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The public library – how to include people with disabilities

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The public library – how to include people with disabilities
Directorate for Health and Social Affairs,
Division of Public Health and Social Welfare, Delta Centre
PO 8094 Dep. 0031 Oslo
Email: and
Abstract: To assure Norwegian citizens their democratic right to information and
knowledge, an important goal of The Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum
Authority is to increase the accessibility of public library services. This paper
presents the work of the project “The Accessible Library”. Its aim is to transform
three public libraries to well-adapted areas of knowledge, to meet and work for
people with disabilities.
A holistic approach is adopted although the main focus is on access to the Internet.
This work is the result of a co-operation between governmental institutions at both
national and local levels.
Key words: inclusive design, visually impaired, guidelines, user involvement,
technical devices
The main task of the public libraries in Norway is to offer education, knowledge and other
cultural activities to all Norwegian citizens free of charge. These services are to be offered
as a part of their fundamental democratic rights.
However, the services are not yet fully accessible to everybody. As an example,
buildings are often inaccessible for people in wheelchairs, and computers lack the
equipment for visually impaired users. Also, most books and material need special
adaptations to be available for users with writing and reading problems.
To address these issues, The Norwegian Directorate for Public Librariesi initiated
“The Accessible Library” a project in which the main goal is to increase the accessibility of
public library services for people with disabilities. The project period was planned from
May 1 2001 to October 1 2003, but as implementation of technical devices takes time, it is
now scheduled to be due October 1 2004. The main participants of the project are three
public libraries located in three Norwegian counties.ii The aim of transforming each of the
three chosen public libraries to a well-adapted arena of knowledge, a meeting place and a
working place for people with disabilities, is planned to be achieved in three stages;
assessment, implementation of new measures and testing. The project is divided into four
part projects, each of which will be described below. This paper will also introduce the
participants, present the main approach of the project and discuss some expected main
Main approach
When an inclusive society aims at full participation for all its members, it is imperative to
deal with social barriers for participation. In order to include people with asthma or allergy
and vision, hearing, motor, cognitive disabilities a broad holistic approach is required.
The key word is universal design. Universal design is the design of products and
environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for
adaptation or specialized design. In reality, universal design will never be able to meet the
need of all individuals. Whenever necessary, universal design should work in consort with
individual design and problem solving technical aids. Good universal design may
substantially reduce the need for individual design.
Part project A – Access to the library buildings
The premises of Norwegian public libraries vary, in nature as well as of age. Two of the
three project libraries are fairly new buildings, whereas the one in Sarpsborg is a listed
building and thus protected from radical change. An Accessibility Guide, developed by the
Delta Centreiii, is now available to Norwegian libraries on the Internet, and all county
libraries in Norway have been invited to try it by assessing their own libraries. As of yet,
nine other public libraries have tried it out, and in the future, the Accessibility Guide will be
revised in light of their experiences. A new edition will be introduced at the in AATE
conference in Dublin on September 3.
Representatives from local user organisations provided important input and
feedback to the work in co-operation with the libraries. Furthermore, this guide has been
used as a tool to map out and develop local plans for improving accessibility, the
accomplished measures varying depending on the costs of repair.
Part project B - Access to the library services –implementation of new technology
The Norwegian Directorate for Public Libraries has done much to meet the demands of
technological development, and access to World Wide Web is taken for granted. The main
challenge in the second part of the project is to ensure access for all library users. Thanks to
the generous offer of the suppliers of technical aids, a computer system with all the
necessary aids is implemented the library projects. To mention but a few, ergonomic desks
give access for wheelchair users; visual display units (VDUs) and input peripherals
specially designed for people with neuro-muscular problems have been acquired; induction
loops and headsets give the hard of hearing the sound amplification they need; visually
impaired library users are given access by means of Braille displays, screen magnifying
monitors, screen magnification, scanning software with OCRiv and speech synthesis.
Speech synthesis will simplify the attainment of information for people with dyslexia as
well. People with reading and writing problems will also be able to use spelling and
grammar control software specially developed for dyslectics. This spell checker is Word
compatible and able to identify and correct a significantly greater number of spelling
mistakes than conventional spell checkers.
