What Assistive Tech (AT) hardware and/or software do you recommend as the basics for a public library?

I’m passionate about Universal Accessibility (UA) and have been researching and observing the use of assistive technology (AT) in public libraries since 2008, first as a Library Consultant at NTRLS/NTLP and now as an independent consultant. I started writing this post after a fellow librarian asked me for recommendations of appropriate AT hardware and software for public libraries. When another librarian asked the same question earlier this week, I knew I needed to finish that post ASAP.

I recommend that public libraries start with the following basics and then let the community’s residents guide library personnel as to what more, if anything, may be needed. I emphasize that these recommendations are specifically for the variety of customers who visit public libraries rather than for use by a specific individual.

The really good news is that, if your library offers access to any Mac computer or laptop, or any PC or laptop with Windows Vista, 7 or 8, you already have the basic AT software I would recommend for public libraries.

To demonstrate, I’ll start with something really simple … a magnifier for looking at anything on the Internet.

While you’re looking at this post on the Internet, press the Ctl or control key (Cmd or command key on a Mac) and hold it down while you press the + (plus) key 3 times. The image and text inside your browser window should have increased incrementally each time you pressed the + key.

Now press Ctl (Cmd on a Mac) and hold it down while you press the (minus) key 6 times. Any images and texts in this window should have decreased incrementally each time you pressed the key, going back to the default setting with the third press and continuing to shrink 3 more times after that.

To get back to the default setting right away, simply press Ctl (Cmd on a Mac) and hold it down while you press the O (zero) key. This is a really useful tool not only for quickly helping a customer who has limited vision but also for zooming in on details within graphics or images. I especially like it for archival maps and photos when I need to see a street name or individual’s face.

It’s also possible to use Ctl and the mouse scrollwheel to zoom in and out, but I recommend that you try this out cautiously before using it to help anyone. (The first time I used it I scrolled too quickly and made myself dizzy!)

Note that the two tips described above only work when you’re using a computer or laptop and looking at something on the Internet.

For significantly more AT (Assistive Technology) than that, use the embedded AT software in your PCs, Macs, iPads and iPhones. What it does and how to engage it varies depending on what operating system is in use on a particular computer or mobile device, so I’ll provide only a broad picture of that software plus some links to help library personnel access the software and begin to learn it in order to assist customers.

Apple has been providing AT software on Mac computers and laptops for years and on mobile (IOS) devices as they came out. Anyone who has an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch has access to that software. Apple provides a site that’s handy to bookmark and visit periodically in order to learn about embedded AT available on any Apple device. From that site it’s also easy to access information relating specifically to Mac desktop and laptop computers or specifically to Apple’s mobile devices. Four icons at the top of both pages (vision, hearing, physical and motor skills, learning and literacy) enable quick access to whatever type of assistance a specific customer may need.

Similarly AT software has been embedded in Windows software and enhanced with each new release for the past several years in order to provide at least the minimum required for ADA compliance. You’ve probably seen the Ease of Access iconEase Of Access Iconthat comes up on the first screen of your PC when you start it up. If you click on that, you’ll be able to access all of the imbedded AT tools. Microsoft provides a useful collection of demos, tutorials and guides for those tools as well as a handy comparison of accessibility features in various versions of Windows. This powerpoint presentation for using AT tools embedded in Windows 7 could help library personnel develop similar – or adapted for Vista or Windows 8 – presentations for public training.

The most basic pieces of AT hardware that I would recommend for public libraries are the following:

  • A large-print keyboard
  • One or more high-quality hand-held lighted magnifiers for browsing and reading spine labels in the stacks and also for customers to use while reading or doing research in the library (Watch for a related post coming to this site in the near future.)
  • An ordinary scanner (another future post)

Scanning a print document can make it accessible for use with the library computer’s embedded AT, but be aware that allowing a customer to take that scanned item out of the library needs to be considered in terms of copyright compliance … a topic that is better covered in a blog post of its own.

At this time, I don’t recommend that public libraries automatically provide AT software or hardware that is more user-specific for two reasons. First, individuals who need it often have exactly what they need, set to their preferences and – often – on a device they carry with them. Second, it is difficult to predict specific needs and plan for reasonable accommodation. It is better to wait until a customer asks for a specific item or appears to need more AT than the library provides. Then, together, you can determine the best way for your library to reasonably accommodate that customer and others with similar needs.

Keep watching this site for upcoming posts with more in-depth information on hand-held magnifiers, more-sophisticated software and hardware, useful resources, and planning an accessibility fair.


dona is a consultant for public libraries. She blogs at ElephantInTheLibrary.com

1 Comment on “What Assistive Tech (AT) hardware and/or software do you recommend as the basics for a public library?

  1. Dona,
    Thanks for the information about AT already on the PC! I wasn’t aware of how easy it is to enlarge the print. AND how easy it is to decrease it! I look forward to your other posts.

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