Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Assistive Devices and Options for Libraries

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Assistive Devices and Options for Libraries

Article excerpt

There are a number of services and devices that a library can offer to make it a more accessible place for customers with visual impairments and physical or mobility challenges. This month's column focuses on some of the available hardware, software, and services, but by no means offers an exhaustive list. Assistive technology is a rapidly evolving sector of information technology. Amazing new resources are being developed, but collectively, libraries and IT have a long way to go toward becoming accessible to all.

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With shrinking budgets and the challenge of providing more materials in various formats, it may be difficult to select which accessibility options to offer. The biggest problem is that these devices can be expensive. Even if we can get the devices through grants, people with mobility or vision problems don't come to us because they think we won't have anything for them. This causes a vicious cycle for those who want to reach out to these potential users. The users think the library doesn't have anything for them, then when the library does get a device, perhaps very few, if any, people use it. Outreach needs to be a carefully planned component of any assistive technology initiative. The advantage of some of these devices and services is that they may benefit more people than we originally anticipate.

Where to Find Information

Another challenge when purchasing software or hardware that makes computers more accessible is a lack of current knowledge about options, trends, and user preferences. There are several agencies that can offer advice about the best tools. The Illinois Assistive Technology Project has a toll-free number for agencies and individuals in that state. It also provides information on grants, items for loan, demonstration equipment and software, and expertise. The National Assistive Technology Technical Assistance Partnership maintains a contact list of state offices that are funded by the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 (http://www.resna.org/taproject/at/statecontacts.html).

Most of us don't have this expertise and don't know where to seek advice on how to best spend limited funds on these resources. This column will highlight some devices, offer some tips, and describe what others are doing in this area. We have also included a brief resource list at the end of the article.

Check out what your state offers and see which agencies provide assistance locally. Individuals who have had a lifelong disability may be aware of these agencies and make use of their services. But for those who never thought about where to turn for these services, such as someone who has recently had a stroke that led to mobility challenges or someone who has had a car accident and lost his or her sight, your resources could be a welcome surprise. Another great service you can provide is to create handouts or fliers about assistive devices and put links on your library Web sites to help users find information on these items.

Libraries that employ people with disabilities or that have a worker who has had an injury and needs to be accommodated in the workplace may also require some of these tools. There may be some grants available that help workplaces purchase needed hardware and software to assist employees with disabilities.

Hardware, Software, and Services You Can Explore

Here are a number of tools you can explore if you want to beef up your accessible offerings.

Accessible Google: Google Labs recently released a beta version of Accessible Google, a resource for the visually impaired (http://labs.google.com/accessible). It was designed by T. V. Raman, a Google researcher who has been blind since he was young due to childhood glaucoma. Basic Google attempts to help people find the most relevant results in a search. When a visually impaired person uses a screen reader to conduct a regular Google search (or any other type of search, including online catalogs), it can take a long time for the device to read the results. …

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