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Software tool makes
PowerPoint easier for disabled to use
Mitchell, News Editor
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —
Whether in the classroom or the boardroom, chalkboards have been replaced
nearly universally by computer-aided audiovisual presentations that
commonly involve a laptop computer and Microsoft PowerPoint software.
And while that change has proved beneficial for most presenters and
their audiences, a notable exception is for people with disabilities.
People with a variety of physical disabilities also experience difficulties
using Web-based PowerPoint presentations –commonly used in online
instruction or distance-learning – because content developers
can’t easily add information required for accessibility. Recognizing
such limitations for developers and users – and correcting the
problems – is Jon Gunderson’s job. As coordinator of assistive
communication and information technology in the Division
of Rehabilitation-Education Services at the University of Illinois,
Gunderson is always on the lookout for technological roadblocks that
can trip up disabled university students and put them at an educational
To resolve the PowerPoint
accessibility problem, Gunderson – with assistance from programmers
Sid Cammeresi and Dan Linder – developed a software tool called
Web Publishing Wizard (Version 1.0). Gunderson said the tool "simplifies
the task of converting PowerPoint presentations, Microsoft Word documents
and – in the future – Excel spreadsheets to accessible HTML
through an easy-to-use user interface and automation of many of the
details of conversion.
The beauty of the product, he said, is that "it allows instructors
and other content developers to create highly accessible HTML versions
of PowerPoint presentations with little or no knowledge of accessibility
or HTML coding techniques."
The Wizard also makes it easy for developers to conform to accessibility
standards prescribed by the federal government as well as those documented
in the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Gunderson said the
tool is called a "wizard" because "in general, ‘wizard’
is part of the Microsoft jargon for a program that guides a user through
a series of steps to accomplish a task. The wizard is smart and can
modify the sequence of steps based on responses in previous steps.
"Our wizard hides the complexity of creating accessible HTML versions
of Microsoft Office documents and only asks questions of the user related
to information needed to create the accessible version."
Among the Wizard’s best features, according to those who have
tested it, is its capability for allowing authors to prompt it to create
text-only, text-mostly and graphical versions of content. The feature
provides increased flexibility for all manner of users, Gunderson said.
Even able-bodied users with slow modems benefit by selecting the
like a curb-cut into the sidewalk – with it, everyone has better
"If you choose all three (text-only, text-mostly and graphical
options), then you serve a broader range of students, browsers and devices,"
said Karen McCall, of Karlen Communications, an adaptive technology
consulting and training practice based in Canada. McCall created workbook
exercises on how to use the tool for a recent workshop on "building
blocks to instructional design."
"Since conversion of word-processed documents and PowerPoint are
messy and not consistent using the ‘on-board’ tools in these
programs," she said, "I wanted to see what this new tool would
do – to evaluate its potential for those who know nothing about
accessibility coding, but want information to be accessible to a broader
range of students, browsers and devices."
In her evaluation of the tool, McCall noted that while "you still
have to look at usability and design issues for the native documents,
if you know nothing about the W3C guidelines or how to create more accessible
Web content, it is an easy to install and use tool."
Gunderson said he is working with the university’s Office
of Technology Management on plans to market a commercial version
of the tool. Meanwhile, a free download of the 1.0 version is available.