Assistive Technology Coordinator, Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, NYPL
MA, Disability Studies, School of Professional Studies, CUNY, 2013
Photo courtesy of NYPL
Chancey Fleet first visited the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library on a trip from Virginia in the 1990s. “I was blown away by the browsable Braille collection,” she says. “I was ten or 11, and I checked out a bunch of choose-your-own-adventure books.” Upon returning to New York as an adult, she adds, “I already had an affinity for the library.”
In 2010, Fleet and three friends who knew one another through activism work at the National Federation of the Blind, where Fleet is currently cochair of the research and development committee, launched a free computer support clinic at the library. For three hours on Saturdays, they volunteered, advising patrons on anything from screen-reading tools to using Facebook. Fleet joined the library staff in 2014. The core tech education program now serves 50 to 55 patrons for about 130 hours a month of one-on-one coaching by staff and volunteers, five to six days a week.
One of her most notable initiatives is involvement in the Blind Arduino Project. “We are partnering with the organization DIYAbility and the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute to teach youth and adults to program objects,” she says. “When the average blind person goes into a mainstream class on coding and robotics, the techniques for succeeding nonvisually are not well understood.” The project, including introductory Arduino workshops at the library for nonvisual learners, is changing that.
“We’re in this moment where…coding education is being made as accessible as possible to different communities,” Fleet says, noting the predominance of new visual technologies such as maps and drag-and-drop tools. Determined that people who are blind be part of the coding revolution, she partnered with New York University grad student Claire Kearney-Volpe to develop tools for spatial, rather than visual, learning. Fleet is also “jump-starting the conversation around tactile literacy” and spatial learning at the library with Dimensions, an initiative for patrons to create and use accessible graphics with a 3-D printer, tactile graphics embosser, and tactile graphic software.
Among other programs Fleet has spearheaded are an ACT and SAT test prep workshop for high schoolers and a summer program in which the library’s tech team coaches high school students on accessible apps for reading, note-taking, navigation, and more. Last year, she had a leadership role in expanding the library’s Fall Fair, focused on opportunities for blind and visually impaired and print-disabled patrons, whose 35 exhibitors drew 270 attendees. The fair featured adaptive video gaming, origami, a rock climbing group, museum reps, and more. “We connect folks to possibility,” Fleet says.