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Accessible Services for All: Digitally Possible

With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), providing accessibility to electronic devices has become an important issue.  Rivkah Sass and Amy Calhoun from the Sacramento, CA Public Library discussed “hearing e-books”. The library was one of the first libraries to loan e-readers; they now have over 250 Nooks which have circulated over 3000 times.  There are currently over 470 people on the waiting list.

One of the unintended consequences of the e-reader program was a complaint filed against the library in October 2011 by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) saying that the Nook devices were not accessible and demanding that the library cease and desist using them and return them all to Barnes & Noble.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) worked with the library to reach an agreement with the NFB.  Although the library will not be required to return the Nooks, they cannot acquire more or replace them for 3 years.  The 18 iPod Touch devices must be reserved for uses who are blind.  The library’s website has the text of the entire agreement.

The library considered acquiring the Kindle Fire or Nook tablets but found that they had limitations, so devices running iOS were used.  All the books use text to speech technology for blind users.  The iPod Touch filled the library’s needs and accommodates gesture-based computing.

Pilot groups are being held now.  In November the staff will be trained on the iPods using a curriculum approved by the DOJ , and the hearing e-book service will be launched in February 2013.

Some users are frustrated by the iPod, and the library cannot afford to acquire 18 iPads (the DOJ’s suggested device).  The librarians feel they are being held hostage because they cannot offer a broad spectrum of services.  They were adamant that the term of the agreement was 3 years because that is the life span of the Nook, and new technology will likely be available then.

Andrew Youngkin from the University of Maryland at Baltimore discussed accessible social media and how social networking can be used to reach all users.  Disabled users of social networking sites encounter usability barriers, but there are techniques that can help make social content more accessible.  There are about 50 million disabled users in the U.S., and as the population ages, the number of them will grow.

Accessibility law includes a wide spectrum of areas, such as access to buildings, telephones, and restrooms.  The 1998 Rehabilitation Act mandates accessibility to electronic media.  It lacks specific guidance for social media, but the guidelines in the Act provide useful starting points for social media.

Here are some uses of social media in libraries.

Disabled users have been shown to use social media less because of the barriers it poses, some of which are shown here.

What can we do?

  • Provide captions and descriptions for images.  YouTube offers closed captioning services options for videos.  Add descriptions to photos so that information will be read by screen readers.  Caption videos with YouTube prior to sharing on Facebook or Twitter. (Captioning is not possible in Facebook.)
  • Suggest 3rd party sites or apps to users, such as Facebook’s Mobile Sites, Twitterific, Tweetero, Easy Chirp for Twitter, Facely for Facebook, and keyboard-friendly interfaces to YouTube.
  • Seek FAQs, help, and tutorials.  YouTube has an Accessibility section, Twitter help provides tutorials on using its features.  Facebook has an Accessibility Help page.
  • Make content accessible in other forms and other places.
  • Advertise suggested tools that help disabled users access your social networking content.
  • Avoid social networking sites if the detriments of accessibility barriers outweigh the benefits.
Regina Koury and Amalia Menon from Idaho State University shared their experiences with assistive technology and gesture-based computing.  Gesture-based input allows more direct access for controlling devices without the complexity of traditional tools such as the mouse. For example, swiping is widely used on touch-sensitive devices.  Those with limited hand movement capability, the Tracker system allows head movements to control a device.  An app for Smartphones (Enable Talk) gives the ability for people who use sign language to interact with a device.
People with disabilities now have choices of apps to meet their needs.  Apple and Microsoft especially have been active in developing accessible apps.  Several app review sites are available as well.
Apple has been especially active in developing free accessible apps.  Here are some of them.

Android apps include the IDEAL Web Reader and the Eyes-Free Shell

Two systems in development include SpeeG, a multimodal speech and gesture-based recognition program, and CopyCat, which allows the use of  a computer via a gesture-based language.  The Boise State University Albertsons Library and University of Mary Washington have been active in lending iPads for disabled people.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today, and
IL 2012 Blog Coordinator

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