IBM beats Microsoft over the head with its own code

Accessibility technology now headed for open-source applications was derived from work done by Microsoft.

IBM’s iAccessible2, code-named Project Missouri, is a specification for technology used to help the visually impaired interact with Open Document Format (ODF)-compliant applications and was developed in part using Microsoft Active Accessibility (MAA). IBM is donating it to help OpenOffice.org battle Microsoft Office.

IBM added a delicious twist on its new commitment to help OpenOffice.org battle Microsoft Office by donating code that was originally derived in part from a Microsoft-developed technology.

IBM’s iAccessible2, code-named Project Missouri, is a specification for technology used to help the visually impaired interact with Open Document Format (ODF)-compliant applications and was developed in part using Microsoft Active Accessibility (MAA) as a starting point.

IBM developed code from the specification and uses it within its own products such as Lotus Notes. In addition, IBM has implemented in code its IAccessible2 specification, which makes accessibility features available to the visually impaired, and plans to donate that to the OpenOffice.org effort (see related story).

Project Missouri was an independent interface built on top of MAA that extends the technology, according to IBM. The company has since donated the iAccessible2 specification to the Linux Foundation, but the code IBM developed using the specification is headed for OpenOffice.org, an open-source collection of applications.

Computer accessibility

MAA is based on the Component Object Model (COM) and “improves the way accessibility aids (specialized programs that help people with disabilities use computers more effectively) work with applications running on Microsoft Windows,” according to the Microsoft Web site.

IBM introduced iAccessible2, which can run on Windows or Linux, late last year as a set of APIs that makes it easy for visuals in applications based on ODF and other Web technologies to be interpreted by screen readers that reproduce that information verbally for the blind.

ODF is the foundation for OpenOffice.org applications, which include a text editor, spreadsheet, presentation graphics program and a database. It has been positioned as an alternative to Microsoft Office.

Accessibility is a big issue among adopters of productivity applications, especially governments who must have tools that are available to a broad segment of end-users.

Massachusetts, a pioneer in the adoption of open document formats, has delayed its migration away from Microsoft Office and its rollout of ODF-based applications for the sole reason that those applications lack the needed accessibility features.

On Monday, IBM said its donation of the iAccessible2 code it created could begin to help solve that problem.

iAccessible 2 is an interface that tells assistive technologies – such as screen readers used by the blind – what is happening on browser and software screens. Blind users will be able to more easily discern text embedded in charts, menus, pictures, pop-ups, and hyperlinks.

When the specification was donated to the Linux Foundation, Oracle, Sun, and SAP committed to help with future development. Mozilla is committed to incorporating it into its Firefox browser, and vendors GW Micro and Freedom Scientific will also use it in their own screen reader products.

In addition, Project Missouri has won accolades from the American Association of People with Disabilities, the American Foundation for the Blind, and the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science.

IBM is not the only one working on accessibility options for ODF-compliant applications. The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), which maintains ODF, has an accessibility subcommittee within the OASIS ODF Technical Committee charged with addressing accessibility needs within ODF.

The group produced the 50-page “Accessibility Guidelines for Implementations of Open Document Format v1.1” when that version of the specification was released in February. The document describes the accessibility features of 1.1 and how applications should use them.

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