April 14, 2000
Libraries' partnership with CNIB expands horizons for the print-disabled on campus
Matthew Breen takes pride in his academic accomplishments. Last term the first-year arts student received a string of sevens. He hopes to be a teacher some day.
There was a time, however, when a university education would have seemed almost out of reach for Breen. Legally blind, he isn't able to read a novel unless the text is blown up on an overhead screen or translated into audio form.
U of A Libraries do have the technology to transform to large print or audio most of the required reading in his studies. A machine called the "Reading Edge," for instance, can actually read printed text and convert it into voice.
"There is no way I can read normal books - the print is just way too small," says Breen. "For novels or text books, I just pop a disk into my computer and have the software program read it to me. It would be much, much harder without it." In his English 101 course last term, for instance, he scanned both the Scarlet Letter and Not Wanted on the Voyage and took in the literary classics by audiotape.
Now Breen's access into the world of print has been expanded even further. The university library, along with Specialized Support and Disability Services, has struck up a partnership with the Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB). It will allow U of A students and staff to tap into CNIB's VisuNet:Canada, a virtual library of materials designed for those who can't read standard print because of blindness, visual impairment, physical or learning disabilities. The institute has a whole catalogue of text on tape, including books, encyclopedias, academic journals, newspapers, magazines and other Internet resources.
According to Debra Dancik, associate director of the Herbert Coutts Education Library, there are about 50 print-disabled students on campus who have registered with Specialized Support and Disability Services and probably many more who have not registered.
"When we think of print disabilities, we think of people who are blind," she says. "But in fact a very small part of the population with print disabilities is actually blind - they have other problems; they're dyslexic or they have partial sight."
U of A Libraries are the first in the province to enter a partnership with CNIB which Dancik says will complement the Edmonton Public Library's collection for those who are print-disabled, and is available through the university's library network. Thanks to these advances in technology, the world of print is opening up to people who are visually impaired.
"Every little bit helps," says Breen. "And any help they give us is really appreciated."
Dancik says the university will continue seeking out other sites with "alternative format" materials for people with print disabilities.