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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Deaf Health Education Partnership: University of Pittsburgh HSLS & Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf

Seeking to improve the health information literacy, the Health Sciences Library System (HSLS) at the University of Pittsburgh partnered with the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (WPSD) in project also supported in part by the National Library of Medicine. Reference Librarians from the University of Pittsburgh worked with WPSD health educators and the learning center director to create  health eduction curriculum for the students which covered Internet health searches, health website evaluation, and an introduction to MedlinePlus.

Communication barriers to health information in the Deaf community can arise not only due to the hearing disability proper, but also in translating English to ASL (American Sign Language) and explaining complicated medical terminology. The partnership created a valuable exchange for all involved. WPSD staff educated the University Reference Librarian in techniques to improve communication with the Deaf, while the librarian instructed both staff and students to conduct authoritative Internet searches for health information.


Gregg AL, Wozar JA, Wessel CB, Epstein BA. Designing a curriculum on Internet health resources for deaf high school students. J Med Libr Assoc 2002 Oct;90(4):431-436. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC128959/

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: http://www.ncsu.edu/project/design-projects/udi/center-for-universal-design/.

(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

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.

AbleData

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.


AbleData: http://www.abledata.com

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR): http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/nidrr/index.html