Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

Universal Access and the ADA: A Disability Access Design Specification for the New UCLA Library On-Line Information System

Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

Universal Access and the ADA: A Disability Access Design Specification for the New UCLA Library On-Line Information System

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The time-honored, fundamental mission of American libraries is to provide universal access to information, collections, materials and services. In passing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the "ADA"), Congress estimated that over 43 million Americans have one or more disabilities. Congress further noted that, historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and, despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem. 42 USC Section 12101 (a) (5) provides that "individuals with disabilities continually encounter various forms of discrimination, including outright intentional exclusion, the discriminatory effects of architectural, transportation, and communication barriers, overprotective rules and policies, failure to make modifications to existing facilities and practices, exclusionary qualification standards and criteria, segregation, and relegation to lesser services, programs, activities, benefits, jobs, or other opportunities."

Individuals with disabilities comprise every demographic group imaginable. Thus, regardless of library type or location, individuals with disabilities represent an identifiable component of the constituency a library serves. However, it is well known that persons with disabilities have historically been underserved by libraries. The compliance obligations imposed upon libraries by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) present an opportunity to improve access not only to a traditionally under--served community, people with disabilities, but to all library users.

This article provides: (1) a brief discussion of the barriers traditionally faced by people with disabilities in accessing library collections, materials and services, (2) ADA compliance requirements for libraries, (3) an overview of the importance of adaptive computing technology in making library information accessible, and (4) a disability access design specification for the new UCLA library on-line information system, with the flexibility needed to adapt to a library's changing needs in providing universal information access. The specification includes extensive references for system design guidelines.

Library Access Barriers for People with Disabilities

Absent the ADA, the physical layout of the traditionally constructed library presents substantial access barriers to many people with disabilities. Most library construction prior to the ADA did not contemplate the particular problems of access experienced by people with disabilities. While it is difficult to generalize as to all disabilities, even a quick glance around the typical library will reveal some of the most common barriers to access, including: (1) entrances and doors that are too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs; (2) door hardware requiring substantial pressure, which is difficult for someone with limited upper body mobility to operate; (3) floors that are inaccessible to people in wheelchairs (i.e. stairways only, no elevators); (4) furniture that is not adjustable so that a variety of users, including those in wheelchairs, can be accommodated; and (5) book stacks, card catalogs and on-line searching stations that cannot be reached by a person in a wheelchair or with upper body dexterity limitations, (6) on-line information that is not accessible to people with print impairments due to lack of computer accommodation. The presence of these access barriers can greatly, and unnecessarily, increase the difficulty of accomplishing research for a person with a disability. Fortunately, as detailed below, the ADA now provides general guidance for libraries in identifying and eliminating these access barriers.

THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE ADA

The ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in the areas of employment, public accommodations, state and local governmental services, transportation, and telecommunications. …

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