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Office remodel to help disabled users

Microsoft plans to adds tools in the next version of Office and other future products to make them easier to use for people with disabilities.

Microsoft plans to make the next version of Office more accessible to people with disabilities, a move that could help sales to companies doing government work.

The Redmond, Wash., company said Thursday that it will incorporate new technology in the software suite and in other upcoming products. The software changes will help business customers comply with Section 508 of federal disability laws, which requires that government contractors use accessible technology.

"Helping our government customers meet their '508' responsibilities has re-energized our long-standing commitment to building products that are accessible to all people," Madelyn Bryant McIntire, director of Microsoft's Accessible Technology Group, said in a statement. "We are proud to play a role in helping the federal government reach people with diverse abilities."

Specific tweaks in Office 2003 include an "accessibility checker" tool in the next version of Front Page, Microsoft's package for designing Web pages. The tool will check pages to ensure that they can work with screen readers and other PC tools typically used by people with disabilities.

InfoPath, Microsoft's upcoming electronic forms software, will incorporate controls that can be added to forms to make them more easily negotiable by disabled users. In addition, Microsoft Active Accessibility, the company's library of programming instructions for supporting screen readers and other assistive technology, will be expanded in all Office 2003 applications to support a broader range of devices.

Accessibility features will also be added to Windows Server 2003, the current version of Microsoft's server operating system. Makers of screen readers and other accessibility products will have access to tools that allow their products to tap into applications running in Windows Terminal Server mode.