ACCESSING SPACE AND INFORMATION

To make effective use of the library learners must be able to access the building, find the resources and start to use them. For learners with disabilities there can be significant hurdles before they even reach the resources.

The Issues

Many library spaces are inherited from a previous era where awareness of disabilities was virtually absent. Although it is often possible to retrofit accessibility in the form of lifts etc the factors such as physical design, structural integrity and conservation listings often make it very difficult to make library spaces properly accessible. In a series of online focus groups JISC TechDis found around a third of libraries had physical access issues of one kind or another. Even when the users can get into the space their remain issues of navigation - which shelves for which books? This can be confusing enough for a a non-disabled user but for those with poor eyesight or difficulties in accessing print the problem is much worse. Online resources such as library catalogues and web based collections can overcome many accessibility difficulties but depending on the accessibility of the the product - might introduce entirely new difficulties. In line with the JISC TechDis remit, this guidance focuses not on the physical characteristics of accessibility but on the role of different technologies in widening access to library resources and services and the recommendations that follow address the following issues: • • • • Physical access to buildings. Virtual access to resources and services. Navigating the space. Accessing the tools.

Recommendations
Physical access to buildings For a wide range of reasons some buildings are less accessible than others. Where there are particular issues the following approaches are recommended: • Flag access issues to users in advance. This could be done via the website or on posters/leaflets. • Where there are multiple sites with differing accessibility, positively direct disabled users to the best services. This might include both physical access as well as specific services. A simple summary of sites and their access services (such as

wheelchair access, automatic doors, hearing loops, signers or guide dog facilities - eg water bowls) is not only highly pragmatic but also sends an important message about accessibility awareness. Where a user needs specific access to one of the less accessible sites (perhaps due to subject specialism or locality) include contact number for discussing adjustments that can be made. This might include simple things like pre-collecting books and taking them to a pre-arranged location. Where buildings with complex layouts need separate security arrangements for wheelchair access consider using card swipe gates. These give maximum user independence. Alternatively CCTV / buzzer systems to allow desk staff to operate gates remotely but these do create more dependency. Even libraries with 100% wheelchair access may be inaccessible to learners with mental health issues. Consider setting up a ‘fetch and deliver’ service with the learner support/disability officer teams.

Virtual access to resources and services Increasingly libraries are an interface between two very different styles of resource - the paper world and the digital world. Whilst physical resources require physical access to specific buildings, the digital resources can - in theory - be available from any Internet connected PC. Most libraries interviewed for the JISC TechDis focus groups have the following online services available through a Virtual Learning Environment or Intranet: • Catalogue system - learners can browse for books without physically entering the library. • Booking and renewal online - books can be reserved or renewed without entering the library. • eBooks or eJournals - books can be delivered to the desktop without entering the library. These are excellent accessibility services and yet are rarely celebrated or marketed as such. Online catalogues and booking systems need only the minor addition of a delivery service (for example to an accessible area of the campus) to redeem the most inaccessible library space. E-book collections can potentially offer excellent accessibility solutions but depend on the right books being in the collection, the interface to the collection being accessible, the ebook itself being accessible and the user knowing how to make the most of the interface. The JISC TechDis service recommends that: • Online services are advertised widely and specifically recommended to learners with disabilities. • Clear contact details are provided so learners who experience access difficulty can request additional help.

eBook collections form an increasingly significant part of library spends and o accessibility of the system should be an important part of the procurement process o advice and guidance for learners should be available on how to make the most of inbuilt access options - the JISC TechDis service has advice and guidance on reading online documents in .doc, .htm and .pdf formats – www.techdis.ac.uk/accessibilityessentials. • The accessibility benefits of ebooks are promoted amongst staff, learners and disability officer/learner support teams. Depending on the system used this can include changing font size, background colour, automatically scrolling, accessing via text to speech, converting to MP3 and accessing via screen readers. The Open University has some excellent information on the accessibility of different online collections. See http://library.open.ac.uk/help/access/index.cfm?id=7007 for details. Navigating the space. For the many learners who can physically access the library space, the challenge is finding what they need within the space. Finding the right shelves can be tricky for subjects which cross traditional boundaries, reaching the shelves can be difficult for wheelchair users yet reducing shelf height has implications on the number of extra shelves needed. Different libraries have tackled the issues in different ways depending on local needs but the following are recommended. • Printed floor plans o laminated for in-library use or o duplicated with additional information (eg calendar dates) for free distribution. • Subject based crib sheets with floor/shelf plans. • Depending on the size and complexity of the library layout consider creating virtual tours to help users orientate themselves. These could include: o Interactive library maps – for example online floor plans linking to the catalogue. Or vice versa - click on a subject list and the appropriate shelf areas light up. o Online tutorials and photo-tours. o Video tours - ideally created by subject tutors who can contextualise different parts of the library to different parts of the course. o Audio tours - advantage is that they can be put together quickly and downloaded easily onto devices. Subject based is best.

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o Virtual worlds - these take longest to create, may be inaccessible to certain users but can give a faithful representation and add value for some users. o Tactile maps - for blind learners wanting to use some of the library resources a tactile map can help them navigate independently. This can be created quickly and easily using textiles, differently textured paper and braille labels. Use large print signage and topic summaries with appropriate icons and/or colour coding to identify shelf contents or subject areas. If engaged in new build or refurbishment, consider colour coding shelves, carpets or walls if practical.

Accessing the tools. The key hardware tools associated with libraries usually include photocopiers and computer workstations. Wheelchair users can experience difficulties in accessing photocopiers or computers. A range of adjustments are possible including • Purchase of adapted equipment eg o adjustable tables for PC use. o wireless keyboards/mice (allowing learners to use PCs on non-adjustable desks). o low level photocopiers. o laptop loans • Service support – for example facilitated photocopying available on request. NB: some specialist equipment (such as adjustable tables) can be very expensive in relation to the value added for the learner. Alternatives which cost less and can be more flexibly implemented should be considered in discussion with the relevant learners. In some cases the solutions can be portable and personalised to the learner in a way that allows them improved access to any PC work station – for example: • Wireless keyboard and mouse so the user need not be right next to the computer in order to control it. • Alternative keyboard – for example a small usb keyboard with a long lead allowing a wheelchair user to type on their lap. • Portable positioning aids – for example a plywood fillet that extends the desk space over the wheelchair to allow positioning of mouse and keyboard. Where appropriate, these can be designed to angle the working surface to better match the user’s range of motion.

Figure 1 - portable positioning aids can be more effective than expensive adjustable tables.