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ASSISTING PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES TO USE THE INTERNET: THE ROLE OF THE PUBLIC LIBRARY.

How can people with disabilities more easily share in the brave new world of instant information and communication offered by the internet? A study by the Information and Telecommunications Needs Research group (ITNR), a joint venture of Monash and Charles Sturt Universities in partnership with State Library of Victoria/Vicnet, addressed this question in the context of Australian public libraries. The project was funded by the AccessAbility Program, Commonwealth Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts and sponsored by AAPT Limited.

Key objectives included

* the selection of a core set of adaptive equipment, suited to people with a range of different disabilities for use in public settings, particularly in public libraries

* the development of related training for users and librarians alike

* the identification of standards and policies for achieving appropriate levels of online public access by disability groups.[1]

This paper explores the literature related to these objectives as well as setting out the project's findings and recommendations, with particular emphasis on the role that public librarians can play in assisting people with disabilities.[2]

It has become a commonplace in academic and popular literature that the internet and online services open up windows of opportunity for people to participate in the information age.[3] More than this, many writers[4] suggest that such technologies offer particular benefits and potentialities for people with disabilities. A prevalent view is that the opportunities for communication and information acquisition are likely to be significantly expanded through online services, especially for people who are isolated by their disabilities. This is particularly the case in rural Australia, where distance often exacerbates isolation.[5] The Australian Bureau of Statistics' most recent Survey of disability, ageing and carers[6] estimated that 19.3% of the Australian population, or 3,610,300 persons had a disability. Clearly, the possibility that the internet might improve the information access of such a large section of the population, many of whom have been marginalised by long established forms of media, is a matter of considerable social importance.

Because the literature review plays a major role in this paper, and is closely related to the project's findings, the method for the project is presented followed by the literature review and findings for each of the objectives separately.

Method of the ITNR project

The method for the project is presented in detail below, whereas the findings and recommendations are presented in brief. Readers who do not require more than an overview of the findings may nevertheless want to understand the method in order to evaluate the quality of the research.

Nine public libraries were involved in the project. Eight are from Victoria; the ninth, the Wagga Wagga Library, is the headquarters of the Riverina Regional Library in NSW. The latter library service was included because of the involvement of Charles Sturt University in ITNR.

The selection of Victorian libraries was based on the requirement to include a range of different public library types and a mix of socioeconomic, rural and urban areas. Participants were found mainly through community organisations, particularly those which work with people with disabilities eg Access for All Abilities, a joint project of the Moonee Valley and Brimbank City Councils funded by the Victorian Department of Sport and Recreation, the Arthritis Foundation of Victoria, and the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind.

The following sections describe the sample--including gender, age, the disabilities involved, and the locations where participants took part in the project--along with an overview of the components of the research, including the instruments used for data collection.

The sample

The sample consisted of 85 people with disabilities, aged 18 and over, of whom 43 (50.6%) were males and 42 (49.4%) were females. Fifty of these participants were involved in the project's initial evaluation of equipment, while another 35 took part in the later sessions which were concerned with developing methods of training for the equipment to be recommended by the project.

In addition, 17 public librarians took part in focus groups which discussed issues concerned with training for librarians and people with disabilities. There was thus a total of 102 participants.

Age of participants

Table 1 shows the age groups of participants. As can be seen, the 18-24 age group is larger than might be expected, probably because of the large number of people in that group who have intellectual disabilities and whose education and training is being extended through organisations such as Leisure Action, a Division of the Spastic Society of Victoria. The largest group is in the 65+ age bracket, for two reasons: the common incidence of disability amongst older people, and the broader age span involved.
Table 1 Sample participants by age

Age group Number of participants % of participants

18-24 16 18.8
25-34 9 10.6
35-44 14 16.5
45-54 13 15.3
55-64 9 10.6
65 + 24 28.2
Total 85 100.0


Location of participants

Of the participants with disabilities, 50 (58.8%) took part at public libraries in the Melbourne metropolitan areas (Box Hill, Maribyrnong, Port Phillip, State Library of Victoria, Sunshine), while 35 (41.2%) were involved at regional, rural or semi rural libraries in Victoria and NSW (Bairnsdale, Cranbourne, Hamilton, Wagga Wagga).

