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November 3, 2000

If you’re reading this easily, then the information that follows may not be for you. But you could pass it on.

The Salida Regional Library just started receiving the large print edition of Time Magazine. The library offers several services for the visually impaired. Many people, with sight problems or not, already use the library’s growing audiobook collection; however, for people who have difficulty with print and must rely solely on audiobooks for their “reading,” this relatively small collection (630 titles) will not suffice for long.

But the Colorado Talking Book Library can offer surfeit. The Talking Book Library provides free access to recorded books and magazines, as well as to large-print books. Users must qualify first, but the application form is simple. A doctor or other accepted professional can certify the visual or physical difficulty necessary to qualify for the service.

Then, everything is free and easy. Cassette players are provided free of charge. Tapes are mailed both ways postage-free. Packaging and labeling is easy, so there’s no burden from that. One can order as many or as few books as desired, or even make a request such as “Six westerns and one romance a week,” and they’ll send them.

If you know someone who could use this service, direct them to the library for application forms and information. The Salida Regional Library also maintains a large-print book collection (950 titles), which we add to regularly. Many of our new westerns appear on these shelves, as well as additional copies of bestsellers.

But needless to say, most information is not duplicated in large print or audio formats. To help people with low vision, the library has a video reader, which is basically a video camera that projects a page, or Public Service bill, or Doonesbury cartoon, etc., onto a tv screen. The image can be magnified and focused as needed for easier reading.

You might think that modern technology would permit the greatest flexibility in adaptions for handicapped people. In many ways, it does. But the world of computers and the Internet is still largely a visual one. Look at almost any web page and you can see immediately that translating it for a blind person would be nearly impossible. In fact, many web pages are difficult and frustrating for a sighted person to negotiate.

It’s a matter of design, and designers are starting to recognize the need to simplify for visual interface translation. One of the simplest techniques is to provide a text equivalent for any non-text element on the page, such as a picture or an image used as a link. A computer can then take a non-text element and translate it into text, which can be read, or converted into an auditory signal (such as spoken words) or even into a braille equivalent (yes, such equipment exists).

Careful design can benefit non-handicapped users, too. Many users today are still restricted to text browsers and can’t view images from the Internet. Simple matters, such as making sure that graphics and text will work regardless of color, or that audio output has a text equivalent, can benefit everyone. Users accessing the internet through limited resources such as mobile phones, palm-top computers, or slow phone lines will appreciate careful, universal design.

Guidelines have been developed for Internet (WWW) designers who are concerned about the universal accessibility of their web pages. My favorite guideline from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, W3C Recommendation 5-May-1999, Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, is Guideline 14: “Ensure that documents are clear and simple.”


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