ALA: A Promising Practice in Ensuring the Accessibility of Technology

Date Updated

Libraries provide a resource for retrieving information and conducting research and are, therefore, very important in both the preparation of teachers and the education of students at all levels. The mission of the American Library Association (ALA), founded in 1876, is to promote public access to information while maintaining the highest possible quality in library and information services. With more than 64,000 members, the ALA is the largest and oldest library association in the world.

The ALA has a long history of promoting accessibility. In 1992, in order to help ALA members meet the challenges of providing accessible information, the association released its Guidelines for the Preparation of Policies on Library Access. The guidelines reaffirm the ALA goal of "total access to information," expressed in the first objective within the ALA Goal and Objective statement:

Provision of library and information services and resources for all the people of the United States of America in order to increase their opportunity to participate in society, to learn, to achieve self-fulfillment, to pursue careers, and to obtain information needed for research.

In this statement, "all the people" means just that, and the library access guidelines describe access in a broad sense, not solely for individuals with disabilities, though an entire section is devoted to "handicapped access." Also, since these guidelines were written in 1992, accessibility for patrons with disabilities is primarily an issue of facilities access, rather than information technology access.

Today, however, developments in technology have dramatically changed the way people choose to access information. In January 2001, the ALA acknowledged the impact this trend has on accessibility within its Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy. The policy describes the scope of relevant disability law and affirms the need to provide equitable access to library services, facilities, and collections. It specifically addresses the need for libraries to ensure the accessibility of their computer hardware by equipping them with assistive technology.

As the ALA continues its promising practice of promoting "total access to information," its definition of access continues to evolve in keeping with changing library services, technologies, and accessibility issues. A next logical step in this evolution might be a policy pertaining specifically to the accessibility of information technology (IT) to all users, whether they use a standard mouse/keyboard/monitor interface, use assistive technologies or other nonstandard devices, or have other disabilities that affect their access to information technology content.