Volume 26, Number 3, Fall 2004

Serving the Underserved: The Vision Project

Marcia Pietrala

Efforts at Reeves Memorial Library, Seton Hill University, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, to serve the underserved have targeted various groups and taken many forms. One such effort has been the Vision Project. This project has been designed to help patrons with visual impairments to access our library resources and to increase awareness of visual impairments and assistive technology.

Through a Library Services and Technology Act grant, Reeves Memorial Library was able to accomplish many of the goals of this project and greatly expand its assistive services and technology. Thanks to this grant, the library’s print, visual, and online collections now have much wider accessibility. Of course, more accessibility means expanded service.

Two items of technology made possible by the grant - an optical character recognition (OCR) device and a video magnifier - have increased the availability of the print collection. The OCR device "reads" text after being scanned and allows the library to provide reading services. It resembles a portable copy machine and operates in a similar manner. First the cover on top of the device is lifted, then a book is placed face down and scanned. After a few seconds processing, the OCR is ready to read the page. Library patrons have the choice of scanning and reading one page at a time, scanning then reading many pages at one sitting, or scanning a page or pages now and saving the pages for reading at another time.

While the OCR device is an audio device, the video magnifier is purely visual. It has a monitor with a tray beneath it. The tray holds printed material and projects an image onto the monitor screen above. The image can be adjusted according to size, clarity, brightness, or position. Because of this technology, the library can accommodate patrons with various types of visual needs.

With a large-screen computer monitor and screen-magnification software with speech, the library’s online resources and the Internet are now more accessible. The large-screen computer monitor functions the same as a large-screen television set by increasing the size of the overall picture. The screen magnification software with speech further enhances the workstation’s capabilities by enlarging any specifically chosen point on the screen even more and then providing verbal renditions of the text through an attached headset.

Other assistive technology provided by the LSTA grant has given the library’s visual collection wider availability. This has been made possible with a large screen DVD/VCR monitor. In addition, the grant provided a speech recognition program with headset, accessible carrels, task stool chairs with arms, an audio system, and portable phonograph. Each item gave Reeves Memorial Library the opportunity to serve more students, faculty, alumni, and Sisters of Charity, the religious order that founded Seton Hill University.

The grant has also increased awareness of visual impairments and assistive technology. Students working on education certification at Seton Hill now have the chance to learn firsthand about this type of technology and can incorporate its use into their prospective curricula. Human Resource majors, as well as those studying social work, have also benefited by the learning opportunities this equipment has provided.

Future plans to increase accessibility are now focused on the library Web site. Currently Reeves Memorial Library’s home page is being examined and evaluated to determine what, if any, changes must occur to assure that the website is ADA-compliant.

For more information, contact Marcia Pietrala, Reference and Public Services, Reeves Memorial Library, by phone: 724-838-4291, or by email.