New Survey: Only 54% of Adults w/ Disabilities are Online

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project report on digital difference:

“The 27% of adults living with disability in the U.S. today are significantly less likely than adults without a disability to go online (54% vs. 81%). Furthermore, 2% of adults have a disability or illness that makes it more difficult or impossible for them to use the internet at all.”


Libraries can play a vital role in providing both information and computer literacy training to the special needs population. It is vital that librarians are up-to-date on resources that are pertinent to their needs in order to help them view the Internet as a relevant resource. Additionally, rather than keeping special keyboards and pointing devices behind the desk, creating an assistive technology workstation ensures that the library’s technology offerings are always inviting and accessible to those living with a disability.

Announcing your inclusive practices in an inclusive manner

In this video currently making its rounds on the Internet, the Wimpy burger chain announced their new Braille menu with hand-crafted sesame seed Braille hamburger buns. While the step to create an inclusive restaurant experience is commendable, the burger chain is missing the point in this promotional campaign. By creating a video without audio narration, they have posted something that is completely inaccessible to the target audience.

This can be a lesson to any library introducing new services to the special needs community: deliver your large-scale informational campaign in a manner that can actually be received by the population proper.

NIH Senior Health and Web Accessibility

A 2009 study on the effects of education intervention on health information literacy in low socioeconomic senior citizens explored how information literacy training could improve their online searching skills. The study explained that physical, hearing, and visual impairments, which often increase with age, were some of the barriers to many senior citizens attempting online searches for health information. (1, p. 12)

The NIH SeniorHealth web site ( is a prime example of web accessibility. Though the website has colorful images, they are presented in a very uncluttered manner. Not only can the text be magnified, but contrast can also be set to create a black background with yellow writing. Speech can also be turned on to have all text read aloud within the browser. Information is arranged in an easy-to-navigate manner and all text is an easy-to-read level of comprehension.

(1) Chu A, Huber J, Mastel-Smith B, Cesario S. Partnering with Seniors for Better Health: computer use and Internet health information retrieval among older adults in a low socioeconomic community. J Med Libr Assoc 2009 Jan;97(1):12-20. doi: 10.3163/1536-5050.97.1.003

Assistive Technologies in the Library

Book: Assistive Technologies in the Library“Assistive technology” can be an intimidating (and expensive) phrase. However, it includes a wide variety of resources. Touch screens, alternative keyboards and pointing instruments, voice synthesizers, audio input, and large switches can be helpful to those with a variety of impairments. Likewise audiobooks and large-print resources are not only imperative for those with vision problems, but also can be helpful to those with learning disabilities. Those with vision and hearing disabilities can have difficulty in accessing resources once at the library due to communication challenges. Libraries do not typically staff sign language interpreters, though this is the primary form of communication for many in the Deaf community. Nor do most libraries provide Braille materials in the stacks for blind patrons. Even directional signs, including call numbers, can be difficult for those with dyslexia or dyscalculia to find materials on the shelves.

If you are looking for one comprehensive resource to give a complete overview of assistive technologies, Assistive Technologies in the Library by Barbara T. Mates is highly recommended. For libraries looking to start incorporating assistive technology in their institutions, the checklist of “Ten Items a Library Should Put on the Front Burner” is a optimal place to start:

1. Support an accessible website, and purchase accessible electronic data.

2. Purchase screen-enlarging software.

3. Purchase screen-reading software and oversize monitors.

4. Enable the library’s operating systems’s built-in accessibility attributes to be activated.

5. Purchase a collection of low-cost alternative input devices, such as trackballs, joysticks, and touch screens.

6. Purchase portable high-end magnifying devices (e.g., CCTVs)

7. Purchase assistive-listening devices and acquire a video relay system.

8. Purchase task lighting for workstations and work to reduce glare.

9. Purchase an adjustable worktable that can be raised or lowered depending on need.

and most important

10. Invest in training for library’s staff. (p. 165)

Published in 2011, this book is extremely up-to-date and covers a wide spectrum of disabilities, technologies, and resources. Available from the American Library Association ($55).

Mates BT, Reed WR. Assistive technologies in the library. Chicago: American Library Association; 2011.

Understanding Assistive Technology – Video

Understanding Assistive Technology – PACER Simon Technology Center

The Simon Technology Center (STC) at Minnesota’s PACER Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) presents a simple, illustrative definition of assistive technology. The STC provides assistive technology consultations and training in addition to a lending library. Their video presents a welcome reminder that assistive technology is not necessarily cost-prohibitive. The first example of assistive technology given is a simple foam grip that allows a child to hold a crayon. Eye glasses and corrective lenses are perhaps the most common form of assistive technology, and a reminder that many library patrons have special needs even if they are not considered to have a disability.

To find local resources in your state, the PACER Center recommends: The Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs (

Universal Design for Learning

Introduction to UDL (Center for Applied Special Technology)

The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) leads the Universal Design for Learning movement based upon their research to improve instruction to children with special needs. UDL takes into account various learning styles of individuals in education and instruction. Universal Design for Learning considers neurological differences in the recognition, strategic, and affective networks in the brain, providing multiple means of representation (recognition network), action and expression (strategic network), and  engagement (expression network) in instructional strategies. The concepts of UDL can be applied to both health and information literacy in any biomedical library, and could be especially useful for those in academic health sciences libraries.

