Libraries and other public access points (PAPs) are part of the rapid expansion of information technology in daily life. For the many people who do not have their own computers or Internet access, these institutions provide a portal into that world. As more information moves online, card catalogs and other printed resources have made way for browsers and search engines. For your patrons with disabilities, especially those who are hesitant to adopt new technologies, these resources can pose complex and intimidating barriers.
What is true of individual consumers is even more true of public institutions: assistive technologies (AT) can be hard to find out about, expensive, difficult to use, and may not meet the needs of many potential users. People who need AT are rarely high-volume visitors, as they’ve come to expect little in the way of accessibility out in the public arena. Given this, how can libraries and PAPs manage to invest in equipment and staff training efficiently and yet meet the needs of any unexpected visitor with a disability?
Enter the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII). The purpose of the GPII is to ensure that everyone who faces accessibility barriers due to disability, literacy, or aging, regardless of economic resources, can access and use the Internet and all its information, communities, and services for education, employment, daily living, civic participation, health, and safety. Moreover, GPII will offer public institutions a different model of accessibility, intended to serve a wide range of disabilities, with low investments in time and money. GPII will build a platform, right ‘inside’ the Internet, for AT companies and free software providers to develop and offer their products.
People with disabilities will begin by building their GPII profile — their interface preferences and needs, such as speech output or captions — with a simple Wizard that walks them through their choices, helps them select the AT they want, and then stores their profile in the GPII cloud.
In many cases, patrons with disabilities will already have built their GPII profile when they arrive at your facility (in person or online), so your library only needs to let it be implemented on your technology, and only for the duration of their session. Libraries and PAPs that want to dive in more deeply can offer the Wizard at their location, on a standard computer, so patrons can explore their options and develop their profile.
GPII will end the need for “special” computers for use by people with disabilities — they will be able to use any of your public computers. As you upgrade or migrate from one technology to the next, GPII will keep pace and ensure accessibility without additional effort or expense on your part. Cloud-based AT may be optimized for software applications that your organization uses, and tested for compatibility. Most of your devices are probably mainstream computers and operating systems with well-known features and components, so they can also be expected to be compatible with GPII. For anything “off the beaten track,” you will be able to work with vendors to find GPII-compatible products.
We know that network security can also be a barrier: your IT department may have restricted the ability to load and run software, to prevent viruses and other malware. Part of GPII will involve working with the network security software industry to find a secure and easy-to-use method to permit GPII-based services to run on your machines.
GPII will also save you from buying assistive technologies that wind up not being used. Your patrons with disabilities may have already gotten their AT solutions, and their schools, employers, or state agencies may have already paid for all the usage they need, no matter where it’s used, or on what device. The GPII lets them bring this accessibility with them so they can use it, which takes the pressure off your staff and budget. If there is a need for support from your library, GPII-based solutions will be marketed widely enough that the cost per user will be low, and you will only pay for what is actually used.
Libraries are founded on the principle of equitable access and wide social participation. We think that GPII will let you perform that mission even better. As we develop GPII, we are looking for help and advice from librarians–see www.gpii.net for ways that you can comment and contribute.
Accessible Technology Coalition