Colorado State University Students Help Locals with Disabilities Use City’s Public Libraries

Note to Reporters: CSU students and library staff will unveil new technologies to help people with disabilities access the library from 2-3:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 9 at the Old Town Library. Reporters are invited to attend this event. Please RSVP to Dell Rae Moellenberg by 9 a.m. on May 9 at or 970-491-6009.

It’s been said that libraries are our friends, but some people with disabilities are limited in how they can access the world of knowledge and entertainment a library offers. Now, thanks to Colorado State University occupational therapy graduate students, Fort Collins libraries are more accessible, after the students analyzed the library’s current systems, recommended new assistive technology and trained staff on how to use it.

Technology that will help people with visual impairments, literacy challenges such as traumatic brain injuries, learning disabilities, and limited dexterity, will now be available in the libraries. New technology includes voice recognition software and options for one-handed keyboard operation.

“Providing access to information in a variety of ways is important to consider as our world becomes more electronic,” said Marla Roll, director of CSU’s Assistive Technology Center in the Department of Occupational Therapy. “Just as we consider curb cuts in the physical environment, we now need to think about electronic curb cuts. In other words, how do you ensure that everyone has equivalent access to information?”

The class project has armed the library with software that magnifies computer screens, reads computer screens to help navigation, reads text in any document aloud, and recognizes voice commands. New hardware also includes adjustable height tables, chairs, keyboards and computer mice for people with physical disabilities, as well as handheld magnifiers, page magnifiers, pencil grips, writing guides and book or document stands.

On May 9, the students and library staff will unveil the changes to the public in a demonstration event from 2-3:30 p.m. at the Old Town Library, 201 Peterson.
The class project, which spread across two semesters, aimed to accomplish two goals – train library staff to match appropriate assistive technologies with patrons’ needs, and help local library patrons learn about the new technologies. Last year, the students conducted a needs assessment which helped identify useful assistive technologies. The class gives occupational therapy students real-world examples of intervening on behalf of people with disabilities at a systems level while also giving them experience in applying assistive technologies.

“We wanted to help library staff understand the manifestations of a disability in terms of accessing information as well as some etiquette to consider when helping someone with a disability,” Roll said. “This will help library staff feel more comfortable understanding and supporting the needs of their patrons.”

The Department of Occupational Therapy is in the College of Health and Human Sciences (formerly the College of Applied Human Sciences) at Colorado State University.