Disabilities

The project sought participation from people with a variety of disabilities, physical and intellectual. Thirty seven participants (43.5%) had intellectual disabilities often resulting from Down's syndrome or cerebral palsy, which sometimes caused physical disabilities as well; 48 participants (56.5%) had physical disabilities such as low vision, low hearing, or arthritis. Table 2 sets out the disabilities in the sample in detail.
Table 2 Sample participants by disability

Disability Number of participants % of participants

Intellectual 21 24.7
Sight 17 20.0
Intellectual/physical 16 18.8
Physical 14 16.5
General ageing 4 4.7
Hard of hearing/sight 4 4.7
Hard of hearing/physical 2 2.4
Total 85 100.0


Data collection

Qualitative data methods were used so as to capture the perspectives of the participants. Action research, which enables fieldwork to be adjusted so that the best possible solutions to problems can be obtained, was also used where this was appropriate--for example, in the testing of equipment with people with a great range of disabilities, and in trialling appropriate training for the equipment to be recommended.

There were two major stages to the data collections. The first stage involved the evaluation of a range of different equipment considered suitable for public settings; the second saw the development of training focusing on the equipment we had decided to recommend as a result of the evaluation stage. Findings for the third objective, standards and policies for achieving appropriate levels of online public access by disability groups, emerged from both of the two major stages.

Stage 1

There is a very big range of adaptive equipment available, not all of which could be tested. Both international and national experts were therefore consulted eg from the Assistive Technology Centre, Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, the Independent Living Centre (Yooralla Society of Victoria) and Regency Park Rehabilitation Engineering in South Australia, from where we hired the equipment. The AccessAbility Online Resource was consulted for ideas on good products. While we also searched for reviews of products, the advice of experts has proved to be the most valuable source for our decision making. Table 3 sets out the adaptive equipment and software tested in the project and the numbers of participants who were involved in each case. In some cases more than one item was tested with a particular participant, resulting in a higher total than would be expected for the 50 participants who were involved in the first stage of the project.
Table 3 Adaptive equipment and software tested in the project

Equipment or software Number of
 participants
Intellikeys, a large keyboard with a selection of
overlays suited to different disabilities 17
Enhancing Internet Access (EIA), a touch screen and
simplified browser 13
Opera browser, providing enlarged and enhanced text 12
Key guard for standard keyboard 7
Switch adaptor for standard mouse 5
Anir mouse, an alternative mouse which looks like a
joy stick 5
Big keys, an alternative keyboard, with large bright
keys 3
PC Trac Deluxe/Kids Trac (Microspeed trackball) 3
PW Web Speak, a screen reading program 3
Genius trackball 2
Head stick 2
Small pc keyboard (Cherry keyboard) 1


In evaluating the equipment and software, data collection began with an interview seeking detailed background information about the lives of each participant, especially in relation to their disabilities, their information needs, their recreational interests and their experiences with technology. Each participant was then tested on the standard equipment, before being introduced to and tested on at least one piece of adaptive equipment or software. The tests followed a structured procedure. The session concluded with further interview questions which focused particularly on participants' reactions to their experiences on the internet--both with the standard and adaptive equipment--and the recording of the interviewers' observations on their participants' disabilities and degrees of comfort with the internet.

After each group of interviews, the interviewers/observers, mostly working in pairs, recorded their comments on the performance of the equipment, its flexibility across disabilities, and the problems it presented. Librarians' observations, especially their views on the practical issues involved in offering each piece of equipment, were also recorded. The data were analysed by NUD.IST (Non-numerical Unstructured Data. Indexing Searching and Theorising) software.

Stage 2

In the second stage of the project, the focus was on training in the library setting for the equipment and software which we had decided to recommend. The process was adapted to the particular equipment or software involved. For example, EIA has its own tutorial and so the approach was to evaluate how well that worked for participants. On the other hand, Intellikeys, trackballs and key guards are relatively easy to use and require little instruction. It was the team's decision, therefore, to devote most energy to the browser, Opera. This we consider has the possibility of providing considerable assistance to people with disabilities and to be manageable in busy public settings.

Thus stage 2 principally involved trialling of the Opera browser with people with disabilities and public librarians. Three focus groups of public librarians explored issues of training for Opera, specifically, and for people with disabilities, in general. More detailed description of the `method', used in stage 2 is included in the results section of the `training' component.

