Empowering Access with AT in Libraries

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Discover how libraries are using assistive technology and devices for breaking barriers and creating equitable learning environments for all in public community spaces.

A man reads a book in Braille. Below the Where it's AT logo, text reads: "Empowering Access with AT in Libraries - AbilityTools.org"

Libraries prioritize accessibility, viewing it as essential for all patrons. This aligns with their mission to provide inclusive access to information and services. Assistive technology is crucial in bridging gaps for individuals with disabilities, ensuring equitable access to library resources. Integrating such technology fosters inclusivity in public spaces, allowing everyone to fully engage with materials and services.

Types of Assistive Technology and Devices in Libraries

Libraries lead communities in providing equitable access, offering tailored assistive technology and devices for diverse needs. Here are some common tools you may find at your local public library:

Screen Readers

TextHELP provides screen reading, word prediction, and spelling assistance.

JAWS and NVDA are screen reader programs that are available for use at all of California’s NLS Network Libraries which allow users to read the screen via text-to-speech output.

Kurzweil 3000 is a multi-sensory reading aid: displays printed material on screen, reads web pages aloud, and scans/display materials.

Magnification Software

Fusion combines JAWS screen reading functionality with ZoomText screen magnification functionality into a single installer.

ZoomText and MAGic are available for use at all of California’s NLS Network Libraries and are magnification and reading software tools.

Magnifying Sheets is excellent for reading the fine print in books, magazines, maps, telephone directories, and recipes.

Optelec Viewer is a very powerful closed-circuit television magnifying reading system that magnifies text, pictures, and other physical items.

Voice recognition software

Microsoft Windows Transcription & Dictation is a great option is you have Windows 10 and 11. It provides speech recognition capability built into the operating system, enabling dictation to the computer, and turning spoken thoughts and ideas into text.

Google Docs (On PC) enables you to type and edit a document by speaking in Google Docs. providing this support in many different languages.

Apple Mac Computers is built into the Mac operating system, allowing you to dictate documents to your Mac using just your voice.

Audio and Braille Resources

Duxbury is a braille translation software that allows a user to emboss documents using an attached or networked braille embosser and is available for use at all of California’s NLS Network Libraries.

Talking Books The California State Library loans braille, cassettes, talking books, magazines, and playback equipment to northern Californians

Descriptive Video Recordings (DVS) describe the action verbally in between the dialog.

Large Type Books feature enlarged fonts and spacious layouts, providing enhanced accessibility and comfort for readers of all ages.

Most public libraries in California provide a digital library of audiobooks that you can access using your library card.

BARD provides instant access to hundreds of thousands of books, magazines, and music materials in audio and electronic braille (eBraille).

Other Services That May Be Offered

Video Remote Interpreting Services (VRI) offers immediate online sign language interpretation.

WYNN Wizard uses a bi-modal approach, simultaneously highlighting text as it is spoken, to support reader comprehension.

WordQ & SpeakQ are great AT options. WordQ is a word prediction program that predicts what you might want to write as you are typing, displaying a list of correctly spelled words from which you can choose. SpeakQ integrates speech recognition with the WordQ word prediction tool to create an audio-accessible version of their software.

Dwell Clicker 2 is a great option for mouseless clicking software.

Dragon Naturally Speaking is speech recognition software.

Libby App enables you to digitally borrow ebooks, audiobooks, magazines and more from your local library.

Adaptive Hardware and Assistive Devices, such as Adaptable workstations and large print keyboards are available at most libraries.

Mobile Libraries are when the library comes to you!

Sensory Inclusive Services are available at many libraries, where there are designated quiet areas, noise-cancelling headphones, sensory-friendly programming, and trained staff to support with needs.

Bookshare is an ebook library where members can access a huge collection of ebooks and read their way with the most customizable ebooks for people with reading support needs.

Assistive technology home loans, including accessible portable audio players, hand-held magnifiers, and WiFi hotspots, may be available at California NLS network libraries for eligible patrons. Please contact your designated library in Sacramento, Fresno, San Francisco, or Los Angeles.

Integration of Assistive Technology into Library Services

Librarians across the state are increasingly working to integrate assistive technology & devices. We got the chance to have a quick Q&A with Youth Services Librarian Kadie Seitz from the Los Angeles Public Library:

Q: How do you view the intersectionality of the library’s core mission of providing essential information and services to all users while ensuring inclusivity and equitable access for everyone regarding AT?

A: The mission of the Los Angeles Public Library is to provide free and easy access to information, ideas, books, and technology that enrich, educate, and empower every individual in our city’s diverse communities. So naturally, our service must be accessible to all patrons, but not only at the baseline legal requirements of accessibility. To be truly equitable to all of our patrons, we need to support their different needs in accessing our services. This includes purposefully including accessibility practices in our programming, purchasing books and resources with all patrons in mind, and training our staff to understand different assistive technologies. 

Q: How are you working to use AT to bridge the gap for individuals with disabilities, empowering them to fully engage with library materials and services?

A: At every library location, we have video remote interpreting services for ASL interpretation, ZoomText computers with screen reading ability, an extensive large type and audio book collection (both in print and online), and a dyslexic-friendly font available for many of our e-books, among other options. I’m particularly focused on engaging with kids and teens with disabilities and their families. We are currently working to find funding to support the purchase of more specialized toys, games, and tools for youth and their families to use while in the library.

Library integration of assistive technology (AT) ensures equitable access to information. From adaptive software to sensory inclusive services, libraries lead in innovative solutions, upholding their mission of learning and accessibility. Empowering individuals with disabilities enriches lives and strengthens communities.

In our companion blog: Empowering Access to AT Through Libraries, we will continue our discussion with Kadie Seitz as we delve into the possibilities of 3D printing.