January 26, 2009

Begin Where You Are

Accessibility is like that journey of a thousand miles that begins with one step. Daunting, yes, but not impossible. Begin where you are and take small steps toward your destination.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the DC Public Library's orientation to their Adaptive Services Division. This is a great local resource with state-of-the-art assistive technology and friendly staff who were very willing to share their expertise. This division is home to many attractive and sophisticated devices that enable users with disabilities to use a computer, scan and read paper mail, check out Braille and audio books, and share literacy materials in all formats with friends and family members who have special needs.

First we had a tour of the division's newly renovated space on the second floor of the downtown (Martin Luther King, Jr.) branch. We learned about their training programs for users and librarians alike who would like to become proficient in using screen reader software, accessible keyboards, and many other important tools.

The Adaptive Services division is available to train you and your patrons on using assistive devices. They hope to eventually develop a curriculum to certify users of this technology. They are also always in need of volunteer readers for their audio books program. (As part of our tour we had the opportunity to see and enter a soundproof booth for recording audio materials for the blind.) More information on this volunteer opportunity is at http://home.earthlink.net/~ghendershot/index.html.

January 9, 2009

Will the Revolution Have Wheelchair Ramps? Web 2.0 and the Illusion of Inclusion

For some time now, librarians and others have been touting the "new web" as the means to social inclusion, participation, and collaboration -- a means of building new communities that are prepared to take on the digital revolution. Indeed, Web 2.0 tools are characterized by their emphasis on contributions from those who are consumers of the content. Experience the content, and then share your experience with others. This happens through Facebook, wikis, blogs, webinars, social bookmarking, video- and photo-sharing, tag clouds, and many other forms of interaction that are enabled by web-based technology. Web 2.0 is a whole lot of fun, and has become second-nature to many who do not even know the term "Web 2.0" or who wouldn't notice that the web is now "new" or different from the old way of doing things.

I hope that Web 2.0 is truly the means by which the people's voices get heard and the promise of democracy and digital revolution that many foresee. My concern is that many of the barriers to entry of the old web persist, and the new web may come with its own set of challenges. Who might be left behind in this digital revolution, and what can we as librarians and information professionals do about it?

The library community in general has a strong history of outreach to under-represented groups, populations with limited English proficiency, and people with disabilities. We have demonstrated a commitment to service, and to providing access to information for all who want it, even before they ask or know it themselves. We have also demonstrated a willingness to jump into Web 2.0 with both feet and ride the digital wave lest it come crashing down upon us. My hope is that these two traits of the library world will converge to help us all tackle the old challenges of web accessibility, and the new issues that Web 2.0 presents. What is the experience, for example, of a visually-impaired person posting to a wiki, or of a hearing-impaired person participating in a webinar? What other questions should we be asking about Web 2.0 and accessibility?

I have struggled a bit throughout the last year to find my purpose and focus for this blog. I have decided that web accessibility should be my new theme -- to motivate me to keep this blog going, to keep it fresh with a wealth of helpful resources, and to garner more focused attention from my colleagues. I certainly hope I can deliver, and that this too shall be a forum for collaboration, contribution, and participation among all users.

Happy New Year!