Volume II Number 4, December 1995

Universal Access And The ADA: A Disability Access Design Specification For The New UCLA Library On-line Information System

Daniel Hilton Chalfen, Ph.D.
UCLA Office of Academic Computing,
Disabilities and Computing Program
Sharon E. Farb
UCLA Library


The time-honored, fundamental mission of American libraries is to provide universal access to information, collections, materials and services. In passing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the "ADA"), Congress estimated that over 43 million Americans have one or more disabilities. Congress further noted that, historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and, despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem. 42 USC Section 12101 (a) (5) provides that "individuals with disabilities continually encounter various forms of discrimination, including outright intentional exclusion, the discriminatory effects of architectural, transportation, and communication barriers, overprotective rules and policies, failure to make modifications to existing facilities and practices, exclusionary qualification standards and criteria, segregation, and relegation to lesser services, programs, activities, benefits, jobs, or other opportunities."

Individuals with disabilities comprise every demographic group imaginable. Thus, regardless of library type or location, individuals with disabilities represent an identifiable component of the constituency a library serves. However, it is well known that persons with disabilities have historically been underserved by libraries. The compliance obligations imposed upon libraries by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) present an opportunity to improve access not only to a traditionally under- served community, people with disabilities, but to all library users.

This article provides: (1) a brief discussion of the barriers traditionally faced by people with disabilities in accessing library collections, materials and services, (2) ADA compliance requirements for libraries, (3) an overview of the importance of adaptive computing technology in making library information accessible, and (4) a disability access design specification for the new UCLA library on-line information system, with the flexibility needed to adapt to a library's changing needs in providing universal information access. The specification includes extensive references for system design guidelines.

Library Access Barriers for People with Disabilities

Absent the ADA, the physical layout of the traditionally constructed library presents substantial access barriers to many people with disabilities. Most library construction prior to the ADA did not contemplate the particular problems of access experienced by people with disabilities. While it is difficult to generalize as to all disabilities, even a quick glance around the typical library will reveal some of the most common barriers to access, including: (1) entrances and doors that are too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs; (2) door hardware requiring substantial pressure, which is difficult for someone with limited upper body mobility to operate; (3) floors that are inaccessible to people in wheelchairs (i.e. stairways only, no elevators); (4) furniture that is not adjustable so that a variety of users, including those in wheelchairs, can be accommodated; and (5) book stacks, card catalogs and on-line searching stations that cannot be reached by a person in a wheelchair or with upper body dexterity limitations, (6) on-line information that is not accessible to people with print impairments due to lack of computer accommodation. The presence of these access barriers can greatly, and unnecessarily, increase the difficulty of accomplishing research for a person with a disability. Fortunately, as detailed below, the ADA now provides general guidance for libraries in identifying and eliminating these access barriers.


The ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in the areas of employment, public accommodations, state and local governmental services, transportation, and telecommunications. Pursuant to Title II of the ADA, which became effective on January 26, 1992, any public entity must make its programs, activities and services readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities unless doing so would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of such programs, activities, or services, or would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. Libraries are public entities within the meaning of Title II, and thus, the ADA requires that all programs, services and activities must be readily accessible to persons with disabilities. In this regard, Title II provides certain general guidance for libraries in ensuring compliance, as follows:

- Program access can be provided by, among other methods, reassigning services from inaccessible to accessible locations, providing auxiliary aids (such as note takers, qualified sign language interpreters and readers, taped texts, assistive listening devices, large print, Braille, or ASCII diskette materials), redesigning equipment, modifying policies, altering existing facilities to remove architectural barriers, or constructing new accessible facilities.

- In order to ensure adequate communications with persons who have hearing, vision or speech impairments, a library may supply assistive listening systems, television and video captioning, telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD), Braille, large print, etc.

- All special programs, social events, readings, lectures or similar events (e.g., exhibits) must be held in architecturally accessible locations.

*note: The illustrations are paraphrased from the ADA. The entire Americans with Disability Act can be found at 42 USC Sections 12101 et seq.


The American Library Association's "Library Bill of Rights" provides that "books and other information resources should be provided for interest, information, and enlightenment of all the people of the community the library serves." In accordance with this basic policy, libraries historically have undertaken vigorous efforts to provide access to information, collections and materials by implementing classification systems, preservation programs, mediated reference and referrals, interlibrary loan and information literacy programs. Beginning in the early 1980s, these efforts were expanded tremendously by the development of new information technologies. However, since access to information technology now is synonymous with access to information, libraries must carefully evaluate access to on-line information systems. In seeking to provide access to all users, and to comply with the ADA, libraries can benefit from the integration of "adaptive computing technology" into their on- line information systems and public computer workstations.

