How We Renovated Our Library, Physically and Electronically, for Handicapped Patrons

Article excerpt

Everyone in the library world is familiar with the vast storehouse of information at our fingertips. The Internet has become a part of our everyday lives. However, we seldom hear about the people who can't even get to the Internet without special equipment or software--people who are challenged in vision, hearing, motor skills, and cognition. These people have the same need for access to information that we all have, but how can we provide that access in a public environment?

Located in the heart of the state capital, the South Carolina State Library supports the state's government employees, public libraries, and citizens. Among its many services to the population of South Carolina, the State Library has a history of providing services directly to Carolinians who are blind and physically handicapped.

In 1996, the State Library gave one computer to each public library headquarters in the state for use by visually handicapped patrons. Then in 1998, we focused attention on ourselves and installed a public workstation dedicated to accessibility for the visually handicapped. This workstation was equipped with JAWS, VERA, and ZoomText software, and a scanner.

In the summer of 2000, the State Library added two workstations in the new reading room at its Department for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (DBPH). These workstations were equipped with WYNN, Duxbury Translator, Zoom-Text Level 2, OPENBook 5.0: Ruby edition, and JAWS software.

We thought we had done all our upgrading. Then last fall, the State Library's director, James B. Johnson, was appointed to the South Carolina Access to Information Technology Coordinating Committee (SCAITCC). This committee was created by a proviso from the South Carolina General Assembly, and was charged with studying and providing "on a pilot basis, information technology access to South Carolinians with functional impairments." [1]

Catherine Morgan attended the meetings with Johnson as "technology interpreter." Cheryl Kirkpatrick, the State Library's Web administrator, was invited to join the SCAITCC's Web Accessibility Workgroup, where she chaired the training subgroup.

When the State Library itself was selected as one of five pilot sites for the SCA1TCC study, we discovered that there was much more involved in offering equal access for all. Up until this time, our efforts had been focused on providing software to aid the visually challenged. Now it seemed that we had only been looking at a very small part of the problem.

We decided to upgrade the two workstations at DBPH and to begin a concerted effort to make our Web site fully accessible. During our renovations, Catherine concentrated her efforts on the workstations while Cheryl focused on the Web site.

Knocking Down Barriers: Choosing and Using New Hardware and Software

The SCAITCC developed a "shopping list" that detailed what accommodations we'd need to meet the standards in the federal Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, and the additional assistive technology that would support accessibility. Using this shopping list, we determined how we would modify our setups to meet the recommendations of the committee. The committee funded our expenses.

Renovating the Workstations

There is a wide range of functional impairments: vision impairment/blindness, hearing impairment/deafness, deaf/blindness, ergonomic/mobility impairment, and cognitive impairment. To help people who face those challenges, we started upgrading two workstations. The base workstation was a standard Pentium III with an 800-MHz processor, 128 MB RAM, a 15-GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, a sound card with speakers and headphones, and a 10/100 PCI network card. We made certain to have enough expansion slots for the various peripherals, including USB ports. Each workstation had a 21-inch monitor, a scanner, and a printer.

To meet Section 508 standards, we needed to address the physical setup of the workstations. …