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.”
Iowa City Public Library (ICPL) prides itself on welcoming all members of the community, and recently found a way to extend that service by introducing an Autism Accessible Browsing Hour for all ages. The library’s bright and inviting children’s room plays host to a variety of kids of all abilities, including through its Sensory Storytimes for children on the autism spectrum, but the boisterous atmosphere can be too loud, too bright, and too busy for some children with sensory issues.
The New York Public Library in December announced a new partnership with nonprofit Benetech, and the organization’s Bookshare solution, to provide print disabled patrons with access to more than 370,000 accessible ebooks through NYPL and the Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library. Although Bookshare provides free access to its collection for all U.S. students with qualifying disabilities through an award by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, access to the collection for qualifying adults, seniors, and other non-students generally requires payment of a $25 setup fee and a $50 annual subscription fee. The partnership to provide free access to library patrons through NYPL is Bookshare’s first such partnership with a U.S. library, and Benetech officials have stated that the organization is hoping to establish similar agreements with public libraries throughout the U.S.
It wasn’t too long ago that people thought reading books on a computer could never replace the real, ink-and-paper feel of a good old-fashioned book. And while people continue to appreciate books in their traditional form, sales of Amazon’s Kindles topped $4.5 billion last year, according to research by Morgan Stanley. More telling, though, is how normal it seems to read a book on an electronic device. But scientists and developers haven’t stopped there. New technology continues to challenge our notions of what we read, how we read, and who has access to reading.
Using funding provided by a local chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America, New York’s Greenburgh Public Library this spring installed an audio frequency induction loop (AFIL) in its multipurpose room. AFILs enable public address systems and other AV equipment to send audio transmissions directly to hearing aids, eliminating background noise for hearing impaired visitors.
Spaces. Services. Digital content. Collections. Learning experiences. Interfaces. Any way you consider it, there is no library practice that doesn’t intersect with accessibility. Accessibility is the principle that the fullest use of any resource should be given to the greatest number of individuals. More than compliance with laws and guidelines, accessibility is a form of social justice. As the most established cultural providers of public space and digital content, libraries share a responsibility to promote universal access to our full range of services for all users, regardless of whether they rely on adaptive technology or not.
Having written a column a couple of weeks ago expressing skepticism, even cynicism, about the prospect of the international diplomatic conference sponsored in Marrakesh by the World Intellectual Property Organization actually producing a treaty on copyright exceptions for the blind and visually impaired, I was both pleased and surprised to hear that such a treaty was agreed to by the delegates in the wee hours of June 25.
During a visit to Egypt two years ago, George Kerscher, Secretary General of the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium, found that the country’s major libraries had only a very small collection of books available for print-disabled patrons. And while staff and volunteers were working to make more books accessible, output was limited to only a handful of titles each year.
Discerning this as an outsider, Kerscher (who is blind himself) realized that it was very much a microcosm of how the process of producing accessible books has traditionally functioned in the United States.
Credo Reference is integrating text-to-speech technology from ReadSpeaker into its Literati full-text reference line of offerings. The text-to-speech functionality is already available for Literati Public and will soon be added to Literati Academic, Literati School, and Literati Student Athlete. The latter two products were launched earlier this year. The move comes as several library organizations are embarking on more focused efforts to address the need for accessibility with digital content.
The Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) this week settled the lawsuit filed against it in May by four blind patrons assisted by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Under the terms of the settlement, FLP has agreed to supplement its collection of more than 60 NOOKs with ten accessible devices, according to a press announcement from the NFB. Within four years, the library will transition to a collection of e-readers that are all accessible to the blind, and will begin incorporating an accessibility requirement into its technology procurement contracts.