Corporations are starting to take customer needs, social concerns, and the dream of being good corporate citizens into account—that’s pretty cool.  We’ve seen some interesting developments providing evidence of this trend in the past few years. Wal-Mart, Bank of America, Hewlett-Packard, and other giants have gone greener. (Check out the hyperlinks to see what they’re doing.) Dell launched regeneration, where social media and green come together (double kudos), and dozens of other companies are launching blogs and making other attempts to really address customer needs. But what, if any, corporate goodwill has Microsoft been dishing out lately?

The answer comes with the launch of a new product that, while not revolutionary or overly new, could make life a lot easier for people with reading disabilities. The product is a free, mostly open source solution called the Save as DAISY XML add-in for Microsoft Office Word. In a nutshell, the add-in consists of an XML converter to turn your Word content into content formatted as Digital Access Information System (DAISY)—the standard for digital talking books (DTBs). The add-in works with the DAISY Pipeline software tool, which lets you convert DAISY XML into a DTB file. And, although Microsoft is not the only partner in the program, it’s obviously a major contributor to the product’s universal potential.

You can download the Save as DAISY XML converter here. Of course, to do anything very interesting (i.e., convert the content to audio), you’ll also need to download the DAISY Pipeline software here. The full package is a simple, seamless way to do something special with good ol’ Word. (Note that if you’re still holding a cross to Windows Vista with a string of garlic around your neck, you’ll need to at least download the Office 2007 compatibility pack to be able to use the Save as DAISY XML converter and DAISY Pipeline software.)

The converter isn’t the real news. What’s exciting is that Microsoft is facilitating widespread distribution of software that addresses a real social issue. According to Microsoft and the DAISY Consortium, 160 million people worldwide are blind or nearly blind, and that number doesn’t even take into account people who can’t hold print (due to disability) or those who can’t read. The point is that with Microsoft backing this horse, there’s a real opportunity for change: essentially, easy access to Web or audio content on a global scale for people with reading difficulties. It won’t bring back the rainforest, but I give Microsoft points for acting in a way that goes beyond the bottom line.

Read more about the DAISY Consortium at http://www.daisy.org/, and email me at BReinholz@windowsitpro.com or post a comment to tell me what you think.