The role of public libraries

The three key objectives of the project outlined above are reflected in the literature in terms of the role that public libraries can play in assisting people with disabilities to use the internet. The literature for each of the topics associated with these objectives--adaptive equipment, training, and policies and strategies to improve access--are discussed, together with a summary of the recommendations of the ITNR project. More detailed discussion of the findings is readily available in other papers.

Adaptive equipment: views in the literature

The importance of providing adaptive equipment for people with disabilities in public libraries emerges in the literature. For example, the Washington Assistive Technology Alliance (Wata), in the US says `Accessible computer stations in public libraries and other public places considerably increase access to information for people with disabilities'. Nevertheless, although there is a plethora of evaluations and reviews of adaptive equipment, especially for those who are blind and sight impaired, there has been limited evaluation of the use of such equipment in the context of the public library, either in Australia or the US. There are numerous sites on the internet which refer to American libraries using adaptive equipment to meet the Americans with disabilities act requirements,[8] yet it seems to be rare that adaptive equipment is tested in a public library setting before its implementation. Instead, implementation of adaptive equipment in libraries in America appears to be done with little indication of how the process works in any practical sense. As there appear to be few evaluative studies after the implementation of the adaptive equipment, the degree of success and the effectiveness or noneffectiveness of the processes of implementation are unknown. This is not the case in university libraries, for which there is a considerable body of literature on assistive technology. For example, DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, internetworking and Technology) based at the University of Washington offers an excellent resource for students with disabilities and the DO-IT's website <www.washington.edu/doit/> provides a wealth of information, including information about computers, software and electronic resources.

Deines-Jones[9] states that
 By basing adaptive equipment purchases on actual patron needs, developing
 work arounds when adaptive equipment is not available, and keeping abreast
 of new developments in access strategies, librarians can ensure that they
 are offering the best internet access possible to all their patrons.


He offers many practical ideas on physical access, screen magnifiers, voice interfaces, Braille displays, alternative keyboard options, work station access, remote access and patron concerns. For example, he makes the point that many libraries may have one accessible workstation incorporating all the special adaptive equipment and interfaces on one computer which is placed on a wheelchair accessible desk. However many people in wheelchairs may be able to use the standard computer interface and merely require a suitable desk or table.

This is where it is important to consider the concept of universal design as promoted by the Center for Universal Design <www. design.nscu.edu/cud>. The concept promotes the notion that a product or service is designed in a flexible manner to accommodate more people with a wide range of skills, abilities and functions. In other words, a library with several workstations connected to the internet may consider various design features such as adjustable tables and spread any adaptive hardware and software between the workstations. With the rapid development of technology, it is hoped that equipment in the future will cater for a broader proportion of the population and that fewer special adjustments will be necessary. It is interesting to note that voice recognition software, which is currently marketed to busy executives, was originally developed for people with severe mobility impairments unable to use a keyboard.

Adaptive equipment: findings and recommendations of the ITNR project

As indicated by the literature, adaptive equipment and software need to be selected with great care for a public library setting, not only to be suited to a range of different disabilities, but also to be practical and easy for librarians to support. The constraints faced by the project were the dynamic nature of technological development and the fact that we could only test the adaptive equipment and software available at the time. Also, no one piece of equipment can cater satisfactorily to all people's needs. Compromises will have to be made along with the final choices. We therefore developed a set of criteria for selecting appropriate technology for specific disabilities for use in a public setting. These criteria which we dubbed `guidelines for flexible work stations in public settings', emerged from the equipment and software evaluations.[10]

As well, a number of recommendations were made with regard to state of the art equipment and software available at the time the project. Recommended equipment and software (described briefly in table in `method' section, above),[11] together with the masons for recommendations, are

* Intellikeys Although problems with Intellikeys, including its lack of suitability to some users, emerged during the evaluations, we found this piece of adaptive equipment to be very useful and acceptable to a number of participants. It is flexible in assisting people with intellectual and dexterity impairments and, to some extent, those with vision impairments. It is also easy for librarians to support. We therefore recommended Intellikeys as one of the pieces of equipment which meets our principal criteria. It is available from suppliers of disability equipment, such as Regency Park Rehabilitation Engineering in South Australia or Spectronics, Blackburn, Victoria. The cost is approximately $800