Center for Applied Special Technology. About UDL. [cited 2011 December 8]. Available at:

The Universal Design Movement

Initially, the term “Universal Design” was coined by architect, Ronald L. Mace, a graduate and affiliate of North Carolina State University. Universal Design (UD) is “the idea that all new environments and products to the greatest extent possible should be usable by everyone regardless of age, ability, or circumstance.” (1) His work eventually led to founding the Center for Universal Design based at NCSU.

The seven principles for Universal Design are:

  1. Equitable Use
  2. Flexibility in Use
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use
  4. Perceptible Information
  5. Tolerance for Error
  6. Low Physical Effort
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use (1)
A 2009 article by  Ann S. Williams, PhD, RN, CDE  in Diabetes Education, encourages the adoption of UD principles not only in medical devices used to monitor diabetes, but also in Diabetes Self-Management Education (DSME), emphasizing a strategy to accommodate not just the 90% of average users, but as close to 100% as possible (2, p. 2)

As an illustration, consider a DSME class that contains persons with hearing loss, visual impairment, and ADD, as well as those without current disability. If essential material is simultaneously presented in both audible and visual formats – for example, using colorful illustrations in a slide presentation with detailed verbal description from the instructor – persons with hearing loss, visual impairments, and ADD will be better able to perceive, attend, and understand it. Adding a lively participatory game will enhance the attention of the person with ADD. Making all classroom materials available in printed handouts, and also in audio-recordings or digital format ensures that persons with visual impairment or ADD can review the information at their own pace and in their own way. (2, p. 5-6)

UD presents principles that are applicable to the biomedical field as a whole, and can be integral in overall health literacy and efforts in all biomedical libraries. As William proposes, if we begin new strategies with Universal Design principles in mind, we can potentially eliminate the need to add “adaptations or special design” at a later date. (2, p. 7)

(1) North Carolina State University, Center for Universal Design. 
The Principles of Universal Design. 2011; [cited 2011 December 7] Available at:

(2) Williams AS. Universal design in diabetes care: an idea whose time has come. Diabetes Educ 2009 Jan-Feb;35(1):45-57. doi:10.1177/0145721708329700

Creating an OPAC Low-Vision Workstation

In 1993 Patricia P. Nelson, M.L.S., M.A., AssistantDirector of the Denison Memorial Library, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center oversaw the creating a low-vision workstation for online catalog access. As the UCHSC is in a separate location from the rest of the campus, and other libraries, they saw a need to introduce special needs services locally within their institution.

The project was funded by a $12,000 grant from the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) of the Colorado State Library. The grant itself was an interesting partnership as this fund allocates monies to public libraries, and the UCHSC Library successfully pleaded their case as a public health information provider. Likewise, the Denison Memorial Library’s use of CARL OPAC software presented the opportunity to create a workstation that could be a blueprint for other Colorado Alliance Research Libraries. (p. 1)

Though both this article and workstation are now nearly twenty years old, and assistive technology has improved significantly, the process in securing funds, researching technology, and incorporating the workstation into their existing OPAC software is valuable to any biomedical library interested in expanding their services to those with low vision.

Nelson PP. A low-vision workstation for online catalog access: empowering persons with visual disabilities. Bull Med Libr Assoc 1995 Apr;83(2):247-248. Available from:

Key U.S. Disability Legislation

In the past three decades there have been numerous laws and regulations passed to both prevent discrimination based upon disability and also support such individuals with special needs. Here are three key acts to introduce you to the topic:

  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Section 504 protects against discrimination based upon mental or physical disability from organization that receive federal funding. Section 508 additionally requires accessible information technology. (1)
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990: prohibits discriminate solely on the basis of disability in employment, public services, and accommodations. (2)
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): embraces children with special needs in education. Children and youth (ages 3-21) receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B. Infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth – 2) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. (3)

Please see “A Guide to Disability Rights Laws” (September 2005) at for more information about these and other disability laws.

(1) United States Access Board. The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1973, as amended. [cited 2011 December 7]. Available at:

(2) United States Department of Justice. AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990, AS AMENDED. 2009 [cited 2011 December 7]. Available at:

(3) National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. IDEA—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. [cited 2011 December 7]. Available at:


AbleData is a review website for assistive technology maintained by the The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) that aims for objectivity, and does not sell any products.    The assistive technology product database includes the following categories:

AbleData also provides lists of regional, national, and international resources and conferences. A searchable assistive technology literature library includes links to thousands of publications on 45 different topics, along with downloadable fact sheets on each major category of assistive technology. One of the more interesting documents on the site is their Guide to Indexing Terms, which is helpful in researching information both on the AbleData site and other databases.

AbleData is an excellent resource for biomedical librarians not when considering assistive technology purchases, but also as an informative resource referral for clinicians and patients alike.


The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR):