How Assistive Technology (AT) in public libraries compares with what’s intended for individual use

If you’ve read the earlier post about large print keyboards and overlays, you may remember that it ended with a note that there would be a post providing more information about what those items have to do with public libraries. Since it’s hard to separate the explanation from a comparison of Accessible Technology (AT) intended for public vs individual use, I’ve decided to address both issues in this post.

First, I need to provide at least a very tiny bit about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and why library personnel should be familiar with it. Because public libraries fall under Title II of the ADA – State and Local Governments, those facilities, their services and their staffing must be ADA compliant. In a very small nutshell, that means that public libraries need to enable equitable access to information for and communication with all individuals, including those who are differently-abled.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) offers and encourages duplication of an easy-to-understand seven-page document on Effective Communication. I highly recommend that library personnel read that item ASAP, in order to get a basic understanding of what ADA compliance means for public libraries, and even bookmark the site in case the information is ever needed on short notice.

According to that article, “Covered entities may require reasonable advance notice from people requesting aids or services, based on the length of time needed to acquire the aid or service, but may not impose excessive advance notice requirements. ‘Walk-in’ requests for aids and services must also be honored to the extent possible.”

This, to me, suggests that it is wise for all public libraries to assure that they can provide at least the most basic AT – hardware as well as software – for public use in order to honor those “walk-in” requests to at least some extent.

Many individuals will be using the library’s computers, software and other hardware, and their needs will vary widely. As a result, the most basic AT for public libraries must be not only more durable, easily maintained and flexible but also less individual-specific than any basic AT that might purchased for use by only one person.

I recommend that public libraries start with the basic AT items and let your customers guide you as to what more, if anything, may be needed. The DoJ article mentioned above provides some useful guidelines on determining what must be done to meet the needs of specific individuals.

In the past few years, advances in technology have made basic AT much more widely available and much less expensive, so it is reasonable for a differently-abled patron to expect even a small public library to provide these services. Universal Design (UD) has made it possible for a greater percentage of the population to use the same technology, enabling a significant number of people with disabilities to use the library without having to request special accommodations.

As library personnel consider hardware and software purchases, it would be wise to keep UD in mind since it not only serves the needs of more individuals all at once but also helps the library assure compliance with ADA regulations.


dona is a consultant for public libraries. She blogs at

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