* A good quality trackball At least one good quality trackball should be available in each branch of a public library service. PC Trac Deluxe/Kids Trac (Microspeed), which are recommended, are available from suppliers of disability equipment, such as Regency Park Rehabilitation Engineering in South Australia or Spectronics, Blackburn, Victoria. The approximate cost is $185

* Opera browser Opera is highly recommended as a simplified browser which offers many useful options for people with disabilities. It has particular attributes for people with sight disabilities but many of its features, including the fact that key strokes can obviate the need for using a mouse, makes it a very attractive option. Combined with Intellikeys, Opera could provide a solution which is very responsive to a range of disabilities. Opera is available from <www.opera. com> as a 30 day evaluation version and may be purchased online for approximately $70, reducing greatly in cost for quantity purchases

* Enhancing Internet Access (EIA) Although there have been problems, inevitable with a system conversion as complex as EIA, it offers very flexible assistance for a range of disabilities and deserves to be widely used. Apart from being flexible, it is easy to support and has a simple format which appeals especially to older people. The fonts and buttons are mostly large and easy to read. The touch screen interface is clear and attractive, and it allows the user to avoid the problems of mouse control. It has our strong recommendation. There is an improved version which works with WIN95/98/NT/2000 with MSIE version 4/5/5.5 installed. It is controllable by a standard keyboard, Intellikeys and switches, and is available from Rob Seiler (email seiler@gippsnet.com.au; voice +61 (03)5156 8309; fax +61 (03) 5156 8609). A free demonstration is available for people to download. A link to it is on the EIA project page <www.gippsnet.com.au/eiad>. The cost is available on the website

* pwWebSpeak We had a particular problem in our attempts to find suitable software to assist people who are blind. Our first reaction was that the available screen readers are too complex to be supported in busy library settings. By the time that we were convinced that the audio web browser pwWebSpeak was worth testing, the project was in its late stage. We were therefore unwilling to make a conclusive recommendation and undertook to continue testing pwWebSpeak, both with people who are blind and with librarians. In December, 2000 we learnt that pwWebSpeak has been withdrawn from the market. We therefore must stand by our original opinion that we are unable to make a recommendation which we consider suitable to people who are blind for use in a public setting. There is excellent screen reading software available eg Job Access With Speech (Jaws), but this requires support from organisations, such as the Victorian Institute for the Blind, if it is to be used effectively in public libraries

Training: views in the literature

Training issues focus both on training for people with disabilities and for those who assist them. In public libraries, the latter group are usually public librarians. For the ITNR project, we were not only concerned with general issues regarding training for both groups, but also with training specific to our recommended equipment and software. The literature was of assistance mainly with the former task. In fact, in relation to the issue of training, the emphasis in the literature, at this stage, appears to be on training for computer use by people with disabilities. Given that widespread use of adaptive equipment for accessing the internet is relatively new, it is not surprising that as yet there is little coverage in the literature.

One of the key aspects of successful training which emerges in the literature is the need for awareness of disability issues at all staffing levels in a library setting. Even those who come into minimal contact with people with disabilities can benefit from knowing how to make information technology (IT), and the environment in which it is housed, accessible. Midgley and Floyd[12] found that in home based IT training, poor trainer awareness of the special needs of some users led to misunderstandings of training requirements and a lack of knowledge of suitable adaptive equipment. Vincent[13] recommends that when training the trainers, the emphasis should not be on the technical devices and specifications used by blind learners, as this tends to make potential trainers fearful or alienated by the technology and the overwhelming amount of technical information. Instead, he recommends that training start with the barriers or difficulties and needs which would become the basis of a review of how IT might be used to overcome such barriers or difficulties.

Williams[14] states that, in order to create true access to technology, people with disabilities and their partners or assistants require training, support, and opportunities for self instruction and troubleshooting. Supporting this view in terms of library settings, Fifield and Fifield[15] recommend that `Assistive technology competence requires a hands on, problem solution and trial and evaluation approach to training'. Also in a specific library context, Deines-Jones[16] states that training should be given in using adaptive equipment and navigating the internet and that this training should be attended by staff members as well. Graubert[17] discusses a library instruction program for both staff and students with vision or hearing impairments. It is based around using adaptive equipment and also methods of searching for material using online resources. Other useful training hints for people who are blind or sight impaired are discussed by Mack, Koenig and Ashcroft and Berry; Hine provides similarly useful hints for people with a wide range of disabilities.[18]

