“Tips and Tricks to Make Your E-Resources More ADA-Accessible”

by Lena Pham, Library Programs Consultant, California State Library [originally published in CLA’s Sync! Newsletter, vol. 3,  reprinted here with the author’s permission]

What is ADA? It is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law July 26, 1990. This civil rights federal law “prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life.”[i] In other words, this law aims to provide people with disabilities with opportunities to participate in all the same activities that all other Americans can freely access, including critical areas such as “employment, housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, communication, recreation, institutionalization, health services, voting, and access to public services.”[ii]

In terms of access to public services, public libraries and other public institutions are already doing much to provide equal access to people with disabilities. For example, many library buildings are wheelchair accessible for those with mobility issues, most libraries offer large print books and audiobooks for the visually impaired. These accommodations are now considered a staple of traditional library services, allowing libraries to be places welcoming to all Americans.

Offering just these services to those with disabilities is no longer enough, however, as the way in which information disseminates in society has changed over the last decade. We are moving from a primarily print-based reading culture to one which relies increasingly on the electronic delivery of information. Accordingly, libraries are devoting more and more resources to providing access to electronic and internet-based materials.  While this method of information delivery is convenient for many, it can inadvertently marginalize others, such as those with audio and visual impairment. In order to fulfill their mandate to offer those with disabilities the same access to information, libraries need be cognizant of the limitations of patrons with disabilities and innovate suitable means of access to electronic information sources. For instance, library e-books should be offered in as many formats as possible (ePUB, PDF, HTML, and others) so that readers can access it from any computer, especially mobile devices that have options which are optimized to assist those with audio or visual impairment navigate the Internet and access information.

Apple mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads are especially useful to those with audio and visual impairments as they come with accessibility features such as VoiceOver and Speak Selection which can help those with disabilities not only access e-books on their mobile devices, but also have the e-books read to them. (To find these features, go to the Settings app, tap on General, then Accessibility.) The VoiceOver option, once enabled, reads to the user an audio description of everything on their screen, from battery level to who is calling to what app they currently have open. This allows the visually impaired user to find and open the appropriate app or library website which can connect them to free e-books, e-journals, and other resources. The Speak Selection function takes accessibility a step further, by enabling users to have whole e-books or other electronic text read aloud to them by a computer voice. In essence, the Speak Selection can serve as a makeshift audiobook for those with visual impairment, though the automated voice will sound more stilted and mechanical than an actual human voice reading a text.

Another way to make e-resources more ADA-accessible is by offering closed caption options in library videos. In addition to print instructions, many libraries and e-book vendors currently have video tutorials on how to access their e-resources. Overdrive and 3MLibrary, for example, both offer video tutorials.[iii] Video tutorials can be posted anywhere, though YouTube is a popular video hosting website easily accessible for many. For videos posted on YouTube, there is a free closed caption options which can be enabled. With the YouTube closed caption as an option to turn on, viewers can add a layer of subtitles to the video that could be adjusted by font type, color, size, and multiple languages if needed. The YouTube automated captions may not be as accurate as ones professionally created, but for the hard of hearing or visually impaired, it is a better option than none. YouTube account holders also have the option of replacing automatically generated captions with their own timed captions to provide more accurate subtitles. Having the option of modifying the size and look of automated captions or creating one’s own subtitles can vastly improve the readability of video captions. Thus, the YouTube closed caption option is an added functionality that might be helpful to a potential number of people with different impairments and should be offered to better meet ADA needs.

Methods such as these are relatively simple to put into practice but can dramatically increase the accessibility of library resources to segments of the community whose interests and needs are unfortunately often overlooked.  In addition to the tools and tips discussed here, there are other practical solutions to improving digital access for those with disabilities, which libraries can learn about through free training offered by the Accessibility Technology Coalition.[iv] By making use of these resources and keeping a close watch on the special needs of their communities, libraries can continue to maximize services and innovate new ways of reaching every patron.

[1] http://www.ada.gov/ada_intro.htm

[1] http://www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08.htm

[1] http://help.overdrive.com/#videos? and http://www.youtube.com/user/3MLibrary

[1] atcoalition.org/trainings