20 Cutting-Edge Library Services For Readers with Disabilities


We often take it for granted that we can walk into a library, pick up a book and start reading it, but not all library patrons can do that so easily. Some have disabilities that make it much more difficult to take advantage of library resources when they’re presented in their traditional formats. Luckily, many libraries offer ample services that can help make these resources accessible to anyone, regardless of disability. Here, we highlight just a few of the amazing ways libraries bring information, entertainment, and learning to patrons with special needs.

  1. Talking book centers:

    There are numerous libraries nationwide, including this one located in Evergreen Park, that offer patrons access to talking book centers. These centers make it possible for those who are blind or otherwise visually impaired to take advantage of library materials. In addition to Braille books, these libraries offers books and magazines in audio format as well as access to the equipment needed for playback. Even better, these centers don’t often even require patrons to visit them directly, mailing materials to them instead.

  2. Accessible e-books:

    Electronic books not only make it easy to download and read the latest releases, they can also offer some great accessibility options for individuals who have special needs. Many libraries are now working with OverDrive, a company that not only provides access to digital materials but that has also created the Library eBook Accessibility Program, or LEAP. The LEAP program provides print-disabled patrons with access to print materials in digital formats, through both OverDrive and Bookshare. Patrons can check out up to 20 books a month free of cost and use them through a variety of accessible formats.

  3. Special needs toy collections:

    Toys aren’t exactly cutting-edge, but the libraries who have chosen to provide them free of charge to special needs patrons certainly are. One example is the Cuyahoga Country Library, which offers youngsters with special physical needs access to a range of adaptive toys, including puppets, puzzles, shape sorters, and more. The toys offer a way for kids with disabilities to learn, explore, and grow through the library.

  4. Special needs education courses:

    Taking care of a special needs child can be a lot of hard work and it isn’t always easy to find the resources and support necessary to do it right. Some libraries are trying to help rectify that by offering programs catered to the caretakers of special needs kids. At the Lucy Robbins Welles Library, parents can take part in a four-week parent/child workshop that allows them to talk with experts in nutrition, child development, special education, and speech to learn more about the unique needs and development of their child. Of course, it isn’t all about the parents. Many libraries also offer get-togethers for children, where they can play games and have fun with parents and caretakers.

  5. Adaptive workstations:

    It’s pretty common for many families and individuals to head to the library to use a computer for writing, researching, or web browsing, but for those who have disabilities, things get a bit more complicated. To cater to the needs of those who have physical disabilities that make it hard for them to use a traditional computer workstation, many libraries, including the Memphis Public Library linked to here, offer adaptive workstations. These stations feature adjustable desks, text magnifiers, accessible web browsing, earphones, and even mobile scooters, if needed.

  6. Aladdin reader:

    Those with limited vision should be able to take advantage of the wealth of resources offered by the library, too, so many libraries are equipped with Aladdin readers. The readers magnify just about any kind of text or image out there, making it possible for those with vision impairment to enjoy the bulk of library offerings.

  7. Ovation scanner:

    While many libraries provide access to a wide range of audio books and other materials, not everything is available in that format. With an Ovation scanner, it doesn’t have to be. A popular accessibility tool for libraries, this machine scans text and transforms it into audio, making it possible to gain access to any book, newspaper, magazine, or other printed material.

  8. One-handed keyboards:

    Traditional keyboards that require typing with two hands are great for most but not all of library patrons. Those with hand-related physical disabilities may require a keyboard that is better suited to their typing needs, rearranging the letters on the keyboard to make it easier to type with one hand. While not all libraries offer access to these keyboards, some do, including the College of Dupage Library in Glen Ellyn.

  9. Reading systems:

    Many libraries have embraced reading systems that make it possible for anyone with a reading disability or vision impairment to take advantage of their materials. A common model is the Kurzweil Omni, which can scan printed text, display the text in a larger format, and read it out loud. Newer versions of the programs offer e-books that are specially catered to the needs of those with reading disabilities, helping them to overcome obstacles to reading and learning new information.

  10. JAWS:

    Content on computer screens can be hard to read for those with perfect vision, and especially so for those with limited vision or who are blind. JAWS is a system that allows libraries to make basic word processing, spreadsheet, presentation software, and web browsers accessible to those with vision impairment so that everyone can use library computers to do homework, catch up on work, or just have fun writing.

  11. DAISY readers:

    The DAISY Consortium makes it possible for libraries to make digital reading and publishing accessible to all. Books available through DAISY can be read in almost any way a user requires. There’s text-to-speech, full-text, full-audio, and a myriad of ways to navigate between sentences, pages, and chapters within the book. While anyone learning to read can benefit from the technology, the system is an incredibly smart way to open up traditional reading material to those with blindness and dyslexia.

  12. iPads with special needs apps:

    As tablets become more popular, there is an ever growing assortment of apps available for them, many of which cater to a wide range of special needs. Some libraries are taking advantage of this and are lending out iPads (usually for in-library use only) pre-loaded with applications that are useful for patrons who have visual or learning disabilities, or conditions like autism.

  13. WYNN Wizard:

    WYNN Wizard is another library service provided to patrons that assists those with reading disabilities. The program highlights words as it reads them aloud, either from e-books or from scanned-in content. It also offers a built-in dictionary and thesaurus, study tools, and can make any internet browser more accessible.

  14. Read & Write Gold:

    Similar to Kurzweil systems, this software helps libraries bring text-based materials to all of their patrons, even if they have difficulty reading traditional formats. The software allows users to scan words and text and then have them read aloud in a natural-sounding voice. Since the system was designed for students who have learning disabilities, it’s the perfect tool for libraries who want to offer more accessibility services to patrons.

  15. SofType:

    If a regular keyboard isn’t an option for whatever reason, many libraries offer this tool as a substitute. SofType is a software utility that replaces a standard keyboard with one that’s displayed onscreen. It can be accessed through a mouse or a mouse emulator like the Madentec mentioned above, and even accounts for jitters or involuntary movements when moving through the letters on the board. This tool can make it a whole lot easier for patrons to look up books, DVDs, and music they want to check out from the library.

  16. Mouseless browsing:

    Technology can pose some challenges for those with disabilities, but it can also open up new avenues. Among the most basic ways that patrons can learn, search library catalogs, and do research is through the web, and luckily there are a number of ways they can do that without ever having to use a mouse. Mozilla offers an add-on for its Firefox browser that allows for mouseless browsing, requiring only small movements with the keyboard to navigate, a service a growing number of libraries are eager to employ.

  17. Sensory Story Times:

    Most kids love story time, but sometimes those with disabilities can’t concentrate or need a little something more to really appreciate the experience. As a result, it’s become fairly common for libraries to offer multi-sensory story times that cater to the needs of kids with autism, learning disorders, or ADD. The programs blend storytelling with music, movement, and play, to make it a more engaging and accessible experience for all of the library’s patrons.

  18. Special resource collections:

    There are a lot of books and materials out there catering to special needs kids, but not all libraries curate special collections of them for their patrons. Bordentown Library is one library that’s pioneering the creation of special collections just for kids who have autism, Asperger’s, ADD, reading, and developmental disorders. Kids can find books that help explain their disabilities and offer ways to understand, cope, and overcome elements of them. The special collection also provides resources for parents and teachers, to provide a go-to place for those in the community to become better advocates for these children.