One of the few evaluative studies on internet training for people with disabilities was written by the Donvale Living and Learning Centre[19] in Victoria. It was decided that participants were to have some level of computer experience before they entered the course. The tutors identified issues which were particular to teaching people with disabilities

* Classes need to be more flexible than classes for the mainstream population

* Each person's interests, likes and dislikes should be sorted out before the classes begin

* Special adaptive equipment should be set up before the class commences

* Often people with intellectual disabilities do not need adaptive equipment. However the tutor needs to understand what type of disability they have in order to steer the class in a direction so that feelings of inadequacy are avoided

* It is useful to set up a trial web page which has all the internet elements and which is geared toward participants' particular interests. Once they build up their confidence with this web page, they can then move onto the internet

* Classes of two hours in duration over a seven week period are a good length

* Because participants often become frustrated by the complexity of mainstream software a more simple browser is recommended

Finally, Luxton offers very useful and generally applicable advice in her discussion of group training of students in how to use assistive technology. She suggests that in a group setting an atmosphere can be positive, challenging and nonjudgemental so that fears about using technology and weaknesses in technical skills can be faced. When training occurs in this kind of atmosphere students not only learn the appropriate skills in computing, but also increase their own `power to interact with the world, to communicate, and to be effective through their increasing ability to manage information independently'.[20]

Training: findings and recommendations of the ITNR project

While the ITNR project produced findings and recommendations for general training issues, the specifics were confined to the Opera Browser. This was because the recommended equipment, Intellikeys and track balls, are straight forward and EIA has its own, very useful tutorial. Through the focus groups and trials with individuals with disabilities, a thorough assessment of training needs for the Opera browser was made.

The following recommendations concerning general training issues and the Opera browser, specifically, were made

* Having looked very intensively at training, we believe that prescriptive training packages are very difficult to compile for a library setting. There are too many variables: people and their disabilities, different browsers, frequent changes and upgrades to browsers, and a variety of adaptive equipment and software. This means that the content of training will need to vary greatly. Many of the disabled participants in our study clearly required one on one training, adjusted to their particular needs and disabilities. We believe that the most helpful approach was for us to develop prompt sheets--one for basic internet information, and one for the Opera browser, which we investigated extensively, in terms of its suitability for the library context and the associated training requirements. Along with other training content, these prompt sheets will need to be adjusted as changes to browsers occur[21]

* Library staff will require training, preferably of the hands on as well as follow up access to online and print materials for complex browsers and equipment. In this regard, Larry Stillman, Coordinator, Accessibility and Evaluation Unit Vicnet, is currently developing a manual, both online and in hard copy, for use with Opera.[22] Libraries should attempt to set up a rolling, continuous process of peer training amongst staff, so that skills do not become out of date

* In terms of general advice to public librarians about ways to approach and assist people with disabilities, as recommended in the literature, we found that an excellent kit (Disability awareness kit 1998) had already been developed by Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (RVIB), after community consultation. This is available to use as a general training package to assist staff in dealing with people with disabilities.

The kit, which is available from State Library of Victoria, discusses general disability issues, print disability and vision impairment, hearing impairment, physical disability and intellectual disability. It focuses on information relevant to public librarians such as interpersonal interaction, development of relevant collections and issues relating to accessing facilities and collections. We recommend this kit highly

* Given our belief that one on one training is often necessary for people with disabilities, we recommend that libraries seek partnerships with local disability organisations, to assist with training. The possibility of using a train the trainer scheme involving local disability organisations deserves to be explored by library services. Many disability groups have already devoted considerable thought and energy to exploring the ways in which the internet can be opened up to their constituents. Their expertise deserves to be used. Public libraries and disability organisations make for natural allies in the realm of online access and equity. Going further, much could be gained by both parties--in terms of expertise, equipment, and training--were libraries to seek an ongoing relationship with local disability organisations

* If librarians wish to attempt group training of people with disabilities, training developed by the Donvale Living and Learning Centre, discussed above, is very useful. The Donvale project came about through funding from Skills.net, State Library of Victoria and Multimedia Victoria, and through the direct support of Leisure Action Eastern, a program which aims to design and deliver effective leisure and recreational activities to people with disabilities

