 are reported to be in use, or with a screen-reading program. By adding the ability for one of the most common desktop tools to write to this format, almost any computer can now provide copies of documents to those with special needs.

The DAISY XML file itself is not a talking document; rather, it is something like a PDF file. And in the same way a PDF file requires its own reader, so too does the DAISY XML file, provided by DAISY Pipeline. Pipeline is a generally licensed set of tools supporting the migration of digital content to various DAISY standard formats, namely, DTB (digital talking book). The DAISY Consortium has also released an updated version of Pipeline today.

The Updated release improves certain usability issues, including a new Windows installer, partial Hindi language localization, and the inclusion of a validator for OPS/EPUB files, using a file format based upon the International Digital Publishing Forum's open standard.

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