Assistive Technologies

Assistive technologies are comprised of hardware and software offerings that serve the needs of persons with disabilities. These include screen readers and screen magnifiers for the blind and visually impaired persons; speech recognition for persons with mobility impairments; and Braille translation and formatting facilities to automate the process of conversion from regular print to braille (and vice versa). Solutions are also available for individuals with color blindness, cognitive learning disabilities, and varying degrees of paralysis (mobility) impairment.

Current ODF assistive technologies include:

See also:

- OpenDocument Accessibility FAQ
- OASIS OpenDocument Accessibility Subcommittee.

Accessibility FAQ

Review answers to frequently asked questions on OpenDocument Accessibility below. Post new questions and additional comments at the FAQ Forum.

How was accessibility addressed in OpenDocument v1.1?

The changes needed to make OpenDocument 1.0 accessible were relatively minor. The OASIS OpenDocument Accessibility Subcommittee did a gap analysis of v1.0 based on these criteria:
  • Support for W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0
  • Interoperability with assistive technologies
  • Preservation of structural semantics 
  • Increased usability of presentations over that available in today's office document formats
As OpenDocument v1.0 was largely based on W3C standards, the required changes were minor. They included:
  • Alternative text for non-text objects 
  • Proper association of captions to captioned content
  • Encoding of pagination information
  • Preservation of table semantic structure imported from other file formats
  • Proper encoding of authored table header content
  • Author-defined logical navigation of page objects in presentations
  • Provision of alternative text hints for hyperlinks
OpenDocument version 1.1 adds alternative text to document elements such as drawing objects and image map hot spots; preservation of structural semantics such as headings in tables: and associations between drawngs and their captions. The OASIS OpenDocument Accessibility Subcommittee took the opportunity to provide not only short alternative descriptive text but also lengthy descriptions for the same objects should additional help be needed for users who are blind, low vision, or who suffer from cognitive impairments. To improve the usability of presentations, OASIS also added the provision for the author to supply a keyboard navigation order. Users who are blind may be confused when accessing a slide because the keyboard navigation order does not match the visual flow of the slide.

Who participated in making OpenDocument v1.1 accessible?

The OASIS OpenDocument Accessibility Subcommitee was formed in January 2006. Participating in this effort are topic accessibility experts from Design Science, IBM, the Institute for Community Inclusion, the U.K.'s Royal National Institute for the Blind, and Sun Microsystems, as well as several unaffiliated individual experts.

Can OpenDocument be converted to DAISY book format?

Yes, The U.K.'s Royal National Institute for the Blind is building a DAISY talking book converter for OpenDocument v1.1 rich text documents.

How well do OpenDocument applications address the needs of people with disabilities?

While OpenDocument v1.1 includes a number of specific improvements for accessibility, it's important to note that many of the concerns around accessibility have to do with the applications that implement the OpenDocument format.  This includes questions about the built-in features of OpenDocument applications that meet the needs of people with disabilities, and questions about how well OpenDocument applications work with specialized assistive technology applications used by people with more severe disabilities.

To improve support for assistive technologies on the Windows platform, IBM donated an extension to Microsoft's Active Accessibility API to the Free Standards Group (Now the Linux Foundation) which was designed to provide advanced access to office applications and expose  all the accessibility features of OpenDocument 1.1. This API, called IAccessible2, was designed with the help of Freedom Scientific and GW  Micro during its implemenation in support of OpenDocument v1.1 in the upcoming  Notes 8 Productivity Editors. Furthermore, IBM worked with assistive technology vendor Freedom Scientific to ensure their office suite implementation of the ODF 1.1 specification worked well with assistive technologies.

Also on Windows, the OpenDocument applications StarOffice and already work with the ZoomText screen magnifier from Ai Squared.

On the UNIX platform, StarOffice and already work very well with the open source UNIX assistive technologies.  This includes the Orca screen reader/magnifier used by people who are blind or have significant visual impairments, the GNOME On-screen Keyboard which provides rich support for people with a variety of physical impairments, and Dasher, and innovative alternate text entry system used by people who can move only their head or eyes.

How can implementors ensure their OpenDocument applications are fully accessible?

The OASIS OpenDocument Accessibility Subcommittee is developing a guidelines document to help implementers create OpenDocument applications that are fully accessible. More information on this will be posted at the Subcommittee's homepage.

Are OpenDocument accessibility features preserved by applications that export to other file formats?

This depends on the application. StarOffice and, for instance, make full use Adobe PDF tags for accessibility when OpenDocument files are exported to PDF, so long as the user selects the "Tagged PDF" option.