Hardware tools can support quite specific learner needs. Visually impaired readers benefit from a range of magnification aids including:
Ideal for reading hard copy books. They range from plastic sheets and glass lenses to bespoke digital magnifiers and apps for smartphones. Features to look for include the ability to change colours, contrasts and zoom levels. The advantage of these tools is their portability and cost effectiveness, however the navigation round a page can be awkward which slows reading speed.
These are similar to large TV screens on which an image of print (for example an open book) is projected and makes navigation less awkward. Features to look for include the ability to change text size, colours and contrasts. More advanced versions allow optical character recognition so that magnified text can be reflowed to fit the screen, irrespective of the level of magnification.
Many learners benefit most from print pages being transformed to digital text with optical character recognition software. Once in digital format, the text can be saved as a document, read by text-to-speech tools or saved as mp3 files depending on the scanner/reader's functionality.
Dyslexic users can also benefit from scanner/reader tools so that hard copy text can be listened to or read with different font colours or types.
Deaf learners' key hardware requirement is likely to be a personal audio system to allow one-to-one communication with library staff.
This can benefit a wide range of learners with and without disabilities. There are free and commercial versions available.
Those most likely to exist on most networks (such as Microsoft Word and Adobe Reader) have inbuilt accessibility features to allow colour and font changes along with magnification, reflow and navigation shortcuts. Many disabled learners are unaware of these. Examples of software tools include:
- Text-to-speech (TTS) which takes digital text and turns it into synthetic speech audio. It benefits from an authentic voice and there are many downloadable options available including the Scottish voice
- Word prediction tools can speed up typing for people with motor difficulties and/or improve spelling
- Mind mapping tools help with planning and organisation information. They are popular with dyslexic and deaf learners since they rely more on graphics than text
- Colour changing tools and other display enhancements allow users to personalise their screen view. This can be helpful for note taking (keeping focus on the right part of the page) and make reading more efficient for people with scotopic sensitivity or colour/contrast problems.
If learners are not aware of what the tools do, or how to use them, they will tend to revert to less efficient ways of working. Promoting these tools is an ongoing task and can be achieved via posters, newsletters, case studies and social media.
Bring your own device (BYOD)
The library PC network is only part of the learners' software toolkit. Many will have smart phones and tablets with a range of apps installed. Some will have significant accessibility benefits, for example services like CaptiVoice let users create playlists of resources from web pages, Google Drive or Drop Box. These can be rendered with text to speech or with a range of visual enhancements for reading on a tablet, phone or PC.
Browser-based plug-ins can make reading and research much simpler by aiding note taking and referencing (for example Zotero), aiding concentration of focus and even developing speed reading skills (Spreeder).
Many libraries have specific services for disabled learners including technology-based services (obtaining e-book publishers, scanning services, alternative format provision) and/or human-mediated provision (for example a book fetching service for a wheelchair user)
Promoting your local services is an obvious part of good practice but as a result of recent changes in copyright law, there is an opportunity for your services to contribute to a national resource bank of accessible textbooks. The free RNIB Bookshare service provides a technical infrastructure and trusted intermediary to act as a repository for any 'intermediate versions' of accessible books that you may create for disabled learners.
Our accessible practice tool asks you questions and then makes recommendations for improving the accessibility of your library and practices.