How libraries changed the lives of visually impaired people in Edinburgh

Edinburgh City Libraries recently won the annual Jodi Awards for best use of technology to widen access to information, learning, collections and creativity for disabled people in museums, libraries, archives and heritage. These awards are given in memory of Jodi Mattes, a tireless champion of equal access to culture for disabled people.

The award is the culmination of years of work developing our services in this area, and we’re very proud of the impact we’ve had on people’s lives.

Here’s how it happened:

Back in 2013 we took the decision to expand our service for visually impaired users from its city centre location out across the city.

We wanted to make it easier for people to use our services and to offer something innovative which would attract new members to the library service.

Here’s what we did:

We started by consulting with existing and potential members and relevant organisations – both local and national. This gave us some idea of what direction to take, and the pitfalls to avoid.

Then we bought some iPads. We invested in Apple equipment because of the embedded “voiceover” adaptive technology built-in to these devices.

Next, we deployed experienced staff to deliver professional training and we also recruited suitable volunteers.

And the results?

The project resulted in 130 new library members, who are confident using technology, sharing what they’ve learned with others, and continuing their learning independently.

Another offshoot of the project is that through the contact people have made we’ve set up 3 reading groups specifically for people who are blind or partially sighted.

We’re now approaching other local authorities to develop a community of best practice. In addition to organisations such as RNIB, Guide Dog Scotland, Deaf Action and Share the Vision, we’re now developing partnerships with other national and local agencies and the voluntary sector in order to expand the reach of the project.

So what’s next?

The success of this initiative has inspired us to think about how this networking pattern can be used to support people with other sensory impairments. We’re starting to explore ways to remove barriers to library use for people with hearing loss, and we’ve also looking at ‘Boardmaker’ software to support people with autism.

Finally, here’s what some of our members think of the service:

‘I really appreciate the service Jim and his team provide. Since coming along to the group I have managed to take control of my iPad, beforehand it felt like the tablet had a mind of its own.’

‘I can now read a newspaper online, something I have never been able to do before.  As a result of attending the iPad sessions I can keep up-to-date with all the events surrounding my favourite team Celtic.’

‘I never thought I would be able to cope with a touch screen. I couldn’t have been further from the truth, the iPad has enhanced my life in so many ways. I now am able to assist Jim and help out by passing on what I have learnt to new members.’

‘As a recent convert to Apple technology I have found the library service excellent.  Jim always tries new innovative ways to incorporate novices like myself with more experienced iPad users.’

‘I really enjoy coming along to the library iPad groups not only for the technical know-how available there, but the social interaction is a vital ingredient to the success of the project.’

‘I really appreciate both the expertise and patients that Jim and Joanna (our volunteer) have in abundance.  They always have great ideas to keep us all challenged in a fun way.’

‘There is nowhere else in the city where we can get such a tailor-made service for visually impaired people to master this new technology.  Jim has endless patience and never seems to tire when being confronted with our endless and often repetitive questions.’