Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Assisting People with Disabilities to Use the Internet: The Role of the Public Library

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Assisting People with Disabilities to Use the Internet: The Role of the Public Library

Article excerpt

How can people with disabilities more easily share in the brave new world of instant information and communication offered by the internet? A study by the Information and Telecommunications Needs Research group (ITNR), a joint venture of Monash and Charles Sturt Universities in partnership with State Library of Victoria/Vicnet, addressed this question in the context of Australian public libraries. The project was funded by the AccessAbility Program, Commonwealth Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts and sponsored by AAPT Limited.

Key objectives included

* the selection of a core set of adaptive equipment, suited to people with a range of different disabilities for use in public settings, particularly in public libraries

* the development of related training for users and librarians alike

* the identification of standards and policies for achieving appropriate levels of online public access by disability groups.[1]

This paper explores the literature related to these objectives as well as setting out the project's findings and recommendations, with particular emphasis on the role that public librarians can play in assisting people with disabilities.[2]

It has become a commonplace in academic and popular literature that the internet and online services open up windows of opportunity for people to participate in the information age.[3] More than this, many writers[4] suggest that such technologies offer particular benefits and potentialities for people with disabilities. A prevalent view is that the opportunities for communication and information acquisition are likely to be significantly expanded through online services, especially for people who are isolated by their disabilities. This is particularly the case in rural Australia, where distance often exacerbates isolation.[5] The Australian Bureau of Statistics' most recent Survey of disability, ageing and carers[6] estimated that 19.3% of the Australian population, or 3,610,300 persons had a disability. Clearly, the possibility that the internet might improve the information access of such a large section of the population, many of whom have been marginalised by long established forms of media, is a matter of considerable social importance.

Because the literature review plays a major role in this paper, and is closely related to the project's findings, the method for the project is presented followed by the literature review and findings for each of the objectives separately.

Method of the ITNR project

The method for the project is presented in detail below, whereas the findings and recommendations are presented in brief. Readers who do not require more than an overview of the findings may nevertheless want to understand the method in order to evaluate the quality of the research.

Nine public libraries were involved in the project. Eight are from Victoria; the ninth, the Wagga Wagga Library, is the headquarters of the Riverina Regional Library in NSW. The latter library service was included because of the involvement of Charles Sturt University in ITNR.

The selection of Victorian libraries was based on the requirement to include a range of different public library types and a mix of socioeconomic, rural and urban areas. Participants were found mainly through community organisations, particularly those which work with people with disabilities eg Access for All Abilities, a joint project of the Moonee Valley and Brimbank City Councils funded by the Victorian Department of Sport and Recreation, the Arthritis Foundation of Victoria, and the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind.

The following sections describe the sample--including gender, age, the disabilities involved, and the locations where participants took part in the project--along with an overview of the components of the research, including the instruments used for data collection. …

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