Give us a Ribbon with tools we can use to make accessible document



I have spent the last year training our employees to use the toolbar
Microsoft *should* have created for Word 2003 -- one that features all the
commands needed to create an accessible document and none of the commands
that lead you away from creating an accessible document. Ironically, these
commands are also essential to understanding the power of Word and using it
as a 21st-century word processor, not the electronic equivalent of safety
scissors, construction paper, a pot of paste, and an 8-pack of crayons. (That
description fits the buttons featured on Microsoft's default toolbars.)

Employees who use my accessibility toolbar not only create accessible
documents painlessly but also take much, much less time to fix formatting
problems. They also find that Word now behaves more consistently, as they are
no longer sending it confusing combinations of commands.

Now we are moving to Word 2007. We are struggling to create and deploy a
ribbon that fits our business needs -- not one that takes half of its room
advertising direct formatting that cannot be understood correctly by Word (in
generating a document map or table of contents, for example) and cannot be
interpreted at all by screen readers and other forms of assistive technology.
We finally created the appropriate combination of buttons on a new tab, but
quite often Word decides that we are finished using it and switches back to
the all but useless Home tab.

Please create a tab that prominently allows the user to open the document
map, apply styles (*not* formatting), insert frames (*not* text boxes), add
captions and alt text to illustrations, insert tables (*not* draw them),
apply columns, add bookmarks and hyperlinks, and so forth. If a command
misleads a screen reader or does not directly correspond to valid html, don't
put it on this ribbon. And let me designate this tab, not the home tab, as my
default ribbon.

Along these lines, I have one more request about the document map: If the
user has entered no structure, don't let Word guess. Make it show nothing but
structure explicitly entered (through the outline level setting of an
appropriate style) by the user. If all the have done is to fling formatting
at the screen, the document map should display *nothing* -- because that's
the same thing a screen reader would pick up.

If you make this change, the document map will be a powerful tool for
determining whether a screen reader can correctly perceive the structure of
the document. As it is now, the document map confuses the heck out of
everyone I have encountered who has not been specifically taught what it is
supposed to do when Word isn't guessing.

This post is a suggestion for Microsoft, and Microsoft responds to the
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click "I Agree" in the message pane.

Stefan Blom

I'm not sure if this will help you, but note that the ribbon will be
customizable in Word 2010.


Thanks, Stefan, for pointing out that the ribbon will be customizable in Word
2010. But the problem isn't just my convenience. It's whether Microsoft is
willing to make its software help people create accessible documents.

So far, it has not. Over half of the functions on the Home tab of the Word
2007 ribbon change the appearance of text without adding tags that can be
picked up by a screen reader. And if they are all you use to create your
report, then you have to do your own widow/orphan control, footnote
placement, table of contents, and so on. And the resulting electronic file
will be inaccessible.

And what's worse is that virtually all Word training teaches people how to
use Microsoft's default buttons, not how to find and use the features that
make Word a powerful word processor. So it is all but impossible for
governmental agencies to find training that will teach their employees how to
use Word to comply with the law known as Section 508.

I want the software bought by my employer to have a default interface that
leads people to do things the right way, so instead of spending my time
creating that interface, getting it distributed to my co-workers, and
developing customized training to teach them to use it, I can do the job I
was hired to do.

Is that too much to ask?

Graham Mayor

Is it too much to ask? Frankly yes. However a piece of software is
configured by default it will please some people and offend others. It is
not possible to create software that is all things to all men. For many
people, myself included - with many years experience in Word, the change to
2007 was both a shock to the system and resented for the extra work that it
required both to configure as I wanted it, and to find where Microsoft had
hidden all the familiar controls. It took me a long time to get used to
things but now it has become almost second nature, just as Word 2003 was
before - and Word is about to become version 2010, which adds a new learning
curve to the process.

As you indicated you have had to configure Word 2003 from its out of the box
condition to a setup that suits your way of working. If you want to employ
Word 2007, you are going to have to configure it. The ribbon is readily
configurable - and you can have the commands you require for a given
document type associated with the ribbon in that document's template. You
can put the tab(s) for your document at the start of the ribbon and it
rather than the Home tab will open with that document.

As for Section 508, I had not a clue what that was until I looked it up, and
it is typical government gobbledygook. Futhermore it only seems relevant to
the US, and Microsoft Word is aimed at the world, not simply the relatively
small American market place.

In the case of Microsoft Word you have to take what comes and adapt it to
your requirements - or use something else.

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Graham Mayor - Word MVP

My web site

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Peter T. Daniels

Did you really just

No, he did so more than a year ago.
have the nerve to refer to a legal mandate for the U.S. government that protects the  rights of individuals with disabilities and promotes equal access to electronic and information technology as typical government gobbledygook?

Have you tried reading the statute in question? Or do you not know the
meaning of the word "gobbledygook"?
Perhaps you are a person who thinks it is okay to discriminate against people, especially individuals with disabilities.  Let's broaden the stakes:  How about Microsoft products (i.e. Word, PowerPoint, Excel) that let people produce output (i.e. Word document) that complies with WCAG 2 (whichis a broader accessibility guideline that ins internationally used)?  Itis impossible to create a table in Word or PowerPoint that is accessible as there is no built in mechanism to mark up the column and row headers as there is in HTML or PDF.  If Adobe could do this, really there is no excuse  Microsoft.  This is but one example.  A person has to work unnecessarily hard to make a product that will work because of all the limitationsand flaws in Microsoft products--and quite frankly if you are using tablesand want someone to be able to read them with a screen reader (unless one level of column headers in which can be read because of the built in functions of the assistive technology), plan to convert to PDF.  You can try toconvert to PDF through Word, but basically you will get horrible, bloated code well that is not accessible unless you manually manipulate.  Office 2010 did not resolve the problems with tables and don't be fooled by that accessibility checker because really it is not going to help you with make your tables accessible or 508 compliant.

Is it too much to ask for Microsoft to include built in functionality andtools to make the output (a document) accessible?  I think not.

How much experience do you have with programming? Who is to decide
what is "accessible" to whom?

jay m

How much experience do you have with programming? Who is to decide
what is "accessible" to whom?

I would think that "current screen reader technology" would determine
how a document is accessible to the sight-impaired.
It's not a matter of personal opinion, it's a matter of proper
document structure so that assistiive technologies can work properly.

Those of us lucky enough to have decent vision tend to forget about
those who have vision problems.
Of course, many of us don't work in areas where we'd have to follow
508 or the international equivalents.

But if MS claims to be programming for world audiences, then maybe
they should make it easier to create and maintain structured and
accessible documents!

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