Standards and policies to improve access: views in the literature

Standards and policies related to the issues already discussed--adaptive equipment and software and, particularly, training--are important for improving access to public libraries for people with disabilities With regard to other issues, the most useful reference found was for a project that has similarities to ours. This was the Washington Assistive Technology Alliance (Wata), in the US.[23]

The following relevant points were made

* A public awareness campaign needs to be planned to make patrons with disabilities aware of the accommodations available

* Clear policies need to be developed about how the adaptive access equipment is to be used, for instance who has the priority for using the workstations with adaptive equipment when they are used by both able bodied and disabled users, time limits when others are waiting

* A plan for measuring outcomes of the accessibility portion of the project must be developed and implemented. While an overall program evaluation plan is usually included, data regarding accessibility features are rarely collected and analysed. A survey consisting of perhaps only a few questions that could be answered by the librarians at the time of training, or other instrument for measuring a project's effectiveness in increasing access to library services for people with disabilities would be extremely helpful[24]

Standards related to all aspects of disability services in public libraries are available in the Mainstreaming disability services report, the outcome of another SLV project, which also has some similarities to the ITNR project[25]

Standards and policies to improve access: findings and recommendations of the ITNR project

Strategies and policies for improving access to public libraries were considered throughout the project. While the first steps are to provide adaptive equipment and software, and to organise associated training, there are several other issues which libraries need to address. Most importantly, libraries need to market their services to the local community. There are also general accessibility issues, as well as regulations for the use of equipment, including priority of access by various users. It is logical that such guidelines be developed within the broader framework of each public library's general access policies. Libraries can, and should, also develop means to evaluate the effectiveness of any policies and programs initiated to improve access.

Marketing Reaching out to local disability organisations is the best way of making services known. Marketing services more widely in the local community is also important. SLV's Mainstreaming project, which has been concerned with issues similar to those addressed in our project, has drawn up a detailed marketing plan for the State of Victoria. It includes internal communication within the Victorian public library service and external communications, involving targeting disability organisations eg the Spastic Society of Victoria, and government services eg Human Services, Disability Services Division and local government professionals. This statewide project will assist greatly in the marketing of disability services in Victorian public libraries.[26]

Library accessibility issues If online access is to be promoted to people with disabilities, attention needs to be paid to wider accessibility issues in libraries. For example, it is pointless to provide suitable adaptive equipment and training for people with disabilities if there is insufficient space around computers to enable easy wheel chair access. Computer desks need to be adjustable to accommodate wheel chairs of various sizes. This is a fundamental requirement. In terms of sight impairments, lighting is crucial. Computers should not be places where there is excess light and where glare is a problem.

In terms of the many general accessibility issues, standards related to all aspects of disability services in public libraries are available in the Mainstreaming disability services.[27] This is highly recommended.

Access policies Public library policies are needed to improve and regulate access to online services for people with disabilities. These policies are needed not only to deal with training issues, but should also regulate the use of adaptive equipment and software, setting out time limits and priorities amongst various users. This is particularly important where only one library computer terminal is set up for people with disabilities. There should be an attempt to determine the conditions under which this terminal may be used by persons without disabilities. These policies should be integrated with other library access policies.

A related issue, which also requires regulation, is the responsibility of staff in providing assistance to people with disabilities. For example, assistance may be required to change user preferences for settings within browsers and the operating system. A procedure for the provision of this kind of assistance, and to ensure staff have the necessary skills, should also be the subject of policy for improved access.

Evaluation of programs and policies The effectiveness of library programs and policies for disability access should be the subject of a simple but regular evaluation process. For example, has the program resulted in more use of the internet in the library by people with disabilities? By what groups? What disability organisations have become involved? How are access policies working? Are training components working well? Library policies will need to be adjusted as a result of this regular evaluation process.

Conclusion

This paper has presented a literature review associated with the three key objectives of a research project concerned with online services for people with disabilities in Australian public libraries. It has also provided a comprehensive overview of the method used for the project but, because of the volume of material involved and its availability elsewhere, has presented only summaries of the findings and recommendations for each objective.

