Volume IV Number 1, August 1997

The Multiple-Disability Workstation for Small Libraries

Dick Banks
Adaptive Technologist
Steve Noble
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic

This presentation is designed to assist those who need to know how to make their library computing environment as accessible as possible, while at the same time trying to work with a small budget. The presenters will focus on workable solutions to today's library access problems.


There are two ways in which libraries may approach the issue of
access. The first option involves purchasing a new computer for the adaptive workstation. The second option may be dictated by funds, which would mean using an existing workstation for disability access.

Using an existing workstation will dictate access options, which means you will need to know a few things. Knowing the answers to the following questions will help in determining a plan of action. The questions offered here are certainly not all- inclusive. The more that is known, the better:

  1. What is the operating system? DOS, Windows, MAC, etc.
  2. How much RANDOM ACCESS MEMORY (RAM) does the computer have and how much is available for new software?
  3. How much DISK DRIVE SPACE is available?
  4. How many PORTS are available for additional hardware?
  5. What kind of MONITOR AND VIDEO CARD does the computer use?
  6. Does the computer have a 286, 386, 486, or 586 PROCESSOR?

In buying a new computer it is best to adopt the policy of the more the better. Unfortunately the reality in many situations is that such a policy is not possible because of budget constraints. With budget constraints in mind, the following list could be considered as minimums. Remember that we are discussing a general adaptive workstation:

  1. 16 megabytes of RAM, random access memory.
  2. 1 gigabyte HARD DISK DRIVE SPACE with 3.5 FLOPPY disk drive.
  3. At least one PARALLEL and one SERIAL PORT MORE than you need.
  4. VGA/SUPER VGA color monitor minimum of 15 inches.


It is very wise to consider future library plans when investing in a computer. You may be using a DOS based cataloging system now. Will you consider changing to a Windows, graphical user interface (GUI) based system in the future? If this is the case, it needs to be understood that adaptive hardware/software, in many cases, is not compatible between these operating systems. The same is true with MAC.


For the purpose of discussing adaptive computing it is helpful to address the issue in disability category terms. This is done to help understand what hardware/software can be helpful. In other words, certain adaptations are designed to help people with different needs. There are a number of adaptations that are helpful to a variety of these categories as well.

Blind and Visually Impaired

Many blind and low vision users learn to type early in school. Many computer keyboards have raised dots on the letters "F" and "J" and on the number "5" on the numeric keypad. Showing a user these guides may make their task of learning the keyboard much easier. The main concern may be special keys like the CONTROL, ALT, and DELETE keys on the IBM or compatible, or COMMAND OPTION keys on the Macintosh.

Braille key labels can be created by using a DynaTape device and would be useful in establishing relative key positions. A person who uses Braille would be unlikely to be able to read the letters with all fingers sitting directly on top of the keys, as Braille is normally read by moving the fingers across raised dots. However, Braille DynaTape is very useful for identifying many keys on the keyboard that may vary from keyboard to keyboard, such as the control key, delete key, etc. Clear DynaTape allows a sighted user to still be able to read the key labels. Many computers that are made accessible serve a dual purpose. In other words, the computer may be used by a person with a disability and, at times, serve as a regular workstation for the general lab user. For this reason, it may be wise to consider solutions that take generic computer use into consideration. One of the greatest tools for blind and low vision users is the speech synthesizer. A speech synthesizer coupled with a screen reading program allows the user to hear input from the computer in a variety of ways. Programming the screen reader to read all or portions of the screen make it possible to access an online catalog and save configuration files so that users don't need to spend a great deal of time learning how to use the library's online information.

There are speech synthesizers and screen reading programs that work for DOS and for Windows. An important thing to remember is that since DOS and Windows are really different operating systems, screen readers will not work in both formats. A different screen reading program will need to be considered for each operating system. Some MAC operating systems contain screen reading capabilities which may or may not work for online catalogs.

One of the most exciting advances in adaptive technology is OCR or Optical Character Recognition. The term scanner may be more familiar to you. This technology has been available for a number of years. Scanners look very much like small photocopy machines. Books or loose pages of text are placed on the scanner and the text is scanned and converted to computer readable form which can then be saved to a file.

A Braille printer can be used to print a hard copy of search results or text files. Many blind people prefer to have a hard copy of materials just as sighted users do. The price of Braille printers has dropped significantly in recent years and if the budget allows, a Braille printer should be a part of the workstation.

