A group of visually impaired campaigners has made the US state of Massachusetts alter its move to open document format (ODF). The campaign group found that the open-source software to read applications within ODF did not work with screen magnifiers.

In a compromise deal, the CIO of Massachusetts’ IT division, Louis Gutierrez, postponed a 1 January deadline to roll out the open-source software and instead, the state will adopt a plug-in that enables files to be saved in ODF on request. The plug-in decision means the state can fulfil its official ODF policy and meet its target for ODF roll-out.

The IT division also signed a commitment with the Massachusetts Office on Disability to find software that is accessible to people with disabilities. A memorandum of understanding calls for the establishment of a unit devoted to accessible technology.

"I couldn’t imagine a better victory. It’s fantastic news," said John Winske, chairman of the Disability Policy Consortium.

"Now, instead of what could have been a very disastrous policy and very bad news for employees with disabilities, we’re going to have a strong advocate on our side."

Gutierrez found himself in a bind in February when he assumed the CIO's position in Massachusetts. The state's ODF policy called for executive-branch agencies by 1 January 2007, to use office applications that work with ODF and to configure those applications to save documents in ODF by default.

But the only office applications that could do that - such as the open source OpenOffice and Sun Microsystems' StarOffice - are not supported by the major screen readers and magnifiers that people with disabilities use. It sparked an outcry.

The emergence of plug-ins that can be used to save documents in ODF prompted Gutierrez to issue a request for information on the technology. Now ITD will be following through with testing of the ODF plug-ins in preparation for a phased rollout, expected to begin later this year.

Winske said that Gutierrez told the group there would be no mass migration to open source Office applications. But he re-affirmed ITD's commitment to its ODF policy, in keeping with its goal of moving away from proprietary formats for the long-term preservation of documents.