Another important aspect is web accessibility. The home pages of the libraries are
assessed by means of the WAI-guidelines for web accessibility. A successful outcome is
only possible through close co-operation between experts of web accessibility, local IT
resources and the users themselves. The report from this assessment reveals that a number
changes are needed to satisfy the international standards.
Audio books, CD-ROMs etc., occupy an increasing part of the services of the public
libraries. However, the tape audio books are not user friendly as book marking and
navigation is slow and cumbersome. DAISY books (Digital Audio Based Information
System), an international standard for digital books, has proved to be a very useful tool for
visually impaired and dyslectic people. The Norwegian Library of Talking Books and
Braille that provide library services to the blind, visually impaired and others with reading
problems, is the sole provider of DAISY books for these groups. The project will obtain
several DAISY players and, in cooperation with The Norwegian Library of Talking Books
and Braille, provide DAISY book lending to the public.
New technology has opened up new areas of participation and activity for people
with disabilities that were inaccessible only few years ago. However, it is vital to ensure
that users inexperienced with hi-tech aids are able to use these novel technologies. New full
time positions of information officers are established to assist and guide the users of the
public libraries. Their role is also to market the new services to the local community and to
see to that the equipment is functioning satisfactorily. They also keep a log of feedback and
experiences with the new services. The position of information officer is considered a very
important measure to increase the accessibility to the services of the public libraries.
Part project C - Workplace design
Unemployment among people with disabilities is high, even in periods of low employment
in general. In Norway one out of ten is on disablement benefit, and worryingly, the rate
among young people is increasing.
The positions of information officers are therefore offered to people with disabilities
and high standards are set for the level of qualifications for suitable applicants. Five visionimpaired young people are employed in the three libraries; two in full time and three in part
time positions.
The Labour Market Authorities are central participants in this project. Local
vocational and rehabilitation agencies are involved, as the executive officers are paid
through occupational rehabilitation allowances. Centres for Technical Aids for Disabled
People supply individual technical aids and vocational guidance counsellors from
Supported Employment assist with the integration into the working environment. To ensure
suitable training and technical aids for the officers, a thorough assessment of their
qualifications, capabilities, preferences and needs is carried out, as well as task analysis of
their duties.
Computer skills are of high importance. Strong emphasis is therefore put on
training. Through distance learning with visually impaired technical experts as teachers, the
executive officers will get a certified European Computer Driving Licence, specially
adapted for visually impaired people. Another aspect of the training is information and
knowledge about how to give service to and guide people with different disabilities. All the
staff has attended courses and workshops learning about people with different disabilities.
Relevant experiences and useful input was gathered from the Swedish EU project Open
Media. The information officers will follow courses aimed at improving the marketing of
the services together with people in similar position in Swedish libraries.
Part project D – Documentation of workplace design
An important task of the Delta Centre is to gain and spread knowledge about workplace
design. This fourth and last part of the project will be to describe and document the
individual approach in vocational rehabilitation and publish it on the web. The long-term
expectation of the project is that these positions will act as a model for other libraries and
information services in every community in Norway and thus contribute to increased
employment for disabled people.
Cooperation and interdisciplinary approach
A project of this scale requires a highly interdisciplinary approach and co-operation
between departments at both national and local levels. The main participants in addition to
the three libraries are the Directorate of Health and Social Affairs represented by the Delta
Centre, the Norwegian Directorate of Labour and Г�stfold County Library. Other important
participants are national and local organisations of disabled people, suppliers of technical
devices, the National Centre for Vocational Guidance, five local vocational agencies, three
centres for technical aids for disabled people, and experts in assistive technology and web
accessibility. A research organisation will be engaged in the evaluation of the project.
User-centred approach
User involvement and participation is essential to ensure the high quality of the work and
that services are both usable and user-friendly. Knowledge about the users’ need for
services, about the accessibility of existing services, and how to improve them further is
vital if people with disabilities are to participate in cultural activities on equal terms with
other people. “The Accessible Library” has therefore put strong emphasis on participation
with national and local user organisations for the disabled. The project has a board with
three representatives from the two federations of organisations of disabled people (FFO and
In part project A, representatives from local user organisations supplied feedback to
the Accessibility Guide and participated in assessing the present situation in each library.
