2000 Conference Proceedings

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INCREASING ACCESS TO ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY DEVICES FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES THROUGH PUBLIC LIBRARIES

Dagmar Amtmann, M.A., Project Manager
Center for Technology and Disability
Website: dagmara@u.washington.edu

Susan Ford, Program Coordinator
Center for Technology and Disability
Website: sford@u.washington.edu

University of Washington, Box 357920
Seattle, WA  98195-7920
Voice/TTY/Message: (206) 685-4181
FAX (206) 543-4779




In this paper we describe a collaboration of the Center for Technology and Disability at the University of Washington and the King County Public Library to establish a library of adaptive devices.  We describe the goals of the project and the process of selecting adaptive devices to be placed in the library.  At the time this article is being written, the devices are not yet in circulation, but during the conference session in March 2000 we will report on the experiences of the librarians implementing the program.


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Public Libraries serve as information hubs in the communities and as such are uniquely positioned to play an active role in helping people to learn about adaptive devices. Most public library systems have programs, such as bookmobiles, that deliver books, videos and CDs to patrons who are homebound, live in nursing homes, group homes, assisted living facilities, retirement homes, etc.  Many patrons served by these programs have disabilities or experience functional limitations due to aging.  The traveling program of the King County Library in Washington State has four teams of two librarians each who drive bookmobiles around the county and distribute books and other items to participating library patrons.  We — The Center for Technology and Disability at the University of Washington — felt that it would be natural to partner with the traveling program as a way of meeting our goal of increasing awareness of assistive technology solutions and enabling consumers to try out a variety of adaptive devices.  We approached the director of the King County Public Library to see whether they would be interested in helping us develop and implement a pilot program to extend library holdings to include a small collection of adaptive devices.  We envisioned that the devices would be cataloged and distributed in the same manner as books, videos and CDs.  The director was well aware of the benefits adaptive devices can offer to people with different functional limitations, and he welcomed an opportunity to expand the scope of services provided by the traveling library.  We agreed that the Center for Technology and Disability would select and purchase adaptive devices, develop a hard copy and on-line catalog, and train the librarians in how to demonstrate the devices.  The library system would develop a way of cataloging the devices, and would integrate them into the library’s holdings.  The library would also problem solve to deal with logistical issues, such as that some devices require batteries or minor programming.  The library system also agreed to gather and share with us relevant experiences and information about the effectiveness of the project (what worked well and what did not) in order for us to evaluate the outcomes and fine-tune the system so that it could be replicated in other libraries.   We had two major goals for developing this pilot project.  The first was to increase the awareness of assistive technology solutions by all library patrons and to create an area of expertise within the library by training the librarians.  The catalog itself will be available for check-out by all library patrons and may also be viewed on-line.  The catalog is printed in large print.  Both laminated and plain paper versions are available.  It is organized into six color-coded sections: dressing, kitchen aids, household management, reading and writing aids, leisure, and communication devices.  Included for each item are: a color picture of the device, a brief easy-to-read description, the approximate price, and a vendor source.  The catalog will be updated on a regular basis to reflect changes in the selection of the adaptive devices available through the library.  The current version of the catalog is available on the World Wide Web at http://wata.org.   An additional “items to know about” section will be added to the catalog that will list devices that are not practical or safe to include in the collection, but which consumers might find useful.  This section of the catalog is conceptualized as a selection of items representative of their category rather than a comprehensive list of all available devices.  In addition to including items that are too big or otherwise impractical for the library to distribute, the new section will also include high tech items such as adaptive mice, keyboards and other devices that require software installation and ongoing technical assistance and are therefore not good candidates for lending and demonstration.


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The second goal of the project was to offer consumers an opportunity to try devices out before buying them, thereby increasing the likelihood that they will buy devices that meet their needs.  To select the devices to be included in the library, we employed the following process.  As a first step, two project members knowledgeable about adaptive devices followed one of the bookmobile teams for a day and noted items they felt would be beneficial to the patrons.  They observed that it was common for patrons to choose books not by author or topic, but rather by whether a book was available in large print and/or too heavy to hold.  They also noted that librarians often had to speak quite loudly in order to communicate with hard of hearing patrons.  As a second step, project members attended a traveling library staff meeting and demonstrated a wide range of adaptive devices.  As the items were demonstrated, the librarians chose the devices they felt would be helpful to the patrons they serve.  To compile the final list, we asked the following questions about each of the items: Question 1: Would patrons bother to go to a library or wait for the next visit of the bookmobile to try this device before buying it?  This eliminated most inexpensive items (those under $10) and those items for which a decision to purchase or not could be effectively made using only printed information — holding or trying the item would not be necessary.  For example, most of the inexpensive magnifiers widely available in drug stores and mail order catalogs were eliminated.  However, the more expensive magnifiers with special lenses or a built-in light were included because a trip to a specialized store might be necessary to try them out and because their prices warranted trying the devices prior to purchase.  The items not selected for the library will be included in the future catalog section of “items to know about.”  Question 2: Is the item reasonably easy to handle and store?  The bookmobiles have limited storage space and the devices have to be light enough and small enough for the librarians to carry around.  Most items on the list were suitable for such handling, but a few items (such as a larger book holder that weighs 15 pounds) were eliminated.  Question 3: Is it practical, safe, and hygienic to allow this item to be used by multiple borrowers?  Sharp objects, such as knives would obviously cause safety concerns.  Personal items such as cups, eating utensils, and dressing aids should not be shared for hygienic reasons.  Other items such as door levers and thermostat magnifiers elicited the concern that their use required installation of one sort or another.  It was decided that the potentially dangerous items (knives, etc.) would be included only in the catalog (under “items to know about”).  The other items deemed unsuitable for multiple use were included in the library, but designated as demonstration-only items.  Just as reference books can only be used within a library, demonstration-only items may only be examined while the librarian is on premises.  Thirty-six items remained on the list when the process was concluded.


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Having settled on what to buy, the next question was ‘how many?’   It was difficult to make predictions about how much demand there might be for different items.  We decided to purchase eight ‘copies’ of each item that would be available for check-out (2 for each bookmobile team) and four of each demonstration-only item (1 for each team).  We agreed that this was a good beginning and that once the items are in circulation we will monitor the demand for specific items and add or remove copies as needed.  Now we were ready to order the items and started contacting vendors and manufacturers.  We explained the purpose of the program and inquired about possible discounts or donations of products.   Several manufacturers/vendors agreed to sell to us at a discount, either because of the volume of the order or because including their product in the library would provide it with considerable exposure.  Donated items included grabbers, door levers, and four Pocket Talkers (personal amplifiers).  We purchased eight Pocket Talkers for the lending collection and also gave each bookmobile team one of the donated Pocket Talkers to use in communicating with hard of hearing patrons.  Currently the King County Library System is working on issuing item numbers and affixing barcodes to the items.  It is anticipated that the items will be available for demonstration and borrowing by the end of November 1999.


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Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.