Special Services:
The Libraries’ Commitment to the ADA

By Carol McNeely, Special Services

Last June Special Services moved from the 2nd floor of Ekstrom to a new office in the south end of the Reference DepartmentSpecial Services offices on the 1st floor. We moved from an office that essentially isolated the students from their peers and other services to one that is not only more accessible but also integrates them into a traditional library setting. Our former drab and dreary office is now a room with a view…. and one of the best views on campus. I certainly am thrilled with the change and believe the students are too.

In the 1970’s my cousin Stephen, a quadriplegic, moved from a small town in Indiana to Louisville so he could attend graduate school at UofL. He chose UofL because the campus buildings were wheelchair accessible. Back then, he painstakingly hand-wrote his papers using a special brace. My aunt would type his papers for him. It was a slow and tedious process. Today we have voice-recognition software, like Dragon Dictate Naturally-Speaking, that would allow him to speak to a computer and it would type for him.

Our new computer has state of the art software for blind and visually-impaired users. If you walk by the office and hear a computer “talking” it’s either JAWS or Kurzweil 1000. Both will read the computer screen back to you. JAWS will read the web, read or write e-mail messages, and access information from databases. Kurzweil 1000 converts printed word into speech and is used to scan documents. Lina Hale, a UofL graduate student, says she’s found “virtually no limitations when searching the web with JAWS.” She’s equally enthusiastic about the Kurzweil 1000 software.

PCs with special softwareIn September we added a TTY phone (for outgoing calls only). We replaced the phone at the Information booth and moved it to the Reference desk. This phone provides accessibility to persons who are hearing-impaired or deaf as well as to persons with speech impairments. With a TTY, an acronym for teletypewriter, conversations are typed from one machine to another. (As a musician, my first thought was that Beethoven could have called home from Ekstrom, and I'm pleased about that!)

The Metro Lab acquired an adaptive keyboard called Intellikeys. It helps persons with motor skill impairments use a computer keyboard along with a trackball mouse. And our new CCTV, which enlarges print and displays it on a monitor, is used constantly.

This past spring, David Horvath, with the tenacity and perseverance of a good bureaucrat, saw to it that UL purchased a site license for ZoomText. It’s the most popular and widely used screen magnification software available. Check out the details http://www.louisville.edu/library/news/zoomtext.html

Want to know where you can find a Braille printer on campus? Thanks to reference librarian, Terri Holtze, Special Services has a new website, http://www.louisville.edu/Library/ekstrom/specserv/ It includes a link that lists our adaptive technology campus-wide. The University Libraries, Disability Resource Center and IT are collaborating to make our campus as accessible as possible.

Diane Nichols devoted her time and attention to make the new Special Services office not only look as nice as it does, but also to assure we got the proper furniture, such as having counter tops that are adjustable in height. Weiling Liu and the Office of Libraries Technology staff took care of all the details from ordering to installing the software. And Mark Paul, of course, is always “on call” for computer problems in reference. I am relieved to have such technical support!

I would be remiss if I did not devote a few sentences to thank Dave Loeffler. This move had its stressful moments. We moved right in the middle of the carpet renovation in Reference. As usual, Dave was juggling at least three projects at once and we all thought we should be his TOP priority. (I attribute his calm demeanor to the fact he’s a Cubs’ fan.)

A colleague of mine at Indiana University likes to point out that all of us will be disabled at some point in our lives. A secretary who suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome may not be able to keep his/her job unless adaptive adjustments are made. Break your leg, end up in a wheelchair and you will discover how challenging it is to get in and out of our restrooms. While it is easy to think of others who are disabled, when we include ourselves, our focus changes.

For me, personally, it’s been wonderful to join the Reference staff, not only by location but in partnership as well. Their collective insight and wisdom are a source of great support as we attempt to serve the needs of all our patrons.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the passage of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). While there is always more to do, I am proud to work for a university, and a library in particular, that pays more than lip service to the belief in equal access to education.