Adaptive computing technology can be defined as any modification made to standard computer software and hardware to enable people with disabilities to work -- functionally, without a disability -- on an equal basis with their non-disabled peers. Adaptive computing technology offers people with disabilities the opportunity to not just use computers, but to use computers to complete tasks that were previously not possible for them, including working with greater independence with on-line catalogs, reference materials, books, newspapers and other library resources.

For example, a voice synthesizer with "screen reading" software can give a person who is blind auditory access to on- line books and journals, while "reading machines" provide auditory access to print materials. Or, by using a voice recognition system, a person with an orthopedic disability can verbally maneuver through the searches required to access text- based information and on-line catalogs. Consider the television commercial recently presented by a major computer manufacturer. The commercial depicts a modern business executive standing near his desk and "asking" his computer to pull up certain file information. By utilizing this technology, the executive is able to review and update files, make notes and access information within his computer without using his eyes and hands. Adaptive computing technology is not just about disability access, it is about universal access.


The UCLA Library's mission "is to provide access to and delivery of information resources to the UCLA faculty, students and staff in support of the research and instructional mission of the University. The Library develops, organizes, and preserves collections for optimal use and provides links to remote information sources. The Library provides services, including instruction for information literacy and information management, to enable its users to fulfill their academic and intellectual needs...."

In 1994, the University Library began the process of designing specifications for a major enhancement of its on-line catalog, including consideration of the requirements of the ADA. To that end, the authors were asked to create a specification for the new on-line system to address the need for disability access. We took as our guiding principle a fundamental recognition that universal access requires universal design --an awareness that is now beginning to move from adaptive computing advocacy circles into the information technology mainstream.

On-line Information System Design

The UCLA Library on-line database, ORION, incorporates the electronic card catalog and numerous special electronic collections and information systems, including, but not limited to: the Chicano Studies Resource Center Library, the Institute of Social Science Research, the Hispanic American Periodical Index, the Film and Television Archive, InfoUCLA, the campus-wide information system, and Melvyl, the University of California on- line catalog, along with the several full-text databases that Melvyl supports. The current implementation of ORION is character-based, making ORION readily accessible by people with disabilities in general, and with print impairments in particular (people with blindness, low vision, certain learning disabilities, and orthopedic disability that makes reading physically difficult). This accessibility is due to the relatively straightforward conversion of screen characters into voice output, large print, and Braille through the use of microcomputer-based adaptive devices (voice synthesizers, large print software, and Braille screen displays, respectively).

The Library is currently planning a new implementation of ORION, presently named ORION2. ORION2 will incorporate a graphical user interface (or GUI), enabling users to access a much richer variety of documents, incorporating both text and graphical elements. However, the GUI environment can present a range of challenges to the print-impaired user, from bit-mapped text, images and icons that do not convert to voice output or Braille, to variable screen layouts that can be difficult or impossible to learn for a user who is blind.

A number of design specifications have been developed for ORION2 to guide the systems developers who will build it. One specification was written to insure that users of the library on- line system who have disabilities, and print impairments in particular, will have equal access to the same information as their non-disabled peers. This specification is particularly important to maintain accessibility in the transition from a character-based ORION to a GUI-based ORION2.

The ORION2 disability specification was written as a very general design guideline. The intent was to present a design philosophy to guide the systems development process, rather than a set of specific application features to follow strictly. The final shape of ORION2 is not known at this time; in fact changes will be made to the program on an ongoing basis, as with the present ORION system. The design specification must be flexible enough to apply to an evolving on-line information environment that cannot be fully anticipated today. As a case in point, consider the speed with which Gopher grew in popularity as an Internet client, only to be eclipsed even more quickly by the World Wide Web. What is the projected life span of the Web and what will be the effect on future on-line systems of its successor?

Most systems developers do not have expertise in adaptive computing technology and how to integrate it with on-line library information systems. They will need pointers to more detailed design guidelines to draw on as needed, to meet the intent of the disability specification. The ORION2 disability specification includes references to other guidelines that collectively represent much of the current state of knowledge of computer and information accessibility design. As this knowledge will also evolve, the ORION2 disability specification itself needs to be a work in progress.

