Technology for the Visually
Since 1895 The New York Public Library (NYPL) has worked diligently
to meet the reading needs of people with disabilities. Currently,
the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, a branch
of NYPL, is responsible for meeting their needs in New York
City and Long Island.
With the advent of the computer age The New York Public Library
was quick to acquire computer based software, which could deliver
the printed word in different ways to those who cannot read
standard print. I will briefly describe several of the computer
software programs and technology that the library uses to give
its patron access to the printed materials.
In 1978 NYPL was the first public library to acquire Kurzweil
reading machines for its users. This invention completely revolutionized
the delivery of the printed word to those who were unable to
read print materials. Previous patrons had to rely on Braille
or recorded materials. With the invention of the Kurzweil device
patrons scanned materials on a flat bed and then the printed
word is translated into synthetic speech. The current version
makes thousands of books and journals available in English
and in other languages using the Roman alphabet.
Another valuable software program that is used primarily for
navigating the Internet is JAWS. JAWS is primarily a screen
reader that converts text into speech and reads it to the user.
Computer users who are completely blind can navigate the Internet
and use regular software such as WORD and EXCEL. A major feature
of JAWS is that all the commands are issued using keystrokes.
The mouse is not used; therefore, it is vital that those who
use JAWS have an in depth knowledge of the keyboard.
The most commonly used software for enabling the patron to
use the computer is ZOOMTEXT. This program enlarges the font
on the computer screen up to a magnification of 16X. Other
features of this software include highlighting both the mouse
pointer and the cursor. An important component of this program
is the ability to change the color of the font and the background.
This type of software is designed for people who have low vision.
The Power Braille board is yet another adaptive technology
tool. This thin electronic board is attached to the computer's
keyboard and is used by patrons who need materials converted
into Braille. What is on screen is converted into moveable
6 dot and 8 dot Braille that is used in computer and scientific
texts. Power Braille is used in conjunction with JAWS so that
the user can both read and hear the text. The speed in which
the Braille dots appear on the board may be adjusted to whatever
level is comfortable for the reader.
Listed above are only a few of the resources available to
assist those who have difficulty in reading standard print.#
Burke Mortimer is Senior Librarian at The Andrew Heiskell
Braille and Talking Book Library. For more information
call (212) 206- 5400, (212) 206-5458 (TDD) or visit talkingbooks.nypl.org.