There are two further issues which deserve mention, the creation of accessible websites and websites suitable for people with intellectual disabilities. While the creation of accessible websites is by no means the sole responsibility of librarians, it is an issue which deserves widespread activity to educate corporations, governments, other organisations and individuals. World Wide Web (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines have now been available for some time, but still there are innumerable websites which are inaccessible. Not only is this a problem for screen readers and audio web browsers, but sites which have frames create problems for adaptive equipment such as Intellikeys. Librarians need to join with others to put pressure on web designers to change this situation.

With regard to the second issue, when we were conducting the trials, there were problems identifying suitable websites for people with low or nonexistent literacy skills, and often resorted to the few children's sites which are less text dependent. However, often these websites were linked to other text dependent sites, or contained content that was not interesting. For those who had no literacy skills at all, it was difficult to find sites which would not leave them totally bored. This was unfortunate, as many of them were excited about using the internet, only to be disappointed by its lack of relevancy to them. The solution to this problem does not lie in adaptive equipment, but in the development of websites which cater for low literacy levels, or for those who can only achieve visual literacy. It is also important to provide the content of interest to these particular groups. ITNR now has a second round AccessAbility grant to attempt to address these problems.

References

[1] A video outlining the method used for the project and illustrating some suitable adaptive equipment is available from Information and Telecommunications Needs Research (ITNR) at Monash University tel 03 99032322 or email itnr@sims.monash.edu.au [Purchase recommended Editor]

[2] A range of papers, which set out the findings in detail, has been published. See (1) ITNR web site <www.home.vicnet.net. au/~itnrn/> (2) The Alia 2000 conference website: <www.alia. org.au/conferences/alia2000/proceedings/kirsty. williamson.html> for the paper Levelling the playing field: the role of libraries in providing online services for people with disabilities (3) The Communications Forum website, Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts for the paper Flexible work stations in community settings for people with disabilities <www.dcita.gov.au/crf/ papers2000/williamson.doc>. The full report, entitled Online services for people with disabilities in Australian public libraries will be available through the AccessAbility website <www.dcita.gov.au/graphics_welcome.html>

[3] See, for example, the Broadband Services Expert Group's Networking Australia's future; final report of the Broadband Services Expert Group Canberra, Broadband Services Expert Group 1995; St Clair, J Muir, J and Walker, A Digital technologies in Australian homes paper presented at Communications Research Forum, hosted by the Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics, 28-29 October, Melbourne 1996; Johnson, L and Moxon, E In whose service? Technology, care and disabled people: the case for a disability politics perspective Disability & society 13(2)1998 pp241-258

[4] See, for example, Newell, C People with disabilities and the information society In Population papers and policy issue discussion papers Melbourne, Telecom Australia 1994; Astbrink, G Will people with disabilities be riding the `information superhighway' or be left on a side street? DEAC news February 1995; Royal National Institute for the Blind The internet and how to access it Peterborough, RNIB 1998 cited by Berry, J Apart or a part? Access to the internet by visually impaired and blind people, with particular emphasis on assistive enabling technology and user perceptions Information technology and disabilities 6(3) 1999 pp1-16 <www.rit.edu/ ~easi/itd/itdv06n3/article2.htm> Accessed 24 January 2001; European Commission DGXIII Critical factors involved in end users' education in relation to assistive technology Project D3402 EUSTAT nd

[5] Wolstenholme, R and Stanzel, J Communications technology: information and access issues for people with disabilities Armidale NSW, The Rural Development Centre, University of New England 1997

[6] Australian Bureau of Statistics Disability, ageing and carers: summary of findings Melbourne, ABS 1998

[7] Amtmann, D and Cook, D Increasing access to information and computer technology for people with disabilities through public libraries 1999 CSUN 99 Papers <www.dinf.org/ csun_99/session0152.html> Accessed 18 January 2001

[8] See, for example, Chalfen, D H and Farb, S E Universal access and the ADA: A disability access design specification for the new UCLA Library online information system nd <www.isc.rit.edu/~easi/itd/itdv02n4/article4.ht ml> Accessed 18 January 2001; Christierson et al Implementing accessible workstations in a large diverse university community 1998 <www.ding.org/csun_98_98121.htm>; Anderson, L Adaptive technology to access information In Crispen, J L ed The Americans with Disabilities Act: its impact on libraries. The libraries responses in `doable' steps 1998 Association of Specialised and Cooperative Library Agencies pp 34-39, Amtmann and Cook 1999 op cit

