Technology helps the visually impaired at Kelowna library

Specially adapted iPads bring literature back to the reading-impaired. 

Madeleine Jeanson with a specially-equipped iPad that gives the 90-year-old with macular degeneration greater access to the Okanagan Regional Library’s resources.

A new pilot program at Kelowna branches of the Okanagan Regional Library is bringing a wealth of new materials to members with print disabilities, thanks to funding from the Central Okanagan Foundation.

The iPad Accessibility Project enables those who cannot read traditional print books—either due to a visual disability, an inability to manipulate books manually, or a cognitive disability—to use tablets for their reading pleasure and education.

The project takes advantage of specially-created files designed by the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) and the Centre for Equitable Library Access that can convert books in text format to audio. Other apps and the iPad’s accessibility settings can also be manipulated to alter the screen in a way that makes print more legible.

“This project harnesses all these great new technologies and puts them together in a way that gets our library collections into the hands of people who otherwise might not be able to use them,” said Kelowna Branch’s reference and instruction supervisor, Christine McPhee.

The ORL has long carried large print books and audiobooks for customers who prefer these formats. But even these formats don’t work for everyone with print disabilities, and selection can be limited.

“With funding from the COF and the iPads, we can dramatically open up the breadth of materials available for our print-disabled members,” McPhee added.

At 90 years of age, Madeleine Jeanson suffers from advanced macular degeneration and doesn’t have a computer at home. She is delighted with the iPad project.

“The service is really great. The staff download great books for me, and it’s so easy to use – press a few buttons and go,” she said. “I just finished The Grapes of Wrath—what a pleasure to read Steinbeck again!”

Six iPads were funded by a grant from the COF for use at the three library branches in the City of Kelowna in Rutland, Mission and downtown.

Foundation executive director Bruce Davies said: “This was an excellent opportunity for us to make resources truly accessible to people who need them the most. We believe promoting literacy is a key component of being a smart and caring community.”

Currently, only ORL members who qualify as print-disabled are eligible to use the specially-equipped iPads.

“The iPads are already being well-used and we would love to be able to expand the program with more iPads and to other ORL locations, if more funding were available,” McPhee said.

For more information, contact the Kelowna Branch reference services desk at 250-762-2800, ext. 2820.