New library touts adaptive technology

Duane Hicks

Helping those with vision problems
Those with vision problems need not be left in the dark when it comes to reading, and the new Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre has an area with several pieces of equipment dedicated to assisting them.
Called the adaptive technology area, this section of the library features six stations with devices to help the vision-impaired.
These range from SARA, a scanning and reading appliance designed to help the blind and those with low vision to read printed materials, to JAWS—screen reading software where a computerized voice reads out the contents of the computer screen, whether it’s a newspaper article or anything else.
Another device is TOPAZ, a desktop video magnifier which magnifies printed materials up to 82 times.
All a person has to do is place the material (whether it’s a book, newspaper, handwritten letter, bill, or anything else) on a movable reading table and then adjust the magnification level and display colours to work best for their eyesight.
The Zoomtext magnifier/reader performs a similar function while yet another tool people can use is Kurzweil software, which has a database of 60,000 classic titles that the program will read aloud for the user (people even can download these and bring them home to enjoy at their leisure).
There also is a hand-held scanner, called Ruby, a library patron could use to, say, bring over to the talking books section of the library and scan titles. The device magnifies the the title so they can read it on their own (as opposed to asking staff to read out the titles to them).
“This is a huge improvement over just having talking books available,” said chief librarian Margaret Sedgwick, referring to the adaptive technology as a whole.
She noted devices like TOPAZ are useful not only for reading a newspaper, but a phone book or even a pill bottle.
“There’s many things with small print these days that that equipment will be used for,” Sedgwick noted.
“Each piece of equipment does something a little differently, whether it scans and reads, whether it reads a website, or whether it allows you to create a document very simply,” she explained.
“It depends on what your need is,” Sedgwick added, mentioning the equipment all is on tables with adjustable heights to accommodate people in wheelchairs or those who wish to stand.
The adaptive technology was sponsored by the Voyageur Lions Club of Fort Frances. Incoming president Joyce Zub stopped by the library last Thursday to deliver a cheque for $10,000 of the club’s $15,000 commitment to the vision-assistance equipment.
“I think there are people in the community who need something like this, and haven’t had it available,” noted Zub, who was impressed by the technology Sedgwick showed her that day.
Zub added that Lions clubs everywhere support vision-related programs as part of their mandate, and the adaptive technology at the new library seemed like a natural fit.
The Lions’ connection to helping the vision-impaired goes back to 1925, when the well-known advocate for people with disabilities, Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf herself, attended the Lions Clubs International convention and challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”
Lions Clubs International took up her challenge and began sight programs aimed at preventable blindness and otherwise related to vision. Since 1971, Lions Clubs International has observed June 1 as “Helen Keller Day.”
Library staff only began training on the new equipment last Wednesday, so the public hasn’t had much chance to use it yet, noted Sedgwick.
But she added staff are encouraging those who could use such equipment to come by the library, try it out, and tell them what they think of the technology.
Sedgwick said the adaptive technology area is excellent to have to better serve the public, but also is necessary to meet modern provincial accessibility standards, noting adaptive technology soon will become the norm at libraries everywhere.
She added the library received advice from Frontier Computing in Toronto as to which equipment would best suit the facility here.
In related news, the grand opening week (June 21-25) for the new library begins Monday, but its door has been opened for about two weeks now.
And in that time, Sedgwick said the library has been very busy.
“We’ve had approximately 450 people here the first day, and at least 300 every day,” she enthused. “Any time of day you come here, there’s a lot of people.
“There’s been lots of new library memberships,” Sedgwick added. “I think [last Wednesday], we had 11, and the other day, we had 17.
“That’s impressive, as well.
“So people are very excited to come into the library,” she remarked.
“There was a gentleman in here with a scooter this week, who hadn’t been able to come to the library for some time,” Sedgwick recalled.
“He made his way around the aisles very easily, so we were pleased to know it was accessible.”
Sedgwick also said the library will have a wheelchair available for the public to use in the near future, so they won’t have to unload their own from their vehicle.
The library is open weekdays from 9 a.m.-9 p.m.