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.
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:
Flexibility in Use
Simple and Intuitive Use
Tolerance for Error
Low Physical Effort
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)
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.
Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 presented regulations to ensure accessibility to buildings and facilities for people with disabilities. Section 8 of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities from the United States Access Board provides specific guidelines for libraries. In addition to the standard building guidelines, these additional regulations increase physical accessibility to study and reading areas, checkout, card catalogs, magazine racks, and stacks. However, following the regulations of the ADA should just be a start. To be a truly inclusive environment, libraries must reach beyond simply providing the traditional accommodations for ambulatory impairments. Those with special needs require not only access to the physical building and materials, but also access to the information within.