Friday, May 9, 2008

The Technology of Inclusion on a Shoestring

The Technology of Inclusion on a Shoestring

Mary-Anne Parker O'Toole, Director of Information Management/Librarian, Institute for Human Centered Design, Adaptive Environments;

Linda Stetson, Director, Millis Public Library

Mary-Anne has long been interested in the technology of inclusion. Another word for technology is tools, especially for people with disabilities. Tools help extend human capabilities.

When considering tools for your library, ask: Who are your users? What do they need/want to be able to do? It is also important to identify resources for funding, especially in-house funding, community resources, and other potential partnerships.

The changing demographics dictate disabling conditions to consider for appropriating tools for the library. the baby boomers recall issues of arthritis, macular degeneration, diabetes, and heart disease.

Demographics are also changing among children. There are fewer children born with physical disabilities. there are, however, many more children with cognitive issues, such as ADHD, or autism(s). There are also issues with deteriorating vision or hearing.

The old definition of disability includes "Blind, Deaf, Physically disabled, or Cognitively impaired." The new definition of disability is "based on the intersection of the person and the environment(s), Social, Built/Natural, Communication, Information." This is based on the WHO and UN standards of disabilities. Social includes attitudinal variables; built includes physical barriers; communication includes barriers of signs and signage.

Linda was first interested in disabilities when her husband became paralyzed from the waist down and attended library school in Indiana on a scholarship to study disability services.

Linda discussed the tools for visual impairment. Low tech devices can include such things as magnifying glasses, copy machines that can enlarge copies to make type larger, and portable bright task lights. Low tech tools also include duel print-braille text books to enable blind and non-blind patrons to read together. Even Playboy in braille was discussed as an enhancement feature for patrons who truly want to read the magazine for the articles :)

Computers can also compensate for visual, cognitive, physical, or hearing issues/impairments. Some simple approaches to enhancing service for visual impairment include making a text on the screen larger, or the text on a document bigger. A librarian can also record a voice over, or make the browser talk. Mary-Ann gave a demo on Audacity, a tool for incorporating voice-overs. Audacity is a free tool (open source software), downloadable from the web. Linda also made a pitch for EASI, an initiative from the University of Rochester, which is a provider of online training for online training on accessible information technology for persons with disabilities. Other tools include a talking browser can be done through a firefox add on called Fire Vox. Magpie is also another resource that offers free software to caption videos, as does Overstream. Even YouTube is introducing captioning options. Any computer in the library can be enhanced.

Linda and Mary-Ann promote other easy enhancements throughout the library. Software can compensate for visual, cognitive, physical, hearing and sensory impairments. Cognitive adjustments/enhancements can be made through a proliferation of icons and sybols, plain language writing, color coding things on both website and in the library, such as color coded stripes on the floor of the hospital, and even computers that are set to read out loud. Even a kurzweil machine is helpful, available at many libraries, that can scan a document to enhance the print, or read it aloud.

For hearing impairments, pencil and paper works quite well, Mary-Ann explains; however, Linda cautions that for a person who was born without hearing writing may not be as intelligible as you might think. Sometimes putting sign language into print is difficult. Mary-Ann explains that Sorensen makes a video conferencing phone that allows the deaf to sign to each other. Captioned video can be effective, as is captioning video. The deaf have embraced video blogging, or VLOGS, and captioning capabilities. Jared Evans, something of a deaf tech pioneer, has put up vlogs specifically for hearing impaired online.

It is also important to consider sensory impairments, and consider quiet spaces for the library. Try to have a space that eliminates flashing screens. Also, consider the color of the walls and furnishings. Sensory considerations might include items such as chimes and water for both ambiance and audible cues.

It is important to remember that utilities for persons with disabilities are available on the cheap through open source software, especially for libraries on a tight budget--and what library isn't on a tight budget? Many of the tools mentioned above are available for free online. be sure to check the web for resources before you fork over big bucks. Just be sure to consider the value of these tools and resources for your patrons--a diverse and thriving group!

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