It has been a very busy and exciting year for library services to Ohioans who are blind or visually impaired here at Ohio Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled (OLBPD). OLBPD and the State Library of Ohio Talking Book Program were excited to launch the new digital talking book service late last year. Patrons can now enjoy listening to clear digital recordings contained on flash memory cartridges and played on new digital talking book machines. OLBPD has added nearly 2,500 digital book titles and over 27,000 items since September 2009. Also, as part of the new digital talking book service, OLBPD patrons can now download talking books using OHIO-BARD (Ohio Braille and Audio Recordings Download). OLBPD patrons who have computers with Internet access can download books 24x7. OLBPD patrons downloaded nearly 6,000 books last month alone, proving that patrons are taking advantage of services made possible thanks to accessible technology.
Similarly, OLBPD patrons can also participate with KnowItNow24x7, Ohio's statewide virtual reference service. In the past, it was extremely difficult for blind and low vision Ohioans to access librarians working with KnowItNow24x7. Previously, screen readers and other adaptive technologies for people with disabilities were not user-friendly with the service's platform and web site. Blind and low vision Ohioans expressed their concerns about not being able to use the KnowItNow24x7 service to former State Librarian Jo Budler.
Taking those concerns into account as part of the overall search for new software, KnowItNow24x7 implemented a new platform in late 2008 with novel possibilities for providing access being made available. In fact, KnowItNow24x7 built upon the idea of using instant messaging which was already an accessible means of communicating through the Internet for users with disabilities. The new software had the ability to allow librarians to simultaneously monitor instant messaging (IM) services like AIM (AOL Instant Messaging), Yahoo! Messenger, and MSN.
KnowItNow24x7 Coordinator Don Boozer also worked with OLBPD to help identify accessibility problems experienced by users with disabilities on the previous service’s platform, including limited keyboard navigation and the lack of interoperability with adaptive technologies. OLBPD patrons helped test the new KnowItNow24x7 to ensure that it was accessible and usable to patrons with disabilities, especially those who are blind or have low vision. "We were very excited about being able to partner with OLBPD," says Don Boozer. "Instant messaging gave the blind community the ability to chat online with librarians in real-time using a service with which many were already familiar and using extensively." For users more comfortable with email, Ohioans can also get answers to their questions by emailing KnowItNow24x7 at firstname.lastname@example.org as well as connecting to http://www.knowitnow.org. With these options, all Ohioans can now get answers to their questions online, anytime.
Outside of technical issues, OLBPD has received plenty of positive feedback from patrons using KnowItNow24x7. Patrons have expressed that KnowItNow24x7 is so much easier to use that they do not always feel the need to alert librarians that they are blind. OLBPD's IM screen names are available at http://www.knowitnow.org/im.php along with several other libraries offering IM service through KnowItNow24x7. OLBPD is also available on KnowItNow24x7 to help libraries answer questions about the Braille and talking book program. Applications for service with OLBPD are available on our web site at http://olbpd.cpl.org, and eligibility includes anyone who experiences a difficult time reading standard print.