Access for all: library resources for patrons with disabilities
We in the information professions are devoted to access to information for all. Information professionals spend much of their time locating and evaluating new resources and technologies and presenting them to their users. Sometimes, our detail-oriented nature gets the best of us and we spend more time on why and how something is used without evaluating who is physically or mentally able to use. Accessibility can be more difficult for patrons with disabilities. Whether it is being able to read a website or being able reach the keyboard, there are many hurdles in the modern library for any patron with disabilities. Lucky for us, there are plenty of assistive technologies available to any access-minded information professional.
When you ask most people what they think of when they think of assistive technologies in libraries, they will more than likely think of the large-type books that are available at many libraries. Most folks probably would not think of a program available on every Windows PC: Microsoft’s Ease of Access. Ease of Access is located under Control Panel on the Start menu. With this program, users can listen to a screen reader or an audio description of a video, use speech recognition software to control the computer with voice commands, change the size and color of features in Windows, and much more. This is the option I would recommend everyone in library customer service learn more about.
If your library has Macs, have no fear, Apple has been offering assistive technologies for users with disabilities since the 80s. OS Xoffers users dictation, an adjustible cursor size, FaceTime, closed captions, and more. Many of these options are available under System Preferences (should be on your dock or under the Apple menu in the upper left side of the screen).
Users with smartphones and tablets have access to assistive apps that can help people with cognitive disabilities or motor control issues, convert text to speech, recognize speech commands, and just about anything else you might need. Free apps like Dragon Dictation, Virtual Manipulatives!, AssistiveTouch, and Draw Free for iPad make it easier than ever for users with disabilities to connect and grow.
Environmental changes in the library can help users, too. Low vision/Braille keyboards and desks at wheelchair height are easy additions to any library environment and they can make a world of difference to a user with a disability. If you have a bit of spending money, you may want to invest in equipment like a TOPAZ video magnifier or software like JAWS and MAGic. ALA also recommends a few policy changes and other considerations when developing services for users with disabilities.
The above examples are just a few of the assistive technologies available for libraries to utilize. If you are new to assistive technologies, start out with the basic assistive technologies that come standard on any computer and work your way out from there. If you are near another library that does offer some of these services and technologies, go check them out! For those who live in more remote areas or who are not as keen on venturing outdoors, there are also plenty of YouTube videos that demonstrate new assistive technologies. The gap between the access to information for people without disabilities and the access to information for people with disabilities is still quite large. I hope that each of you has learned a bit about assistive technologies and that this information will come in handy for you.
Stephanie Noell is a Special Collections Librarian at the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries. She earned her BA in Philosophy from the University of West Florida and her MA in Philosophy and MSLIS from the University of North Texas. In her spare time, she collects comic books, trains for roller derby, and supports the arts in as many ways as possible.