ASSOCIATES (vol. 8 no. 1, July 2001) - associates.ucr.edu
University of Exeter.
I was delighted to read Gail Shanks's article 'The Challenge of the Learning Disabled Patrons' in the last edition of ASSOCIATES (Vol 7 No 3). This was because it is a topic that interests me personally as well as in my work place.
One of the first things you soon realise about the topic of disabilities is the amount of information available in different places, in different formats, and often in huge amounts! Hence CLAUD and CLAUDINE.
What, you may ask, is CLAUD and CLAUDINE?
In 1996 a group of librarians, including myself, in Higher Education decided to network their own best practices and ideas to try and improve facilities for disabled users in each other's libraries. At first only a few universities were involved at Exeter, Plymouth, Southampton and Bristol. We have met at each other's Universities and spent many an hour discussing various topics. Since those first meetings we have expanded our membership and launched our own web site. The CLAUD web site has only just recently been published, developed by the HEFCE funded CLAUDINE project, which is based at the Access Unit at the University of Bristol and is managed by Sandra Jones. The website provides details of CLAUD members, details of meetings and the annual CLAUD summer conference, the CLAUDINE project and extensive links to other useful websites. The web address is http://www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/AccessUnitPRD/CLAUD. Check it out and try a few of the links.
One way to access some of this information is via PC, and the INTERNET, but can your user manage? The excellent Best Practice manual at http://www.nlbuk.org/bpm has 16 chapters, and 6 appendices on the web, or costs £75 for the CD version, while the UK's DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) at http://www.disability.gov.uk/dda/index.html on goods and services continues for as long as well.
Added to which is the problem of buying a PC which can deal with various data formats, does not cost to much to buy and maintain, and can be upgraded on a regular basis. What is needed is a PC, which can access information, use voice recognition software and also access microfiche. Is there such a machine? Well, yes and no. The technology is available but as separate units, not one, but with the rapid developments seen in the PC world it would not be impossible to have such a machine available in a few years time. As one friend of mine said the real problem with PC's of any sort, including laptops and PALM, can be summed up as follows: If you can imagine it - someone is working on a design for it; if you can touch it - it is already obsolete.
Last year in the Times newspaper (27th October, 2000,) was an article on new voice recognition software by a company called Vocalis, with a product called SpeecHTML. This is described as a new programme that enables people to access and obtain audio information from any website, written in standard HTML, using a telephone and spoken commands. Their web site is at http://www.speechtml.com/learnmore.html
Microfiche have long been a good way of storing large amounts of information, often as archive material, which often again poses difficulties for disabled users. A company called Anacomp Technical Services have now produced a machine called ImageMouse, which they say allows the user to view and digitise an image from microfiche directly to their desktop. The base of a pad illuminates a 4x6 area of fiche. The imagemouse glides horizontally and vertically over the base to digitise and display the image instantly on the PC. The image can then be saved as a TIFF, BMP or JPEG file. There are possibilities for printing and even sending it as an email attachment. You can find more information at http://www.anacomp.com/ImageMouse/summary.html
The American Equal Access to Software and Information 'EASI' organisation located at http://www.rit.edu/~easi offers online tutorials and web chats on a wide variety of topics related to disabilities. Some of their workshops are available at http://www.rit.edu/~easi/workshop.html
Perhaps before not too long our CLAUD web site will be up to this standard and offering the sort of information these sites do. I certainly hope so, and will endeavour to make it so.
Lets hope that some of these developments do come about, and in the not too distant future, so that we can offer an even wider, but hopefully more comprehensive service to our users.