Blogger Children and Technology Committee

Assistive Technologies: Spotlight on DC Public Library Center for Accessibility

Image of the White House lawn at the signing of the American with Disabilities Act from the Special Issue of Worklife, p. 3 by the national museum of american history

I spoke to Patrick James of the Center for Accessibility, part of the DC Public Library (DCPL), for this final post in our series highlighting best practices in assistive technology.

What is your library’s role within the disability community?

DC has a strong disability community.  Gallaudet University, a federally chartered private university for the Deaf, and the American Federation of the Blind, for which Helen Keller was an ambassador, are centered in or around DC.   Since all of DC is federal land, not a state, the federal government influences the library. The DCPL Center for Accessibility’s manager is part of the Office of Disability Rights, part of the federal government.   The Center houses the DC Talking Book and Braille Library, part of the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled.  The Center has three librarians: a librarian for the Deaf community, a librarian for the blind community, and Patrick, the assistive technology librarian.  There are plans to hire a Children’s Librarian to fill a long-vacant position.

How do you determine your community’s needs and interests? 

Outreach to the community, including non-profits and schools, has been effective – with some Saturday sessions having up to 50 people!  The accessibility issues of their current, temporary location can limit the ability of staff to provide programs.  Lots of people with disabilities volunteer to help run classes and share their knowledge.  Patrick is striving to include people with disabilities more fully by having the volunteers be eligible for paid positions as their skills are valuable.

What recommendations do you have for libraries hoping to add or expand assistive technologies? 

Patrick shared some of the most successful programs for children they have had in the past: a Braille book club for girls, a VIP Teens program (for vision impaired teens – a partnership with DC public schools provided technology and employment training), and a series of programming classes.  They were fortunate to have a talented volunteer from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) lead these classes for youth who are blind.  The focus was on gaming and they even Skyped in a specialist.

What Assistive Technology do you have available and what community impacts have you seen as a result? 

Patrick highly recommends reaching out to children and youth through adaptive gaming programs and technology classes.  The Center had an Adaptive Gaming Station which they hope to set up again as an integrated part of the MLK Teen area.  They had an Xbox with an adaptive interface (now offered with your standard Xbox).  They have had help in this from the AbleGamers foundation. The DCPL MakerLabs focus is on access to high-level new technology formats such as a 3D printer.  To make these opportunities available for youth with disabilities, Patrick uses programs such as OpenSCAD and provides Maker classes on sound design for podcasting.   Voiceover(Mac), ChromeVox (Chrome), and Narrator (Windows) are key accessibility features you will need to know for offering accessible technology programming to children and youth who are blind or who have visual disabilities.

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