Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

The AD-A-P-T-A-B-L-E Approach: Planning Accessible Libraries

Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

The AD-A-P-T-A-B-L-E Approach: Planning Accessible Libraries

Article excerpt

THE PROBLEM: A SURFEIT OF TECHNOLOGICAL CHOICE

On the road to making libraries more accessible to people with disabilities, librarians often get stuck in technological mud. The choices are overwhelming, and many librarians feel they lack the technical expertise to select appropriate equipment. They have many questions about assistive technologies (AT): Should we buy a monochrome or colour CCTV (Close Circuit Television)? Which scanner works best? Can scanning software be used independently by someone who relies on synthesized speech output? How much RAM (Random Access Memory) and how large a hard drive are needed to run assistive technologies? What size monitor is optimal for for screen enlargement software? Is the screen enlargement program compatible with the voice output program? Do we need a Braille printer? a refreshable Braille display? a personal transmitter/receiver system? If yes, FM or infrared? And what about a voice recognition system?

It is perfectly understandable that many librarians become confused by the surfeit of technological choices. AT is a vast, constantly changing field. Keeping abreast of AT trends is a full-time job that many librarians have neither time nor inclination to take on.

Technological paralysis had already set in at the Ontario Ministry of Labour when I was asked to help choose assistive devices. In early 1995 the library received funding to make its collections and facilities more accessible to persons with disabilities. The three members of the project team spent a month meeting ministry employees with disabilities and combing the literature on AT. They amassed a fabulous collection of books, journal articles, pamphlets and promotional materials. When I met the team for the first time, I was impressed by their knowledge of assistive technologies, and by the fact that they had realistic expectations of what was achievable. But when it came down to choosing the equipment, the team was stumped. They simply did not know how to decide.

This article is intended as an antidote to technological paralysis. It is practical guide for librarians who are overwhelmed by AT. I describe an approach for choosing accessibility aids that puts high-technology devices into a broader context. I call the approach AD-AP-T-A-B-L-E, an acronym formed of the first letter of eight distinct workplace accommodation strategies:

* Assistive

* Devices

* Alternative formats

* Personal support

* Transportation services

* Adapted furniture

* Building modifications

* Low-tech devices

* Environmental adaptations

The ADAPTABLE approach stresses that there are many ways to accommodate people with disabilities, most of which do not involve high-technology. ADAPTABLE implies that one should strike a balance among the various accommodation techniques. Emphasizing high-tech approaches at the expense of the other seven categories jeopardizes the goal of ensuring equal access. When embarking on a project to enhance library accessibility, selecting a broad spectrum of accommodations guarantees that the needs of the majority are more likely to be met. Following a description of the ADAPTABLE approach, this article presents eight strategies for choosing access aids for the library, and concludes with some thoughts about the potential role high-technology might play in creating a more equitable society.

THE ADAPTABLE APPROACH TO WORKPLACE ACCOMMODATIONS

As a workplace accommodation consultant, I am responsible for devising and implemeting alternative ways for individuals to work and study. Workplace accommodation planning is a form of creative problem solving. There are no recipes for success; each individual's accommodation needs are unique. People having the same functional abilities often demand different access techniques. For example, a person who is legally blind might prefer to study literature by (1) listening to a synthesized voice; (2) reading Braille; (3) using an illuminated magnifying glass; (4) using a CCTV; (5) reading large-print on paper; (6) reading large-print on a computer screen; (7) listening to books-on-tape; (8) being read to by another person; or (9) a combination of the above. …

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