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January 18, 2002 - Microsoft's Accessible Technology Responce to GDI+ Article


In light of your recent article, "New Microsoft GDI+ Technology causes inaccessibility for users of Commercial Screen Magnifiers" Microsoft wanted to provide you with our thoughts and bring your attention to a few misconceptions of the situation that were reflected in your article. We hope you understand that the customers being affected by this issue are our primary concern and the Microsoft Accessible Technology Group (ATG), product developers and assistive technology (AT) vendors have been working hard to develop a solution to this problem.

GDI+ is a new Microsoft technology that provides more powerful graphics capabilities to Windows developers than in previous versions. AT vendors were alerted to the changes introduced in GDI + in June 2001 to give them as much advance notice as possible. At that time, Microsoft recommended that AT vendors evaluate the impact to their product(s), and in early December, an article was posted on the Microsoft Developer Network providing additional technical information.

To our knowledge, the issues surrounding GDI+ are limited to the following scenario: users of screen magnification products who access graphical data from Office XP. Affected functionality includes picture and paint objects in Word; graphs or charts in Excel; or any use of Powerpoint. To date, we have not identified any problems related to GDI+ that impact screen readers or other AT products. Office XP users who rely more heavily on text and numeric data (word processing in Word or spreadsheets in Excel) are unlikely to experience problems. However, we recommend that Microsoft Office users who rely heavily on viewing or manipulating graphical elements continue using Office 2000 until this problem is resolved.

For the short term, we are working with AT vendors to develop collaborative solutions to this problem and others that may impact our products and customers. We estimate that a solution to this problem will be available to users of screen magnification products within the next month. We are recommending that users of screen magnification products contact their manufacturer for more information about the solution, as it becomes available.

The Microsoft ATG works closely with internal product developers, external AT vendors and obtains feedback from the disability community in the development of new products. One of our goals is to help reduce the time required to bring AT products to market that are compatible with new Microsoft products or upgrades. For example, with the recent launch of Windows XP, Microsoft's most accessible operating system to date, over twelve assistive technology products were available to users at launch.

New technologies like GDI+ are designed to push the envelope and take advantage of new hardware capabilities. This particular area of the operating system (graphics subsystem) has always been a difficult area for assistive technologies because they intercept information at a very low level, and that makes their products vulnerable to any changes in the way Windows draws to the screen. Because Microsoft has not provided a standard interface for collecting information at this level, vendors currently have no alternative. However, we have been working with these vendors for nearly a year to agree upon a long-term approach to this problem. We are close to proposing a long-term solution to this problem, but it will require significant changes in both the Windows architecture and AT products. Thanks, Microsoft Accessible Technology Group

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