New technologies have opened up new possibilities for reading and for participatory activities targeted to people with disabilities. These days, visually impaired users can indeed access specific computer programmes, Internet and digital resources using innovative instruments like screen magnifying monitors, screen readers and speech synthesis, Braille displays.
Such services are gradually being supplied also in Public and Academic Libraries; however, library services for blind and visually impaired people vary from country to country and specialized libraries for blind users generally maintain a central role in serving this type of reader. In most countries, the services of such libraries are not even integrated in the local/national library system.
Even thought libraries for blind people are generally well equipped, the request for specialized services for visually impaired in local or national systems is raising constantly.
Unfortunately, regular libraries’ staff cannot afford this demand. The framework at EU level is not uniform and therefore provides uneven support: in some countries like Sweden and Denmark the application of digital technologies to the delivery of alternative format materials is already very advanced, whereas in many others the process is not yet efficient.
At EU level, there is no single “best practice” model for providing library and information services to visually impaired users.
After evaluating this context, 2 main issues arose:
- library staff is generally poorly aware of the ICT tools services for the involvement of visually impaired users and successful experiences and best practices are very little known;
- library staff’s digital competencies are usually not adequate to face this challenge.
These issues have been further explored through on-line and face to face comparisons and then through a questionnaire investigating the state-of-the art on competencies, awareness and experiences of libraries to face this issue.
As a result, the project focuses on 3 main objectives:
- Promote the exchange of best practices among staff of different libraries on ICT tools and services for the involvement of visually impaired readers
- Develop library staff’s digital competencies through training activities on ICT tools
- Establish a network of libraries for cooperation in involvement of visually impaired users.