Educating for print disabilities

by | Jul 24, 2014 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

By Katherine Howard

Senf, K., Black, F.A. and Mann, D.
Education and Training for Serving those with Print
Disabilities: Exploring the International Scene
Feliciter 56(3) pp. 102-4.
What exactly do library staff need to know
in order to serve people with a print disability? What is a print disability

There are
various definitions of ‘print disability.’ In essence, it refers to people who
have difficulty with text-based (print) documents. The reasons for this are
varied, with perhaps the most apparent being blindness or a vision impairment.
However print disabilities extend to people who have a learning disability such
as dyslexia, or a physical disability in which it is difficult for them to hold
and/or manipulate a hard-copy book.
Users with
print disabilities – indeed any disability – deserve the same rights to access
as any other user. Digital technologies have had a positive impact on adaptive
and assistive technology, not least of which is the availability of accessible
formats and the relative ease with which files can be transferred from one
format to another. However funding (or in most cases, lack of) has meant that
many libraries struggle to meet the needs of this distinct user group. The
purchase of the technology is one thing. Having staff who have the necessary
competencies to work with this equipment (which can also include knowledge of
compatible hardware/software that the client may own) is another.
This brief
article reports on research that was conducted in Canada, with respondents from
Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Both
LIS Programme Directors and Library Managers from these countries were surveyed
to “establish the level of knowledge directors and managers encourage and
require in their graduates and employees […]” (Senf, Black and Mann, 2010, p.
Of the library
managers who responded to the survey, 98% have library users who have a print
disability (the article does acknowledge the biases that are inherent with
‘self-selecting’ surveys). These managers also believe that their staff should
be well-informed with regard to print disabilities, incorporating knowledge on
what is involved in serving this user group. In Australia, this would include
knowledge of our complex Copyright legislation and the circumstances
(exceptions) under which printed documents may be made digital (digitized). Unfortunately,
49% of managers responded that the new graduates that they had hired “did not
have adequate knowledge of print disabilities” (Senf et al., 2010, p. 104).
This is not
surprising, given that the majority (approximately two-thirds) of LIS Programme
Directors noted that providing information about special needs groups is not a
formal objective of their programme. Students tend to be made aware of the
print disabled population predominantly through elective options as opposed to learning
it in required courses.
Attempting to
incorporate knowledge of special needs groups into already bursting LIS
curricula would require an amazing juggling act on behalf of LIS educators.
Similarly, as much as our professional ethics and our own conscience may want
to be able to provide access to everyone in a format and on a device of their
choosing, funding realities for public institutions are such that this may not
happen. However, this does not mean that we cannot do our utmost and use our
passion for lifelong learning to determine the best way to serve people with
print disabilities within these very real constraints.
You can read the full
article via the ALIA online journals at
It was originally published in InCite, September 2013
Katherine Howard is a PhD Candidate at the Queensland
University of Technology and 
Lecturer at the University of
South Australia


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