The effectiveness of a library on-line information system depends on its use within the overall context of general library services. Hence, the disability specification addresses areas of concern not only to system designers and developers, but also to library administrators, library computing services, reference, instructional services, etc. These are the units that will be responsible for advocacy, design, implementation, training, and ongoing support and service for an on-line information system that is accessible to users with disabilities.

The specification is divided into four parts:

1. A statement of the level of accessibility the system must meet. This statement reflects a goal of full equality in both information accessibility and usability.

2. Specific design criteria for the system. These criteria provide a framework for system developers, library administrators, library computing services, etc. to organize their accessibility efforts.

These are simplified into four areas: accessible user interface, accessible electronic documents, accessible public workstations, and accessible documentation.

Examples are given of each of the criteria, and references are made to general design considerations and more detailed technical accessible design guideline references (below).

3. General design considerations provide a design philosophy to implement the specific criteria above. They include mainstreaming, electronic curb cuts, usability analysis, and built-in (direct) accessibility.

4. Accessible design guideline references provide the nuts and bolts reference resources for designing an accessible on-line system.

These guidelines were developed by organizations that have pioneered information technology accessibility for people with disabilities, including Trace, CITA (COCA), ICADD and EASI. The list is not meant to be exhaustive, and the library is encouraged to seek out additional resources that may be relevant. Additional reference sections also cover built-in accessibility and disability access to the World Wide Web. Internet addresses are given for most documents.

This specification represents our best efforts to help guide the design process toward equal library information access for people with disabilities. The authors welcome comments that might enhance the scope, depth, and effectiveness of the specification.


N I. (X19.) System shall meet or exceed standards set by state and federal disability law. System shall be accessible to and fully usable by users with disabilities.

II. Specific Design Criteria

1. Accessible User Interface

The user interface shall be accessible to and fully usable by users with disabilities. Accessibility to the interface applies to on-campus and dial-in use.


- Screen design must be readable by users of speech and Braille devices. This can include having the cursor track along with a highlight bar.

-The command environment must be fully controllable with keystroke commands, as an alternative to pointing devices, for people with visual and certain orthopedic impairments.

- Visual cues must be provided for people who cannot hear audio cues, and audio cues for people who cannot see visual cues.

- Screen colors must be adjustable for people with color blindness, certain learning disabilities, and for visually impaired people who must configure screen reading software.

- Ability to turn off or adjust cursor blinking rates must be available for people with epilepsy.

For design guidelines, see References 1 (CITA), 2a and 2b (Trace), 6, (all World Wide Web Accessibility citations), General Design Consideration 4 (Built-in Accessibility) and Reference 5.

2. Accessible Documents

Electronic documents must be accessible to and fully usable by users with print impairments. Full usability requires the preservation of document data and structure.


- Use of valid HTML 2.0 for document markup enables the translation of documents, via the ICADD SGML DTD, into Braille, preserving much document structure. ICADD translation to speech and large print output is under development.

- Use of SGML for document markup preserves more document structure (than HTML) in the conversion to Braille via the ICADD DTD, and offers greater opportunities for future document accessibility with other accessibility standards that may be developed.

- Note that attention must be given so that graphical document elements have textual equivalents, to provide access for the print impaired. For design guidelines, see General Design Consideration 3 (Usability Analysis), References 3 (ICADD), and 6 (all World Wide Web Accessibility citations).

3. Accessible Public Workstations

Public workstations must be accessible to and fully usable by users with disabilities.


- Users with wheelchairs may need keyboards and displays set to differing heights.

- Users who are blind may need tactile marks on keyboards and voice synthesizers for audio output of screen information.

- Users with low vision may require screen magnification software or large (17" or greater) displays.

See General Design Considerations 1 (Mainstreaming) and 2 (Electronic Curb Cuts). See References 1 (CITA), 2c (Trace) and 4 (EASI).

4. Accessible Documentation

Documentation must be provided to users with disabilities in alternative formats. In selection of format, priority is given to the users own format preference (following the ADA).


- Alternative formats may include audio tape, Braille, large print, ASCII files or other accessible electronic document formats (see 2, above, Accessible Documents.)

See General Design Consideration (Usability Analysis), and all References.

III. General Design Considerations:

1. Mainstreaming: All public computing areas must be universally accessible. Whenever possible, run adaptive software solutions from network servers. This will provide these accommodations on all networked workstations. This will allow adaptive hardware peripherals to be used flexibly on any networked workstation. Place all stand-alone adaptive computing technology in public computing areas.

See also 2 below.

