Volume 25, Number 3, 2003

The Library Technology Access Initiative Delivers Benefits to Patrons with Disabilities

by: Linda Musthaler, Hewlett-Packard Company

In October 2002, the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) joined forces with Hewlett-Packard Company (HP) to create an initiative with the charter to develop accessible computer workstations for libraries nationwide. The initiative, called Library Technology Access (LTA), creates a reference platform of PC-based workstations from HP that address the needs of library patrons with visual, hearing, mobility, and learning disabilities. This full-service offering brings a new level of information accessibility to people with disabilities, connecting them with the benefits and opportunities of the information revolution.

“The LTA initiative is meant to be a guide for other libraries around the world,” says Michael Takemura, director, HP Accessibility Program Office. “We wanted to build a reference platform and demonstrate its versatility for helping people with various types of disabilities. The success of the program at the first six libraries shows that we have developed a good working model that can be easily replicated.”

Marilyn Irwin, ASCLA member and director of the Office of Dissemination, Indiana Institute on Disability/Community, was instrumental in working with HP on the LTA initiative. “HP has really listened to the libraries in terms of what they need,” says Ms. Irwin. “They didn’t just ‘throw equipment’ at the problem. They learned what each library needed and customized the solution.”

As the first phase of LTA, ASCLA and HP selected six libraries in the U.S. to demonstrate the solution and serve as a proof-of-concept for libraries nationwide:

  • Cleveland Public Library
  • Milwaukee Public Library
  • Johnson County Public Library (Kansas)
  • San Diego Public Library
  • University of South Dakota
  • Arizona State University
Each of these libraries received equipment and essential services from HP, including installation and library staff training. HP also provided the libraries with online “webinars” to help familiarize patrons and staffers in the use and features of the assistive technologies and the adjustable work surfaces.

The solution includes two HP workstations set up to accommodate many different types of disabilities. Software, assistive technology devices, and the setup of the workstations themselves aid persons with the following types of functional limitations, as well as other limitations, to access and enjoy both library and Internet resources:

  • Blindness/low vision
  • Deafness/hearing impairment
  • Arthritis, one-handed use
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome or upper extremity repetitive stress disorder
  • Tremors
  • Learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities
  • Back problems
One of the workstations is optimized to accommodate persons with low vision or blindness or who are hard-of-hearing or deaf. It includes a full screen reading software program that reads aloud both information that the user types in and information that is already provided on the computer monitor. The PC also has a screen magnification software program for persons with low vision, and reading software that works with a scanner to convert printed materials to be read aloud to the user. A special keyboard provides enlarged and bold printed keys to assist persons with low vision in finding the correct keys to press. Hearing problems are addressed with closed-captioning and visual cues of certain computer functions. Finally, a closed-circuit television (CCTV) provides increased magnification for printed material.

At Arizona State University, graduate student and library patron Jessicah Newton is thrilled with the completeness of the configuration of the HP LTA workstation for low vision patrons. She is blind and has struggled in the past due to not having all the necessary assistive programs and equipment together in one place. “This HP workstation has eliminated the need for me to carry around heavy laptops, cables and connectors,” says Ms. Newton. “Scanning a document for editing, reading virtually any printed material, converting files for brailling and/or editing, and even working with professional databases and having complicated information at my fingertips – these tasks are now possible for me.”

The second workstation provides computer access for persons with mobility problems or learning disabilities. Mobility issues are addressed with a variety of keyboards, touch pads, joysticks, trackballs and infrared technology for interacting with the PC. In addition, the work surface includes an adjustable desk and articulating keyboard platform, which create a usable work surface for differing wheelchair heights.

Learning or cognitive disabilities are addressed with software that can read aloud text on the screen, provide enhanced spell checking, predict words the user tries to type, and check homonyms to assist persons with writing composition difficulties. A reading comprehension program converts printed or digital material into text that is read aloud. It can be combined with highlighting features to aid in visual tracking for auditory learners and persons who have difficulty reading.

Kathleen Olsen, director of the I CAN! Center at the San Diego Public Library, tells about a woman with cerebral palsy who comes into the library on a regular basis. Because of the poor motor control in her hands, this patron has difficulty using a mouse or touchpad. The joystick device that attaches to one of the HP workstations is ideal for her. “It works just like the joystick on her wheelchair,” explains Olsen. “Because it feels familiar to her, the PC joystick has allowed her to double her productivity in working with the computer.” This patron also finds the large-key keyboard to be most useful.

Patrons are encouraged to learn about the equipment and software programs through the use of online webinars developed by HP. These concise training modules present auditory and visual instructions for the programs offered and review every aspect of the workstation components.

“HP has a well-thought-out, turn-key approach to implementing assistive technology. They really thought about what was needed, and gave us the flexibility to select the exact tools and software that would work well for us,” says Olsen. “Everything -- from the electrically adjustable tables, to the joysticks and keyboards, to the training and support -- is well done.”

To learn more about the LTA platform, including the specific hardware and software lists, as well as for updates from the initial six libraries, please visit the HP Web Site.

For more information on how your library or community can implement accessible HP workstations to bring greater access and more enjoyment to people of all ability levels, please write to accessibility@hp.com.