Library 2.0: Are You Ready for the Assistive Technologies Your Library Patrons Are Using?

Have you tried to navigate a stroller over a curb and then attempted to open a heavy door to get inside a store? (Did we mention your child is also crying and demanding lunch?) And, it’s raining.

Well, imagine what life is like for people in wheelchairs or those with canes or walkers. Everyday errands are so much more challenging than you might realize. When Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, urban planning and building design responded with positive and inclusive changes.

Those automatic sci-fi doors first seen on Star Trek are now everywhere. Bonus, automatic doors can also save businesses money because they open only when needed, cutting down on energy waste and reducing heating costs. Also, there are no fingerprints on the doors that require extra cleaning.

Inclusive design benefits everyone.

What does it mean to your library patrons and visitors?

Libraries, in many ways, are social integrators as well as sources of information and discovery. Everybody is welcome to be part of the library community and feel they belong. Which means that equitable access that serves the unique needs of all individuals is truly a cornerstone of how libraries are designed and operated.

Inclusive design is paramount in neighborhood bricks-and-mortar physical library branches as well as the emerging digital library space online.


Computer with a refreshable braille display.Visually impaired computer users who cannot use a standard computer monitor can use a refreshable braille display to read text output. The device electronically raises and lowers different combinations of round-tipped pins raised through holes on a flat surface. Photo by Elizabeth Woolner on Unsplash.


Inclusive Design Can Overcome Obstacles for People with Disabilities

If we’re looking for a silver lining coming out of the pandemic, the shift to doing things digitally, from ordering groceries to borrowing library books, makes the world a little more democratic. People can do most things remotely without leaving the comfort of their homes.

We’ve discussed digital accessibility and why it matters in the first blog of this series on the subject, and the design guidelines to help improve your library’s online services in blog two.

Next, we’re delving deeper into the concept of inclusive design, along with the assistive devices and technologies that your library visitors are relying on to access your services. More understanding about the challenges and available aids can help you develop a culture of accessibility in your library.

You’ve likely heard about voice recognition software for hands-free computer use, and screen readers that convert online content to other forms, such as text-to-speech and braille. When these assistive technologies make your online services accessible, they open virtual doors—and bridge barriers to communication, interaction, and information. 

New research by the Centre for Inclusive Design, in partnership with global technology innovators Adobe and Microsoft, has found that when services and products are designed with the needs of people experiencing poverty, disability, or the effects of aging they can reach four times the number of intended consumers and positively impact the bottom line of organizations.

“Designers, companies, and government all have a role to play, by designing, investing, and legislating with difference in mind, so that a design process that is inclusive becomes standard practice,” says Manisha Amin, CEO of the Centre for Inclusive Design.

Microsoft, for one, is working to empower people with disabilities with products like the Seeing AI app that narrates the visual world for people with low vision, and the Xbox Adaptive Controller with two oversize buttons that are easy to hit. The company is also promoting initiatives like the autism hiring program to attract more people with disabilities to play a greater role in developing the technology.


No Mouse Required: Speech Software, Head Pointers, and Motion Tracking

There’s a broad definition of people with disabilities. They access and navigate the internet in many different ways, depending on needs and preferences, and rely on different ways to perceive the content, as the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative outlines.

Perception can be auditory, as in speech, music, and sound that can be heard. Or tactile, where bars, dots, and vibrations can be felt. Then there’s visual, where text, images, and video can be seen.

With this in mind, let’s outline some examples of assistive tools that your library visitors could be using.

Adaptive keyboards: While ergonomic split keyboards are popular to help reduce repetitive strain injury, there are several modified keyboards made for people with an access requirement.

If you have limited dexterity or motor control, for example, there are keyboards with larger surface areas and raised metal keyguard to help the user avoid typos and accidental keystrokes. There are also high contrast keyboards that help people with visual impairments differentiate the keys, and keyboard plastic sheet overlays that have specific keys or functions marked in different colors or replaced with symbols that make a standard keyboard accessible.

Alternative input devices: Not everyone uses a keyboard and mouse to operate a computer. There are various alternatives that can be used by a person’s feet, mouth, breath, eyes, thumb, or single finger.


Video about Jared, born with cerebral palsy, who uses a “sip and puff” switch to use the computer.

Check out this inspiring video about Jared, born with cerebral palsy, who uses a “sip and puff” switch to use the computer. He inhales and exhales small breaths into a device connected to a computer interface that scans the screen.


Other input devices include head pointers that mount on the person’s head and push keys on the keyboard for people who can’t use their hands, and single switch buttons that send a signal to the computer (customized to perform any action you want it to). There are foot switches that work in a similar way but look like pedals rather than large buttons.

On a webpage, for instance, the cursor moves through the webpage, and if the user wants to click on a link or button when that link or button is in focus, they can activate the switch. There are also motion-tracking devices that watch a target or follow the user’s eyes to interpret where the user wants to place the mouse pointer and moves it for them.



BiblioCommons Brochure: Providing An Accessible and Inclusive Digital Library Experience


Providing An Accessible and Inclusive Digital Library Experience

It’s up to software vendors and users to create inclusive digital spaces. Find out how we’re doing that in BiblioCommons products.

See How We're Accessible


When Reading a Computer Screen Is a Challenge…

Screen readers: Consider JAWS for Windows, NVDA or Voiceover for Mac. Innovative software helps blind or visually impaired people read the content of the computer screen. The University of California, Berkeley is a great resource for promoting web access, outlining the software and hardware available.

Screen magnification software: This gives the user control over the size of text or graphics on the screen. Unlike the zoom feature, these applications let the person see the enlarged text in relation to the rest of the screen, much like a handheld magnifier. Some of the software, like ZoomText Fusion and SuperNova, has both magnification and speech functionality so you can boost magnification, replace difficult colors, and announce punctuation.

Text readers: This software reads text with a synthesized voice and even has a highlighter to emphasize each word being spoken. Note, however, these readers can’t read navigation menus or types of elements, just the text.

Speech input software: Dictation software like Dragon converts speech to text and carries out commands like “press enter” or “delete that.” People can tell the system to click a link or button or a menu item. It’s widely used by people with motor impairments but also helpful for those with learning difficulties like dyslexia.

This is not an exhaustive list, but a starting point to get you familiar with a range of devices. It’s important to get your team thinking about inclusivity and what it means for people who rely on assistive technologies for access.

Next in the series, we’ll zero in on steps to make your website more accessible so that your digital library is simple and welcoming for all your visitors. Inclusivity in full swing!



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