Accessibility Services • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

Learning about Accessibility for Blind and Visually-Impaired Users (Accessibility Speaker Series #3)

On July 19, the HLS Accessibility Design team hosted a wonderful pair of speakers for a talk about accessibility for blind and visually-impaired library users. We were thrilled to welcome two colleagues from the library at the Perkins School for the Blind: Executive Director Kim Charlson, and Assistive Technology Specialist (and Perkins alumnus) Cory Kadlik.

The library at Perkins provides accessible reading materials to anyone with disabilities that prevent them from reading print books — not only the blind and visually-impaired, but also those who have double-vision, those who cannot read print because of severe migraines, those who cannot hold print books still or at all due to physical disabilities, and those who have reading disabilities.

Perkins library services are free to anyone who qualifies for it–the application form is available online.

Kim and Cory took us on a “lower tech to higher tech journey.” They started out by demonstrating an NLS Digital Talking-Book Player, which is the most widely-used device among Perkins Library patrons. This device is shown in the photo below.  It looks like a cassette player and has just a few large buttons, which makes it relatively easy for people with many types of disabilities to use.

A picture of an talking book player from the National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A book for this player is recorded on a flash drive, which is then housed in a hard plastic case that is about the same size as as an audio cassette. The Perkins Library collection includes many audio books for use with this reader that have been read by local volunteers.

More information about NLS talking book players is available.

They also showed us what they called a “stream device.”  In the picture below, Kim is holding one of these devices.

Kim Charlson holds a streaming device for use by blind readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several different types of content are available through this device, including books from the Library of Congress, internet radio from iTunes and TuneIn, podcasts, and the Newsline service from the National Federation of the Blind, in which newspapers are read aloud. Interestingly, when Kim demonstrated this device to us, an article from the Boston Globe came up about technology for older disabled Americans, which was highly relevant to our discussion!

For more information about the NFB-Newsline service, visit the NFB-Newsline website.

Cory and Kim discussed a few text-to-speech options that can help users with computer-based research and writing, including Kurzweil software,  JAWS, and NVDA for Windows computers, and the built-in screen reading capability, Voiceover, for Mac computers.

There are also Braille note-taking devices.  Although advancements in audio technologies have helped blind people gain access to more information, Kim made it clear that it is also very important for blind people to still learn Braille because, by doing so, they also learn writing, spelling, grammar rules, and math. She stressed, in fact, that there is “no excuse for blind people not to learn it.”

Kim showed us her own Braille note-taker (shown in the picture below), which has served her well for more than 20 years.

Picture of a Braille Note-Taker Device

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She discussed the next generation of Braille note-takers, specifically mentioning the Orbit Reader, a relatively affordable new model that is compatible with iPhones.

Speaking of iPhones, Kim and Cory also demonstrated how blind people use touch-screen devices, since they cannot see the icons. There is a special setting on all major devices, including Apple and Android, that allows for this type of navigation.  Swiping the screen will prompt the device to read the icon names aloud. To select an icon, the user taps once. To perform a function, the user taps twice.  To use the keyboard, the user slides a finger around the screen to hear the letters read aloud, and then lifts up when he or she hears the desired letter (“drag and lift” technique).

Kim and Cory made several excellent points about how modern technological advances have really improved the lives of blind people. For example, accessible websites are easier to create now than ever if the W3C accessibility guidelines are followed. Cory pointed out that there is no reason you cannot have a good-looking website that is accessible if you work on it from the beginning.

Finally, they discussed virtual assistance options, like Siri for Apple devices and Echo/Alexa from Amazon. These technologies have completely transformed the lives of blind people, especially by making shopping so much easier for them. They no longer have to consider transportation barriers or other difficulties. Both Kim and Cory admitted, however, that the advantages these technologies have to offer to their community have overshadowed concerns they might have regarding data privacy.

This was such a rich and wonderful experience for the HLS Library colleagues who were able to attend! We learned so much about considerations that we should be making with regards to our blind and visually impaired patrons. We are very grateful to Kim and Cory for making the trip to the law school to offer us this excellent program.

“Are You Good?”: Making the Law Library a Welcoming Space for Military Veterans

Today the HLS Library’s Accessibility Design Working Group kicked off its summer lecture series with a presentation by Alicia M. Reddin, Director of Veterans Services for the town of Andover, MA.

Alicia, after completing her service in the Navy, graduated from Lesley University with her Bachelor’s degree in 2012.  She is currently working toward a Ph.D., focusing on veterans services, also at Lesley.

During her talk, Alicia provided a number of helpful insights to the unique needs and challenges of providing academic and library services to military veterans.

Veterans Services Officers (VSOs) like Alicia have four priorities when it comes to offering support for veterans: (1) preventing homelessness; (2) assisting in finding gainful employment; (3) facilitating the receipt of government veterans benefits; and (4) preventing substance abuse.

VSOs like Alicia employ what is known as a “three-hat strategy” in meeting these priorities.  The “Chapter 115 hat,” is named for for Chapter 115 of the Massachusetts General Laws, under which the state “provides a uniform program of financial and military assistance for indigent veterans and their dependents” (http://www.mass.gov/veterans/benefits-and-services/financial-medical-assistance.html).  The “Referral Hat” represents the work that VSOs do to acquire local resources for the benefit of veterans.  Finally, the “Grand Marshall Hat” represents participating in social events that celebrate the military and veterans, such as Memorial Day parades.

Alicia cited some sobering recent statistics about military veterans.  Only 10% of current veterans are considered to be “post-9/11,” since it is a relatively recent trend for so many members of the military to serve multiple deployments.  Alicia also reported that an estimated that more than 5 million veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp).

According to Alicia, approximately 773,000 students in higher education in the United States receive educational benefits from the post-9/11 GI Bill (https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/post911_gibill.asp), including financial support for housing, books, and supplies.  However, Alicia stated that it is estimated that veterans graduate at 40% of the rate of traditional students.  She believes this could be because veterans face a number of barriers to assimilating as university students, including social differences, lack of technological expertise, differences in language and speaking style, trouble in navigating scenarios that include numerous choices or too much confusing bureaucracy, and what is known as “imposter syndrome” (http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx).  In addition, veterans in academic communities may also hesitate to self-identify because of these and other differences between themselves and more traditional students.

How can academic librarians optimize their services for the benefit of veterans in our libraries?  Alicia cited several factors to keep in mind in the work that we do with this community of users.  Veterans may be suffering from PTSD, and may also be struggling with the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Substance Use Disorders (SUD), migraines, and panic/anxiety episodes.  Therefore, library users who are veterans may require a space in a low-traffic area to which they can retreat, in which they can control both light and noise, and that has comfortable seating, grounding elements, and water.

Also, many veterans are looking to make connections to patient people whom they can trust, from whom they can get reliable and non-confusing help and information, and to whom they can speak plainly and directly.  Librarians may be ideal to provide this type of support in a university environment.

Among the questions Alicia was asked by the attendees was, “if we see a veteran in our library who seems to be in difficulty, what should we do?”  Alicia’s response was plain: (1) ask them, simply, “Are you good?” and (2) if they’re not good, do not hesitate to get them some immediate help: call the Veterans Affairs Benefits and Services hotline at 1-800-827-1000 and press “1” for veterans.

The HLS Library’s Accessibility Design Working Group will be offering other lectures throughout the summer.  Topics will include accessible space design and devices for blind and visually-impaired users.

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