I dream of the day when every public library is my public library.
This Public Library Association 2014 Conference offers a particularly impressive selection of programs about various aspects of serving traditionally underserved users. And boy–is there a lot to learn. Before this afternoon, I hadn’t heard about Refreshable Braille Displays. According to Brian Charlson, Director of Technology at the Carroll Center for the Blind, they are actually the most popular devices for K-12 students who are blind or have low vision. Refreshable Braille Displays are electronic devices that allow users to read text that is typically displayed visually on a computer monitor. The devices themselves do not have any screens, but are connected to computers by a USB cord. Showing 18 characters at a time, Refreshable Braille Displays convert visual text into tactual text and produces Braille output for the reader.
A question that was asked during this program–how do we as librarians provide access to reading material to patrons who are blind or have low vision? Brian went on to explain that three things are required:
- Your users need to know that the technology exists.
- Your users need to be able to afford the technology.
- Your users need to know how to use the technology.
This is where our role as librarians is crucial. Even our youngest patrons who are blind or have low vision rely on libraries to provide information, access, and training. And while consumer products like Kindles and Nooks are not required to comply with ADA Standards, public libraries are, indeed, required. So, if you circulates e-reader devices in your Children’s Department or elsewhere in your library, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Do these devices have text to speech capabilities?
- Can the user change the font size and the font type?
- Is there functionality to change contrast settings?
- Can the user have individual words spelled out?
- Can users change the background and foreground colors and set transparency to make the interface easier to read?
One last takeaway. No two people–whether they are blind or sighted–are alike. Every user has their own set of needs, and we as librarians can/should do what we can to help.