Volume 26, Number 3, Fall 2004

Grants Fund Assistive Technology at Duquesne University

Maureen Diana Sasso, with David A. Nolfi and Melodie Frankovitch

The Assistive Technology Center (ATC) at Duquesne University's Gumberg Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania provides technology to allow those with special needs to do their own research. It was designed to assist students with visual disabilities, blindness, hearing disabilities, learning disabilities, and with limited English. ATC provides a comfortable workspace for blind library users and their assistance dogs. It accommodates individual students as well as instructors working side by side with their students.

Construction of ATC in 2001 was made possible by a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant supplemented with funds from Duquesne University. ATC houses two networked PCs that allow users to print to either the braille printer or the library's network printers. A third PC on a multimedia cart can be used anywhere in the building thanks to a second LSTA grant that enabled the library to expand its wireless network.

ATC provides access to the full range of software the library makes available on all of its public access computers, including the Microsoft Office suite. Students can do their research using library databases and the Web, and type their papers at the same computer.

Specialized software available in the ATC includes:

  • Jaws - reads the content of each screen to the user.
  • Arkenstone Openbook - allows users who are blind and visually disabled to read, edit, and manage scanned images from books, journals, and other printed documents. Converts scanned material to allow it to be read aloud by the computer.
  • Wynn Wizard - assists users with difficulty reading by allowing them to modify the appearance of the page to suit their needs; helps students study by allowing them to highlight passages and make voice or written annotations.
  • Co:Writer - helps students build and write complete sentences.
  • ZoomText - enlarges screens for users with low vision.
  • GoodFeel Dancing Dots Braille music translation software - transcribes braille music.
Dragon Naturally Speaking will be added in fall 2004 to accommodate students who need to speak to rather than type on the computers. ATC also offers a closed-captioned television (CCTV) that allows users to magnify the computer screen, their notes, or other reading materials.

Duquesne University’s assistive technology is not limited to the library’s ATC. Zoomtext is available in a number of labs on campus. Zoomtext and CCTVs are available in the library’s classroom that doubles as a public computer lab and as its main public computing area. A personal reading machine purchased to replace the library’s outdated Kurzweil reading machine is an indicator of the library staff’s long-term interest in using technology to allow researchers to work independently.

ATC is used by students, special education instructors, tutors, and faculty and administrators who need to provide such accommodations as brailled exams. The only concern that the librarians had in adding so much assistive technology was the need to provide significant training and support. This need has not materialized. For the most part those who use ATC are extremely self-sufficient. Working with them has been a rewarding and sometimes humbling experience. The library’s IT staff have been able to maintain and upgrade the equipment with few problems. The sole downside has been that ATC has not been used as extensively as hoped, therefore the library plans to promote the ATC more extensively in conjunction with Duquesne’s Office of Special Student Services and via the website.

This article is based on “Library Provides Assistive Technology” appearing in the October 2001 issue of Gumberg Library’s newsletter, BiblioTech. It can be found at the library's web site. For more information, contact Diana Sasso, Director of the Information Services Division, Gumberg Library at Duquesne University, by phone at (412) 396-5680 or by e-mail.