Report back from: Mission impossible? Satisfying disabled students’ library needs

 Last month I attended this conference about what libraries could do in order to better satisfy the needs of disabled users.  The abstracts & slides of all of the very interesting talks from this conference can be found at http://library.bcu.ac.uk/conferencepapers.htm

 The talk by Alistair McNaught dealt with how libraries could work with new technologies in order to support students and included lots of very practical tips and advice:

 Alternative formats: the secret life of librarians, Alistair McNaught, JISC TechDis

Supporting info for this presentation can be found at www.techdis.ac.uk/development/libraries

 Key, practical outcome of the Equality Act is to make info accessible in a variety of formats.  Aim of session:

–          demonstrate range of alternative formats & technologies we can use

–          make us aware of the need for dialogue between different stakeholders (e.g. library, disability services, lecturers)

Need to be inclusive – not just offering services for the disabled.  Some people might not identify as having a disability, e.g. visual impairments)

 How can we make a difference?

–          Information: find alternative formats

–          Communication: with disability services, student support, etc

–          Technology: facilitate use of different formats

–          Advocacy: demand better!

Information

Ebooks promote inclusivity – can be used with screenreaders, magnification, different text colours, etc

Be aware of tutor ignorance: tend to teach particular subjects in particular ways i.e. this is the key textbook.  But there might be alternative resources they haven’t considered – PDFs, ebooks, podcasts, etc.

Communication

Collaboration in gaining alternative formats between library, tutors, disability services, etc.

Be aware of jargon!  Showed example of very dyslexia-unfriendly dyslexia guide.

Technology

Lots of useful tips on how to manipulate info on screen with inbuilt tools in Word, PDF, and free technologies.  E.g.

PDF – don’t pay for screen magnification software!  Use zoom reflow (View>Zoom>Reflow) to magnify the text and have it displayed as a single column with no need to keep scrolling from left to right because its magnified.  Can also use auto-scroll (View>Automatically scroll) to remove need for lots of mouse work.

Word

–          Use in-built Word headings for titles.  This creates an easy to navigate screen view – useful for students with visual impairments or dyslexia as scanning the document quickly becomes easier.

–          Using headings you can also send directly to MindMap.  Again, useful for students with dyslexia

–          If using zoom, use ‘web layout’.  As with Adobe, this means the text is displayed in a single column no matter how magnified and prevents you having to keep scrolling from left to right.

Reading aids (download from http://www.fxc.btinternet.co.uk/assistive.htm)

Vu-bar – an on-screen slotted ruler to highlight text whilst reading.  Useful for dyslexics who tend to skip or drop lines whilst reading.

T-Bar – a coloured bar to highlight text whilst reading.  The online version of coloured bits of acetate!

RapidSet – allows easy changing of background and font colours.

Text to speech software (download from http://robobraille.org/frontpage)

RoboBraille – voice isn’t great, but converts digital documents into Braille or audio files

 

Other technologies

Xerte online – templates for producing interactive resources

CamStudio – instant video guides for downloading onto phones, etc from website

Advocacy

Suppliers, publishers, disability support staff, IT, other LS staff, etc etc.

In particular, I was impressed by the variety of free and easy to use tools available.  Personally, I had no idea what was out there and how easy it is to make a significant difference to the way info is displayed on the computer screen.  This is a clear benefit not only to those with learning and/or physical disabilities but also to anyone who spends a lot of time working at a computer. 

As someone who’s had trouble with RSI and back/neck issues from working at a PC, I think these tools are great and have a much wider application than just for students with disabilities.

Post by : Sarah Pittaway

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