New tech tool for the blind released in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR – A new software feature for Microsoft Word has been released in Malaysia designed to allow anyone to create documents with content that can be accessible by Malaysians who are blind, visually impaired or physically challenged.

The release has been announced by the National Council for the Blind, Malaysia (NCBM) and software giant Microsoft Malaysia.

According to NCBM president, Dato’ S. Kulasegaran, the function known as the ‘Save As DAISY XML’ add-in (www.ncbm.org.my), is designed for Microsoft Word 2007, Word 2003 and Word XP. IT enables users to save Open XML-based text files into DAISY XML — the foundation of the globally-accepted DAISY standard for reading and publishing navigable multimedia content.

Kulasegaran said: “In recent decades, individuals with assistive needs have increasingly accessed information using a wide variety of assistive technologies such as screen readers, large print, refreshable Braille, and text-to-speech synthesizers. As it was not possible to navigate complex page layouts, they often have struggled to keep up with the demands of today’s increasingly information-dependent society.”

He explained that the ‘Save As DAISY XML’ makes it possible to navigate quickly through a document by heading or page number, as well as the use of indices and references.

Microsoft Malaysia national technology officer, Dr Dzahar Mansor said: “The new ‘Save As DAISY XML’ functionality for Microsoft Word has the potential to break down barriers for individuals with assistive needs and enhance the experience for anyone who wants to read, not only materials created locally but also on a global level.”

Dr. Mansor added that Microsoft’s initiative to put ‘Save As DAISY XML’ in Microsoft Word is the first step to bring fully accessible content to people with assistive needs.

“With much of the information on documents today being created with Microsoft Word — the new add-in provides a historic leap forward in the nationwide effort to make information available to all. The effort is part of Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential initiative to help bridge the digital divide by creating more programs that will help the community, transform education and support partnerships through technology,” Dr Mansor said.

“As Microsoft Word is a commonly used tool — about 600 visually impaired people in the country use Word — this add-in allows for content creators in different fields to produce accessible digital material by and for Malaysians, especially individuals with assistive needs.”

“There have been specific challenges that universities and public institutions face in providing books and materials for those who cannot read added,” Kulasegaran said. “Functionalities like the new ‘Save As DAISY XML’ feature within Microsoft Word can reduce the expense and increase the ease of delivering accessible content to Malaysians who require it.”