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Library adapts to make reading a whole lot easier.

Byline: Jim Feehan The Register-Guard

Mike Thomas can't wait to have the latest John Grisham novel read to him.

The voice reading the thriller, however, may sound something like the computer HAL from Stanley Kubrick's movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey."

The Eugene Public Library on Sunday began offering several state-of-the-art tools for people who might otherwise have difficulty using traditional library resources - patrons who are blind or have visual impairments, who have physical or learning disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing.

In the brave new world of computer software, libraries can install programs that use a scanner to read a printed page, then speak the text aloud through headphones.

Thomas, a Eugene man who lost his sight while in high school 20 years ago, works as a computer consultant for the Oregon Commission for the Blind, among other clients. "This provides me an opportunity to access information that wasn't available before," he said.

The library spent $25,000 for its adaptive technology software and computer imaging equipment. Computer stations are available at the downtown library (one in the children's center and two on the third floor) and one each at the Bethel and Sheldon branch libraries.

The stations are equipped with roller trackballs, which are easier for customers with palsy and tremors to use than a standard computer mouse, said library employee Tylar Merrill.

On the third floor of the downtown library, easily accessible by elevator, an electronic magnification system is already in use.

It's a closed-circuit television monitor connected to a color enlarger, making it possible to read newspapers, magazines, labels, medicine bottles, checkbooks, printed directions or any other print that might otherwise be too small for someone to read.

The machine is easy to use, with adjustable contrast and color settings to meet a range of visual needs. The electronic magnification machine can increase the image size by a factor of 60.

Visually impaired people "can actually see family photo albums they haven't been able to see in years," said Mary Lee Turner, a rehabilitation teacher with the state blind commission's Eugene office.

Turner, who is herself legally blind, estimates she has 2,000 clients in Lane County. That figure will continue to grow as more residents are diagnosed with macular degeneration, the most common cause of age-related blindness, she said.

Another device translates onscreen text or graphics into braille notation on paper. The braille embosser is located in a custom-built stand on the library's third floor.

For the deaf, the library now offers videos in American Sign Language. The Eugene library is the only one in Oregon - and one of only a few dozen in the nation - to acquire the collection of more than 200 videos. The videos show ASL interpreters providing a range of information.

About one-third of the videos are geared to hearing parents and their deaf children, and include children's stories and parenting information. The others are for deaf and hard-of-hearing adults and young adults, and include history, biographies, how-to, reference and health issue titles.

"This brings equal access to everyone to the services we have," Merrill said.

ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Stations at downtown and branch libraries offer several features for patrons with disabilities

Nineteen-inch monitor provides larger screen view

Roller trackball, in addition to standard mouse, offers greater control. Also, computer keyboards have extra-large letters and numbers.

OpenBook software uses scanner to "read" a printed page, then speaks the text aloud through headphones.

ZoomText software magnifies what's onscreen up to 16 times, and can be set for full-screen, single line, partial-screen or moving lens. It also reads onscreen text aloud, and provides a choice of color schemes for maximum visibility.

JAWS (Job Access With Speech) software enables blind and visually impaired patrons to access nearly all Internet and e-mail functions.

Downtown library is wheelchair accessible. American Sign Language interpreter available with 48-hour notice. More information: 682-5450 or libraryoutreach@ci.eugene.or.us/library.

CAPTION(S):

Ilaiva Sophia, a librarian at the Eugene Public Library, demonstrates how an electronic magnification machine can display documents at a larger size on a television monitor.
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Title Annotation:General News; Patrons with disabilities benefit from new user-friendly technology
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 25, 2004
Words:680
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