[9] Deines-Jones, C Access to library internet services for patrons with disabilities: pragmatic considerations for developers nd np <www.rit.edu/~easi/itd/itdv02n4/article5.html> Accessed 18 January 2001

[10] These guidelines for flexible work stations are outlined in a number of papers eg Levelling the playing field: the role of libraries in providing online services for people with disabilities and Flexible work stations in community settings for people with disabilities detailed in the second footnote. They are also included in the report Online services for people with disabilities in Australian public libraries see above. The following paper discusses these guidelines as its major focus: Williamson, K, Stillman, L, Bow, A and Schauder, D Guidelines for a flexible public online workstation for people with disabilities. Paper presented at OZCHI conference, held at Charles Sturt University, November 1999 <home.vicnet.net.au/~itnr/reports/flexibleworks tation.htm> Accessed 18 January 2001

[11] Detailed descriptions of equipment are included in the papers already cited

[12] Midgley, G and Floyd, M Microjob: A systemic approach to IT training In Information training for people with disabilities Floyd, M ed London Rehabilitation Resource Centre 1999 pp241-258

[13] Vincent, T Information technology: expectations and realisations The British journal of visual impairment 14 (3) 1996 pp102-104

[14] Williams, B Assistive technology: building a national commitment to liberation Impact (Institute on Community Integration, newsletter) 8(1) 1995 pp1-22, cited by Fifield, M and Fifield, M Education and training of individuals involved in delivery of assistive technology devices Technology and disability 6 1997 pp77-88

[15] Fifield and Fifield op cit

[16] Deines-Jones, C Opening new worlds of information: library technology and internet access for patrons with disabilities 1995 pp1-7 <www.ualberta.ca/dept/slis/cais/deines.htm> Accessed 18 September 2000

[17] Graubert, G Training and specialized bibliographic instruction Information technology and disabilities 2 (4) 1995 pp1-5 <www.rit.edu/~easi/itd/itdv02n4/article1.html> Accessed 18 January 2001

[18] Mack, C, Koenig, A and Ashcroft, S Microcomputers and access technology in programs for teachers of visually impaired students Journal of visual impairment and blindness December 1990 pp526-530 and Berry op cit; Hine, N Vocational training at the reading information technology centre In Floyd, M ed Information training for people with disabilities London, Rehabilitation Resource Centre 1993 pp55-78

[19] Gale, B and Young, J Access through collaboration: surfing with disabilities In Managing diversity in adult community education Melbourne, Donvale Living and Learning Centre 1999 pp 43-67

[20] Luxton, K Training students in adaptive computer technology Journal of visual impairment and blindness December 1999 p525

[21] For copies of the prompt sheets see appendix 7 of the full report, cited above

[22] For the training materials for Opera see appendix 7 of the full report, cited above

[23] Amtmann and Cook 1999 op cit

[24] ibid

[25] Mainstreaming disability services in Victorian public libraries--report, recommendations and key performance indicators Melbourne RVIB 2000 <www.libraries.vic.gov.au> Accessed 18 January 2001

[26] ibid

[27] ibid

Kirsty Williamson B A TTC GradDipLib MLib PhD AALIA is Director of the Information and Telecommunications Needs Research (ITNR), which is a joint venture of the School of Information Management and Systems at Monash University and of the School of Information Studies at Charles Sturt University. She was a foundation member of the predecessor of the ITNR (the Telecommunications Needs Research Group), which was established at RMIT University in 1991. The group received considerable funding from the Telstra Fund for Social and Policy Research over a period of six years and Kirsty also received Telstra funding for her PhD Older adults: information, communication and telecommunications.

ITNR is at present undertaking studies ranging from research which focuses on online services for people with disabilities, including the development of websites suited to the deaf and people with physical and intellectual disabilities; the evaluation of databases at present offered in the public libraries of Victoria through the Gulliver project, and associated training needs; and the investigation of the advantages and disadvantages of teleworking for Monash University academics. Address: School of Information Management and Systems Level 7 26 Sir John Monash Dve Monash University Caulfield East Vic 3145 Tel(03)99031083 fax(03)99032005 kirsty.williamson@sims.monash.edu.au

Kirsty Williamson, Louise Jenkins, Steve Wright, Larry Stillman and Don Schauder School of Information Management and Systems Monash University Victoria

Received January 2001

Refereed paper
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Author:Schauder, Don
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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