Apache OpenOffice 4.1 to Bring Enhanced Accessibility Support

Category: blog

The Apache OpenOffice project is pleased to announce that it has successfully integrated support for the Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA) and IAccessible2 interfaces.  Support for these interfaces enables screen readers and other assistive technologies to work with Apache OpenOffice, which in turn enables greater productivity by OpenOffice users who are blind or who have low-vision. 

The new accessibility code, based on the donation of IBM's Lotus Symphony, will now undergo extensive testing.  The plan is to ship the new accessibility support in Apache OpenOffice 4.1, early in 2014.  With this support added Apache OpenOffice, the leading open source productivity suite, also becomes the most accessible one.

The IAccessible2 interface was developed as a superset of MSAA interfaces, to enable enhanced support for document editors,  including support for rich text, tables, spreadsheets, etc., while allowing assistive technology developers to preserve their existing investment in MSAA support.  IAccessible2 is supported by assistive technologies such as JAWS, MAGic, Window-Eyes, NVDA and ZoomText.

As we did with the award-winning Side Panel UI in Apache OpenOffice 4.0, and all other features we develop, we will publish the IAccessible2 code under the Apache License 2.0.  This allows anyone to use, copy and redistribute OpenOffice freely.  The license also allows others to take our source code, integrate it into their products and develop it further.  That is what open source is all about.  In a healthy open source ecosystem code flows in both directions.  A new feature is developed in OpenOffice, and the code is taken by downstream consumers.  As that code is tested further ("Every new class of users finds a new class of bugs") and fixes are made, these fixes should be contributed upstream.  This reduces future merge costs for the downstream consumer.  It is also the right thing to do, to help improve the code that your project benefits from and which your users depend upon.  We invite all downstream consumers to engage with the Apache OpenOffice project, especially those that have so far neglected to do so, in order to improve the accessibility code that is of mutual benefit and that is so critical for the open source community.  Help your neighbor.  Be a hacker, not a hoarder.  Our website has further information on how to contribute patches.

If you want to receive notification of when Apache OpenOffice 4.1 is available you can sign up for our announcements mailing list by sending an email to announce-subscribe@openoffice.apache.org.   You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.  If you want to help test the new accessibility support, before it is released, you can send a note to our QA mailing list to learn more:  qa@openoffice.apache.org.