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.

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MLA Guide to Health Literacy

MLA Guide to Health Literacy
The Medical Library Association Guide to Health Literacy is a comprehensive introduction to the topic of health literacy in both the public and hospital library, including service to special populations. Included in the discussion of special populations is “Health Literacy for People with Disabilities” by Shelley Hourston.

Hourston discusses the barriers to health literacy facing the special needs population along with a brief overview of various disabilities: physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, brain injury, low vision or blindness, low hearing or deafness, mental health disabilities, and learning disabilities. Hourston notes that health literacy can be especially important for those with disabilities as they also tend to have an increased use of medication (p. 119).


Kars M, Baker L, Wilson FL,. The Medical Library Association guide to health literacy. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers; 2008.