Volume 7, No. 2, Winter 1997
Reprinted with permission.
DO-IT and the Libraries
by Beth Fraser, Universal Access Project
Entering a room crowded with computers, wheelchairs and a guide dog, and buzzing with the sound of a Braille printer, voice output speakers, and most importantly, students working together, the librarian greets students as they explore the World Wide Web, type documents, and return a class assignment via e-mail. A student approaches the librarian and asks her to wear a small transmitter and microphone. The student wears a receiver and tiny earphones to amplify the librarian's voice. The librarian distributes handouts in Braille, in large print, and in regular formats, and the class on searching the Web begins.
This is the second week of DO-IT's summer camp. DO-IT -- Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology, an innovative program at the UW sponsored by the National Science Foundation, prepares high school students with a broad range of physical and learning disabilities for college and careers.
Students accepted for the program are loaned computers and adaptive technology, and taught how to use them to access a variety of electronic resources including the Internet. They attend a summer camp at the University for two years, and participate in e-mail discussion lists with their DO-IT friends and adult mentors throughout the school year.
While many people with disabilities have found new opportunities for learning, communication, and employment through the development of adaptive technology and computers, the rapid increase in multimedia resources has raised new problems for them. A poorly designed Web page that does not provide text alternatives to flashy, but no now standard, features such as image maps, video clips, or sound, can be a real barrier to a student who is deaf or blind. Providing a consistent and clean design makes it possible for everyone to utilize the information including people with learning disabilities, people learning English as a second language, and people with physical disabilities.
Last spring, DO-IT and the UW Libraries received a $60,000 grant from the Telecommunications Funding Project to educate librarians about adaptive technology and universal access design. These design principles ensure that everyone can access World Wide Web and electronic resources, even if they are using a text-based browser like Lynx, a voice output program, or other adaptive technologies.
"The project gives ample evidence of the value of cooperative programs in addressing new technologies and providing new services," said Betsy Wilson, Associate Director of Libraries for Public Services. "The Libraries have benefited immensely from the knowledge of DO-It's staff, and the many resources they have already produced to educate people about adaptive technology."
DO-IT Director Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler agrees. "We really needed someone who knows libraries and librarians to work with us on the project. It's been very successful, and when you think about it, this is something unique that universities can offer our society. We have all kinds of people with special expertise on campus. It is a great privilege to capitalize on that through collaboration."
Videos on universal access design and adaptive technology and an accompanying resources binder are being developed to help libraries become more user-friendly to people with disabilities. They will be distributed to libraries and presented at regional and national conferences including the annual conferences for the Association of College and Research Libraries and the American Association of School Librarians.
If you would like more information on this project, or if you would like to receive and order form for DO-IT videos and resources, call Beth Fraser, Universal Access Project Librarian, at (206) 685-1594. Or check DO-IT's World Wide Web home page at http://www.washington.edu/doit/
UNIVERSAL ACCESS DESIGN TIPS:
- When designing your Web page, remember these simple guidelines:
- Maintain a simple, standard layout throughout the document.
- Use backgrounds that are simple and provide a high level of contrast for your text.
- Use universally recognized HTML tags.
- Test your pages wit a variety of browsers including a text-based browser like Lynx.
- Provide text alternatives for image maps.
- Write captions for pictures, and transcribe audio.
- Use frames and tables with care. People using screen readers and voice-output have a hard time understanding the information in these formats, as the programs read across columns from left to right.
For more information on Universal Access Design principles, check DO-IT's Accessible Web Page Design