Services for library patrons with low vision or hearing loss

This training was held on March 26, 2015; I typed up notes to share with my co-workers but didn’t write a blog post at the time.

Perkins Solutions hosted a “Library In-Service” at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown to help make libraries more accessible. I went to learn more about what kinds of difficulties and obstacles patrons with disabilities face in libraries and what libraries can do to help alleviate those and make the library more welcoming and easier to use. After all, the Library Code of Ethics states, “We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests” (emphasis added).

Here are some takeaways from the training:

Navigating the library for blind patrons (physical and online)

  • Offer to help if it looks like someone needs it, but do not touch them; the courteous thing to do is ask, e.g. “How can I help you best today?” They may want to take your arm (don’t take theirs) or they may not want physical contact.
  • If they have a guide dog, do not pet it; the dog is working. It’s nice to have a water dish for dogs, especially in the summer.
  • Websites are important; accessibility is key, but there is a difference between ADA compliance and true usefulness and efficiency.

Assistive Technology: Low-vision people are an “unseen, underserved” population. The technology has gotten very advanced; now it’s our job to catch up to technology, and do outreach to bring these potential patrons into the library.

  • CCTV (video) magnifiers: the reading material is placed flat on an X-Y tray (it moves on an X-Y axis, up and down and side to side), and the text is magnified on a screen. This is a “live” view of original material. Another version has a trackpad instead of the X-Y tray.
  • Handheld video magnifiers: These are good for scanning or skimming, not for long in-depth reading. They are portable and have more accessibility features than a simple magnifying glass.
  • OCR devices/magnifiers: This device presents a digital view by using OCR [optical character recognition] to capture the text and present it on the screen, but the original context and layout are lost.
  • Large print keyboards, keyboard guards: Large print keyboards (sometimes color-coded) can help low-vision people type. Keyboard guards can help those with fine motor control issues (e.g. Parkinson’s) choose one key at a time without accidentally pressing others.
  • iPads: iPads are very accessible!

Digital Accessibility: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to all agencies that receive any federal funding. There are three easy-to-check pieces of HTML code that will make your website more accessible:

  • Check that every page has a title (e.g. <title>Using the Library – Robbins Library</title>)
  • Check that the language is set to English (lang=”en”)
  • Use alt-text to caption images. If an image is decorative, like a border or a line, hide it by using alt=””. Otherwise, describe the images, e.g. alt=”Children listening to a librarian during a storytime in the Community Room”

Screen reading software such as MAGic or JAWS can also help patrons with low vision or blindness.

Patrons with hearing loss

  • One out of six Baby Boomers have hearing loss. In Massachusetts there are an estimated 546,022 people living with hearing loss.
  • To communicate with a person who has hearing loss, get their attention before speaking. Make eye contact. Try to avoid background noise, backlighting, or darkness (anything that makes it hard to see your face).
  • Ask the person for their preferred method of communication. Writing back and forth on paper or a whiteboard, or typing back and forth, is one good method. If you’re speaking, keep your hands away from your mouth, speak at a moderate pace without exaggerating or shouting, don’t overemphasize lip movements. Use short sentences. Rephrase as necessary.
  • Walk people to the area they’re looking for, draw a map, or give directions by hand signal.
  • Relax and be patient. Don’t ignore the person and have a conversation with someone else.
  • Don’t comment on how people communicate, even “compliments.” Don’t assume deaf people know sign language.
  • Keep a large-print, step-by-step “how-to” guide for the catalog, library databases, etc.

Assistive devices

  • Assistive listening devices (ALD) amplify sound for people with impaired hearing. Can keep at reference desk (make sure it’s charged!) and/or use during programs: the speaker wears a mic, the receiver wears headphones and a pocket device.
  • Assistive Listening Systems and Induction Loop: this is a loop built in to the perimeter of a room so that people with hearing aids or an ALD can “tap in.”
  • Text Telephone (TTY) Services (e.g. Sorenson, Purple, Convo, ZVRS) may be used by some deaf people to make phone calls; an ASL interpreter will facilitate the call.
  • Online chat reference should be accessible (large print, subject to screen reader software)

Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library Services

Perkins Library also offers resources directly to patrons; anyone with a print disability can be a member. (Keep applications [PDF] at the reference desk!). They can also contact visually impaired people in the library’s community, and help set up volunteer programs in libraries to help patrons learn how to use assistive technology.

What assistive technology does your library offer? Are there specific outreach efforts to promote these services? What barriers to access remain?

 

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