Accessibility and ODF

Sun Architect Peter Korn has prepared what Tim Bray terms a "massive piece" evaluating the issues, progress todate, and how it will all play in Massachusetts.

The ODF subject today is accessibility, and two widely divergent interest groups are weighing in with narrowly convergent opinions. From the technical side, Sun Accessibility Architect Peter Korn has posted a long critical assessment of ODF accessibility capabilities in the context of the Massachusetts situaiton. And from the religious community, we have a press release posted by an “ordained minister and libre software advocate” on behalf of “ministers from across the U.S and Britain” that chastises Microsoft for holding the visually impaired hostage in order to further a political fight. Let’s start with the technical side, where Tim Bray of Sun has brought the accessibility piece to the attention of Slashdot’s legions of cognoscenti, noting in part:

The strongest push-back against Massachusetts’ effort to institute open, non-proprietary document formats has come from the accessibility community, who claim that Open-Source desktop software lags behind Windows; and thus that a transition to Open Document will amount to discrimination against the blind and those with other disabilities….Anyone in Open Source who thinks they can ignore accessibility issues is probably wrong. Getting any younger? Eyes as good as they used to be? This is everybody’s issue.

The piece that he’s promoting is what he refers to as “massive piece” by Sun Accessibility Architect Peter Korn that gives some history and context of the issues in Massachusetts, and then gives a detailed analysis of the capabilities that office suites that support ODF can currently offer to those with particular types and degress of disabilities. An additional helpful feature of the piece is a review of the history of accommodating those with disibilities in Massachusetts, exending back over the last 15 years.

And now (as Monty Python was wont to say) for something completely different, we have this item: Christians Challenge Microsoft to Support OpenDocument for Disadvantaged, posted by D.C. Parris, one of the ministers involved, at LXer. According to Parris:

Several Christian Ministers and laymen from across the US and Britain have spoken out against Microsoft’s refusal to support OpenDocument, thus leaving visually-impaired users of their office suite effectively unable to use the new standard adopted by Massachusetts. The Christians see Microsoft’s stance as intentionally withholding support so that it can turn a technical business decision into a political fight. By refusing to support OpenDocument, Microsoft is ignoring the cross-platform document sharing needs of visually impaired users, not only in Massachusetts, but also in the other 49 states, not to mention the rest of the world.

Less plausibly, Parris argues, “The economically disadvantaged will also suffer from the lack of Opendocument support in Microsoft Office.” Presumably, those with limited means will find the OOo version more appealing, one would think. It never would have occurred to me to so ingeniously turn Microsoft’s decision so conveniently inside out, but then again, the Spirit moves in mysterious ways.

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