Volume 27, Number 3, Fall 2005

Building Blocks of Adaptive Technology --- It's Not Just About Hardware and Software

by Barbara Mates, Cleveland Public Library

Serving patrons with disabilities includes more than just purchasing hardware and software. In fact, planning should address eight areas identified in the building blocks illustration (see figure 1):

Building Blocks Illustration
Computer Software
Adaptive Computer Hardware, aides
Computer Hardware
Ergonomic workstations, chairs
Environmental conditions, ADA adherence
Staff awareness especiallt resource availability
Dialogue with all staff, especially technical support, patrons special needs

Figure 1: The building blocks of accessibility

Block 1: Dialogue with Staff and Community Groups

Dialogue begins within the library and includes automation technology staff, administrative staff, and public service staff. Many groups in the community should also be included in regular conversations—consumer groups, and representatives from rehabilitation centers, senior living facilities, subsidized housing, schools, other libraries, and media (newspapers, local web sites, radio stations, and television stations).

When communicating, use universal design features:

  • Use 14-point type or larger in print brochures, flyers, and posters
  • Use a sans serif type font.
  • Use paper with a flat finish.
  • Use ink and paper colors that contrast with each other; avoid violet hues.
  • Keep pages simple and uncluttered.
  • Provide alternate media when possible.

Block 2: Staff Awareness, Especially Resource Availability

Together, all staff (not just Outreach and Special Services staff) must determine what keeps people with disabilities from using the library. Disabilities might include visual impairment, blindness, learning differences, cognitive impairments, physical impairments, hearing impairments, or unfamiliarity with English.

Barriers that “handicap” people might be physical—limited access to print information, poor Web or database design, or lack of adaptive equipment—or attitudinal—ignorance or insensitivity by people without disabilities.

The incidence of disabilities increases with age. By age 75, 63.7 percent of individuals have a slight or severe disability (Chart 2). By 2030, ten states—Florida, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wyoming, North Dakota, Delaware, New Mexico, Montana, Maine, and West Virginia—will have more people over 65 than under.

Staff must know:

  • For what each piece of hardware and software is used and who can use it.
  • Where the equipment is located and be able to give specific directions to get to the equipment.
  • How to use the equipment and software (and never say: “Gee, I don’t know how to use it, because not that many people ask.”)

Block 3: Environmental Conditions

Environmental conditions must be conducive to access. The building itself should be ALA accessible. For more information on requirements and specifications, visit the ADA Regulations and Technical Assistance Materials Web site.

The equipment should be in an area that is obstacle-free, centrally located, and easy to find, not relegated to a quiet, low-traffic corner. Good lighting without glare is essential.

Block 4: Ergonomic Workstations and Chairs

Accessible furniture gives equipment a good foundation. Start with ALA compliant tables, adjustable workstations, and sturdy ergonomic chairs with arms that will allow patrons with physical disabilities to transfer from a wheelchair or scooter to the chair.

Block 5: Computer Hardware

Patrons with disabilities want the same current, high-speed computers that other users demand. Purchase a relatively high-end computer with a monitor measuring at least 19 inches.

Block 6: Adaptable Technology Hardware

To the computer workstation, add a variety of hardware that will make it easy to use by patrons with a variety of disabilities:
  • Braille displays
  • OCR scanners
  • CCTV (Closed Caption TV?)
  • Specialized keyboards such as micro-keyboards and maxi-keyboards.
  • Mouse alternatives, such as touch pads, joysticks, trackballs
  • Online keyboards, tracker 3000
  • Jellybean switches
Other low-cost tools include:
  • Pres-Ply large print key tops
  • Bold tip pens
  • Instructions and forms in large print
  • Pocket talker
  • Circulating phone amplifier
  • Circulating hand magnifier

Block 7: Adaptable Technology Software

Several software packages also improve accessibility, including
  • Screen readers such as JAWS and WindowEyes
  • Text enlargement displays such as ZoomText or Magic
  • Scanning software for learning disabilities, such as Kurzweil 3000, WYNN, Read and Write Gold
  • Voice recognition software, such as IBM ViaVoice
No-cost Microsoft accessibility software also offers solutions such as Show Pointer Trails, On-Screen Keyboard, StickyKeys, Mouse Keys, Toggle Keys, and AutoComplete.

Block 8: Goodies

Once the basics are in place, the library has the opportunity to add cutting edge digital technology such as digitized books and digital playback equipment.

What Else Can You Do to Assure Access?

Once the library has stacked the building blocks of accessibility high, there are a number of additional actions it can take to continue to broaden access:
  • Incorporate accessibility into collection development decisions, so that the library routinely chooses materials—print and digital—that can be easily accessed.
  • When the library discovers a database or Web site that is not accessible, let the vendor know.
  • For sites that are not easily accessible, provide a narrative description of what the site “looks” like for patrons who are having difficulty.
  • Encourage e-book providers to incorporate products such as eMonocle to improve accessibility.
  • Meet regularly with individuals who have access needs to determine what is working at the library, where there are barriers, and what else is needed.
  • Individually and institutionally, continue to learn more about accessibility.