Physical-Mobility Impairment

For people with a mobility impairment, computer technology offers an opportunity to gain independence in daily living, education and working activities. A computer can be modified for an individual with a disability affecting motor control. There are varying degrees of impairment which can make it difficult to consider accommodations. There are however, some adaptive technology hardware and software accommodations that are helpful and quite reasonable.

A software package like ACCESS DOS and WINPACK are free and contain a number of software programs. Sticky Keys, Mousekeys and Repeat Keys are some of the programs included with these packages. ACCESS DOS and WINPACK are freeware and available on many computer billboards and Internet ftp and World Wide Web sites.

Sticky Keys allows the user to depress one key and LOCK that key until the next key is depressed. This can be very useful in giving keyboard commands that require pressing two keys at the same time. Capitalizing the first letter of a word at the beginning of a sentence can be impossible for someone who has the use of only one hand.

Mousekeys is a program that allows for manipulation of the mouse pointer by using numbers on the numeric keypad.

Patrons who have difficulty controlling hand movement may find releasing a key before the keystroke is repeated many times to be nearly impossible. Repeat Keys can be programmed to delay repeating keystrokes up to three seconds.

There are hardware solutions for this population as well. One such product is a trackball. A trackball is a mouse device which permits the user to move the mouse cursor by using a rolling motion on a stationary base. The clicking action is done by pressing mouse buttons with the heel or side of the hand on the base of the trackball. Mouse buttons can be programmed to perform double click requirements and dragging.

Learning Disabled

Perhaps the most challenging of categories is that of the learning disabled. It is important to remember that many hardware and software adaptive technologies that are helpful to blind and low vision users can be used to assist people with learning disabilities. Screen enlargement is a good example. Many people with dyslexia find larger characters and cursors to be quite helpful. Additional products, such as word prediction, macro programs and grammar checkers can make a real difference in enhancing the abilities of patrons with learning disabilities.

Hearing and Speech Impairments

As a general rule, both of these categories need little in the way of specialized adaptive technologies. There are a number of computer programs that notify the deaf and hearing impaired when the computer beeps by giving a visual signal on the computer screen such as a flashing musical note.

Communication is the real issue with both of these populations. Being able to understand the user and having the ability to make yourself understood can be a real challenge. The computer can be a useful tool in communicating. If the user has computer skills, typing in a word processor or editor is extremely helpful in communicating.


How much money will a library need to consider a general access workstation? Although prices vary depending on product, the following is offered as a general estimate:

* New Computer with CD-ROM drive, 2800 bps Modem, 3.5" floppy drive, 15" color monitor, 1 GB hard disk space, and 16MB Random Access Memory...$995 to $1395

*Screen Enlargement...$295 - $700

*Speech Synthesizer...$395 - $595

*ACCESS DOS or WINPACK...no cost

Price ranges reflect differences in particular models, and a discussion of these differences is beyond the scope of this paper. If there is a college or university close to you, call the library and ask what they are doing or using in the way of adaptive equipment. There may be a user of adaptive technology in your community.


Nothing has opened windows to the world quite like the Internet. This is particularly true for people with disabilities. Research is now a only an Internet connection away. Literally thousands of libraries around the world are accessible online. The Internet is often referred to as the information superhighway. There are many resources to help librarians access this information. EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information) is one of those resources.

EASI offers a discussion list called AXSLIB-L, which is devoted to access to libraries. It is free and all that is required is an e-mail address. Many members on AXSLIB-L have been working with access issues and libraries and are willing to share their experiences with others.

EASI has a software library with freeware, shareware and demo programs available via the Internet. Having this software available gives people the opportunity to try a particular access technology to see if it would work in a particular situation. The EASI World Wide Web page has hundreds of documents and links specifically dealing with computer and information technology issues for people with disabilities. It is a virtual "one stop shopping center" and it is all free. Connect to EASI at the following URL:



Making libraries accessible to people with disabilities opens a new world of opportunities to a population who, in many cases, have never enjoyed the wonders of a library. Access to libraries for this population can mean an equal opportunity to advance in education. Education often leads to better jobs and greater independence. Adapting a computer to meet the needs of people with disabilities has changed in the past ten years in three important areas. Products have become more numerous and less expensive. Resources to assist libraries in their efforts have increased dramatically and the technical aspects of installation and use are far less threatening.

This paper, which was delivered at the California State University Northridge Conference "Where Assistive Technology Meets the Information Age" (March 18 - 22, 1997) is reprinted, with permission of CSUN's Founder and Director, Harry J. Murphy, Ed.D.

Banks, D. & Noble, S. (1997). The multiple-disability workstation for small libraries. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 4(1).