In part project B, representatives from local user organisations provided valuable
information in focus groups about the demand for services. The report from this work
reveals that marketing and increasing the awareness of the services is vital among these
user groups. Furthermore, a resource group appointed by national user organisations of the
disabled will on several occasions follow the project and test the services by means of a
structured test form. The executive officers are part of this group and play a leading role in
this work together with the leader of this part project.
The two concepts of user involvement and user empowerment are applicable
notions in this project. In part project C the influence and empowerment of the information
officers’ own working situation must be assured. A good dialogue, respect and feeling of
being on equal terms with other employees may be decisive for the participation of people
with disabilities in the working life.
At the time of writing, the project is still in its implementation stage and the executive
officers are still receiving instruction. The log kept by the executive officers may reveal
important issues that may be passed on to the public authorities. It may thereby prove to be
the case that the project will continue to raise many new and interesting questions. The
official Norwegian report “From User to Citizen” assesses the situation of disabled people
in all areas of the Norwegian society and proposes strategies for dismantling of disabling
barriers. In this report, disability is defined as a relational concept, rather than medical one.
Disabling conditions refer to a disparity between people’s functional abilities on one hand,
and the demands of the tasks on the other. What barriers for accessibility and acquirement
of knowledge will be revealed in this project? Some visually impaired people have claimed
that there is no need for technical devices in the library, as they have all the technical aids at
home and through these have perfect access to the libraries services. However, more and
more libraries have become meeting places. Next, should not an inclusive society see to
that all inhabitants are able participate in such public meeting places?
Norway has until the present had no tradition for placing technical aids for the
disabled in public spaces. The individual rights are ensured through National Insurance and
assistive technology given on the basis of application through the National Social Services.
Assistive technology in public spaces may be necessary to ensure participation in all areas,
as universal design probably will never replace the need for individual design. The project
may reveal important facts about technical considerations and interface design. Also, how
will the project contribute to a step in the right direction towards more inclusive design for
all? DAISY will probably become a mainstream product within the next few years. We all
need good spelling and grammar control, not only dyslectics. Adjustable desks offer
advantages to more than just people in wheelchairs. Will the project be able to attract new
user groups to the library and prove that the society is not made only for the physically fit,
active man in his thirties? Much will depend on local marketing. An interesting topic for
evaluation may be the work experience recorded by the information officers. In a way, their
role is two-fold. On one hand their expertise is vital to ensure usable and user-friendly
services. On the other hand their participation in paid employment is fully dependent on,
and is a function of, the social security system. This fact makes them the potential subjects
of myths and indignities. It is imperative that the status of this project should be
communicated to the state authorities to further equal rights for participation in society.
Raising awareness in the society about persons with disabilities, their rights, their needs,
their potential and their contribution is paramount for an inclusive society. This change in
focus, from handicap to environmental barriers and equal rights to participation, will
hopefully contribute to decreasing the stigma and discrimination of people with disabilities.
From January 1 2003 The Norwegian Directorate for Public Libraries was part of The Norwegian Archive,
Library and Museum Authority.
TГёnsberg, Sarpsborg and The Deichman Library, Torshov branch
The Delta Centre is the National Resource Centre for Participation by and Accessibility for People with
Disabilities. The Delta Centre is part of the Department of Public Welfare in the Directorate of Health and
Social Affairs and a participant in this project.
Optical Character Recognition
Norwegian Federation of Organisations of Disabled People (FFO) and the Norwegian Forum on Disability
[1] Folkebibliotekene på IT-veien Plan for 1197 – 2001 Statens bibliotektilsyn 1997
[2] NOU 2001: 22 From User to Citizen A strategy for dismantling of disabling
barriers. Norwegian Official Report.
[3] UNs Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities
[4] eNorway (
[5] Planning for all (
[6] 1 Tillegg nr. 1 (2002-2003) Tripatite agreement on a more inclusive
[7] Directorate for Health and Social Affairs (2003): Accessibility guide. Oslo,
[8] Open Media. Reading Disability No Barrier Open Media Opens Libraries
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