2. Electronic Curb Cuts: As widely as possible, utilize accommodations which, in addition to benefitting users with disabilities, enhance computing for all users.

Examples include

A. Hardware: large displays (17" and up), trackballs, light-touch keyboards, etc.;

B. Software: see 1, above and 4, below;

C. Furniture: height adjustable tables, adjustable chairs, indirect lighting, etc.

3. Usability Analysis: The system must not only be accessible, it must be fully usable by people with a range of disabilities. Full usability shall be determined through a usability analysis by experienced campus adaptive technology providers.

4. Built-in Accessibility: Accessibility for voice output, large print, and keyboard control can be built directly into the user interface, augmenting individualized access solutions, or eliminating the need for them altogether. This is also known as "Direct Accessibility." A prototype demonstrating the viability of this approach was developed by the Trace R & D Center for access to bibliographic data base software. See Reference 5. Every effort should be made to examine the feasibility of this approach for ORION2.

IV. Accessible Design Guideline References:

1. CITA Guidelines: Center for Information Technology Accommodation (formerly "COCA"), U.S. General Services Administration. Design guidelines for implementing Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973. See especially Appendices A and H. http://www.gsa.gov/coca/front.htm CITA WWW Homepage: http://www.gsa.gov/coca/

CITA Information:
General Services Administration,
Center for Information Technology Accommodation, KBA Room 1234
18th & F St. NW
Washington, DC 20405.

2. Trace Guidelines: Trace Research and Development Center.

a. "Considerations in the Design of Computers to Increase Their Accessibility by Persons with Disabilities, Version 4.2," 1988. gopher://trace.wisc.edu/00/ftp/PUB/TEXT/ACCESS/GUIDELNS/COMPUTER. TXT

b. "Application Software Design Guidelines: Increasing the Accessibility of Application Software to People with Disabilities and Older Users, Version 1.1," 1994. gopher://trace.wisc.edu/00/ftp/PUB/TEXT/ACCESS/GUIDELNS/SOFTWARE. TXT

c. "Checklists for Making Library Automation Accessible to Patrons with Disabilities," Berliss, J. R., 1992.

Trace Information:
Trace Research & Development Center
S-151 Waisman
1500 Highland Avenue
Madison, WI 53705.
(608) 262-6966.

3. ICADD Guidelines: The International Committee on Accessible Document Design, ICADD SGML DTD (ISO 12083). http://www.webable.com/ICADD.html;

ICADD Information: kerscher@montana.com (406)549-4687.

4. EASI Guidelines: Equal Access to Software and Information. "EASI's Adaptive Computing Evaluation Kit for Colleges and Universities." http://www.isc.rit.edu/~easi/easipub/easipubadakit.html EASI Homepage: http://www.isc.rit.edu/~easi/ EASI Information:

EASI@EDUCOM.EDU (714) 830-0301

5. Built-In Accessibility References

"Building Disability Access Directly into Next-Generation Information and Transaction Systems." gopher://trace.wise.edu/0/ftp/pub/standard/tracepap/seamless.asc;


"Use of Multiple Parallel Interface Strategies to Create a Seamless Accessible Interface for next-Generation Information Systems." gopher://trace.wisc.edu/0/ftp/pub/standard/tracepap/seamless.asc Vanderheiden, G., 1995, Trace Research and Development & Center.

Note: A demonstration of built-in approaches can be found on the Publications, Media and Materials (PMM) database on the Co-Net CD 7.0, available through the Trace Center.

6. World Wide Web Accessibility References

"Making the Web Accessible for the Blind and Visually Impaired," Paciello, M., 1995 http://www.webable.com/guestart.html

"Design of HTML (Mosaic) Pages to Increase Their Accessibility to Users With Disabilities," Vanderheiden, G., 1995 http://www.trace.wisc.edu/HTMLgide/

"Universal Information Access on the WWW," Fontaine, P., 1995 http://www.gsa.gov/coca/csun.htm

"Writing Accessible HTML Code," Fontaine, P. 1995 http://www.gsa.gov/coca/nii.htm

NCSA Mosaic Access Home Page http://bucky.aa.uic.edu/

"The Accessibility of PDF and Adobe Acrobat Viewers for the Visually Disabled," McQuarrie, L., 1995. http://www.adobe.com/Acrobat/Access.html

Chalfen, D. H. & Farb, S. E. (1995). Universal access and the ADA: A disability access design specification for the new UCLA library on-line information system. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 2(4).