To kick things off for our series highlighting best practices in assistive technology, we reached out to a few specialists in the field. Carrie Banks has been the Supervising Librarian for Inclusive Services at Brooklyn Public Library in New York since 1997. She’s taught Including Youth with Disabilities at Pratt Institute (2013-2015) and is active in ALSC as well as ASGCLA where she is serving as the president elect. In 2014, she substantially revised Including Families of Children with Special Needs: A How to Do It Manual for Librarians. She also published Libraries and Garden: Growing Together, written with Cynthia Mediavilla in the Spring of 2019.
What recommendations do you have for libraries hoping to add or expand assistive technologies?
Work with the individuals you hope to serve, their families and the agencies that work with them to determine what is needed and what would work. This will also help you advertise your Assistive Technology when you get it. Don’t forget about low tech. Computer accessibility is important but low tech things can help too. Consider having on hand:
- Several types of scissors
- Pencil Grips
- A tilt board to adjust the angle of a workspace on a table.
- Craft material with texture
- A basic communication set with library words and an alphabet, like the one on the Libraries and Autism website
- Audio books and players
- Signature guides
- Felt tip pens
- Noise cancelling headphones
Higher tech things to consider are:
- Adaptive switch toys that allow children with limited fine and gross motor skills to play with toys
- A simple one or two message communication device like a BIGMack or something similar. You can record a message, answers to questions or the chorus of a song or book so that someone who does not speak can participate actively in programs.
- FM Amplification system
High Tech things to consider are:
- An iPad with a visual communication app.
- A trackball for the computer in addition to a mouse. This is easier for many people to use.
- Jaws and Zoomtext for the computer
What assistive technologies do you have available at your library and what community impacts have you seen as a result?
We have all of the above except for Jaws and Zoomtext. Inclusive Services does not have dedicated computers so we do not need them. However, BPL as a whole is looking at developing more accessible computer workstations throughout the system. We have adaptive switches for gaming, when we do those programs – we are on hiatus right now. We also have a license for Boardmaker, the standard picture exchange communication system in our area. We use it to create picture schedules, word cards for programs. Additionally we have 2 FM amplification systems. These systems have a transmitter for the speaker, like a lapel mic, and receivers for the program participants. We actually use these more for interpreting our programs into languages other than English than we do for children who are hard of hearing or have ADHD! Furthermore we have a wide variety of sensory regulation tools such as hats with caps to block lights, weighted toys, and fidgets. A lot of what I consider assistive technology is commercially available toys. For example thistle blocks or magnetic blocks are easier for some children to use. Puzzles with texture or large handles make them available to children are blind and children with fine motor skill issues respectively. The community uses the library and attends Inclusive Services’ programs.
How do you determine your community’s specific needs and interests?
For Inclusive Services at Brooklyn Public Library, it all comes down to “nothing about us without us,” one of the seminal tenets of the disability rights movement. We work closely with the disability community in Brooklyn to find out how to make the library more accessible. For example we used focus group before opening new sites and to develop teen services. I regularly attend meetings in the disability community. I try to make sure we are balancing the things that children with disabilities say they want and the things that their family members, educators and other representatives think they want. Both perspectives are important.
What is your library’s role within the disability community?
I hope that we are a hub in the community. The role of Inclusive Service is to make library services accessible to children and teens with disabilities. We do that through programs, materials, workshops, fairs, and mostly by being part of the community. A mother once announced at an Inclusive Services workshop that she knew that we would have the answer to her question about her highschooler with a disability because, years ago, we had the answer to her question about him when he was in PreK. And besides, he had been attending our programs ever since.
To learn more about BPL and its inclusive services, visit their website at https://www.bklynlibrary.org/inclusive-services. Feel free to post any comments/questions and stay tuned for another interview next month with Will Reid from the Cleveland Braille and Talking Book Library.
This post addresses ALSC Core Competencies I. Commitment to Client Group and II. Reference and User Services.
Jennifer Minehardt is a Children’s Librarian at the New York Public Library, Roosevelt Island Branch and a member of the Children and Technology Committee.