Bloor Analyst Peter Abrahams on ODF & OOXML Accessibility

Peter Abrahams, the Practice Leader for Accessibility and Usability at Bloor Research, just published an interesting article today, titled "Document formats and accessibility". In the article he discusses some of the history leading to the ODF and OOXML formats and standards, and some of the accessibility issues around them. In particular, he notes the work IBM has done in the development of IAccessible2, and notes that support for IAccessible2 is coming to OpenOffice.org.

What struck me most about his article is the argument he makes for the strengths of ODF and OOXML, based on their history and where they come from. He notes:

So we now have two competing standards: Office OpenXML which is not yet, and may never become, a standard driven by Microsoft, and ODF which is a standard and which now has IBM support. How will this effect accessibility? The answer, I am afraid, is that having two standards is not good. The problem is that creating assistive technologies is a specialised task and the market is relatively small. Supporting both standards is going to be expensive and likely to lead to delays in implementing and supporting new functions.

And in service of accessibility, he makes the following observations, and then gives the following advice:

ODF is already a standard and has shown that it is robust and extensive enough to support the creation and distribution of new documents. ODF has not attempted to support all the 'archived' documents that OpenXML is designed to support. OpenXML will provide a mechanism for the long term archiving of old documents but it appears not to have any benefits over ODF for the creation and storage of new documents. This is not surprising given the background of each.

For AT developers in particular, and many other tool creators in general, it would be a great benefit if there was just one format for new documents. This would enable all the effort being used in the creation of robust and function rich tools rather than having to support two competing standards.

Given the support ODF is now getting it would be sensible if the OpenXML committee decided to align the standard with ODF so that OpenXML concentrated on the archiving issue rather than defining a new standard for all documents.

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