or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 2/22/09

   February 28th, 2009

zoomtext large print keyboardThis question actually took place months ago, but was only recently resolved.

An elderly patron came to the desk and asked about email. She said her grandchildren all wanted her to get an email address, but she didn't know anything about computers.

I took her over to a computer, intending to help her sign up for an email address. However, when the patron said her eyesight was too bad to read the computer screen, I decided to move to our large print workstation.

The "large print" workstation is more or less the same as our regular computers, except that it has a much larger monitor, and it has the Zoomtext software to make reading the screen more comfortable for people with low vision. The other difference is that it is located in our large print room, so the atmosphere is more quiet and calm than the computer area.

We sat down, and I fiddled with the mouse and keyboard to adjust the screen text so it was at a size she could read comfortably. At that point, I sat back and started saying things like "okay, now use the mouse to point the arrow there..." and "type mail.yahoo.com in the white bar..." I could tell the patron was understanding what I was saying, but was still having trouble.

I asked her if the screen was clear enough, and she said,

I can see the words on the screen just fine, but I can't make heads or tails of the keyboard.

It turned out, even though we tricked-out the software, we neglected to make one very important piece of hardware "large print." The keyboard was the same type we used on the regular computers, and the small white-on-black keys were just not something this patron could read.

I brought this up with the library's IT person, and she asked our Friends group to purchase a real low-vision keyboard. It took a few months, but they came through, and we have a new Zoomtext large print keyboard hooked to the large print computer.

It's kind of an embarrassing oversight - at least it was for me when I was trying to help this patron. I don't expect to be able to anticipate every need and requirement, no matter how hard we try - that's why it's important to get feedback from real patrons (and pay attention to it and act on it).

I've seen some patrons using the new keyboard, and the few I've talked to are extremely happy with it. They'd been making due with the old one, and it never occurred to them to ask for something else. I feel better knowing there is one less barrier for these patrons, but one older gentleman summed it up perfectly:

It used to be that typing was a struggle, but now email is actually fun. Or rather, it probably will be when I understand what I'm doing.

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6 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 2/22/09”

  1. G F Mueden Says:

    Good descriptioon. It could only improved by adding at the end a simple list of everything about the “COMPUTER, LOW VISION, BASIC”, or whatever name you have given it.

    I looked at the reference telling about your other aids and was impressed. Good job.


  2. G F Mueden Says:

    OOPS I should have said everything SPECIAL about etc ===gm===

  3. Stephanie Willen Brown Says:

    what a great story! Glad it had such a happy resolution.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @G F: sorry about the delay, but I had to do some research for your details. The reason we consider this a “large print” computer, in addition to it being in the Large Print room, is that it has:

    -a 20″ monitor, set to 800×600 resolution
    Zoomtext software v8.1 installed
    -A desktop shortcut right to Display Proporties, in case a patron wants to change the resolution or color scheme, etc.

    I asked our network admin, and was told that we used to have JAWS installed, but we had trouble with it, and our patrons didn’t like it, so we took it off.

  5. Cool Large Printing images | Large Format Printers Says:

    […] Large Print Keyboard Image by herzogbr Our "large print" computer is now better able to live up to it’s name with the addition of a ZoomText large print keyboard. Read more on my website. […]

  6. Fix Your Keyboard Issues With Tech Support - keyboard.newsupercomputer Says:

    […] Large Print Keyboard Image by herzogbr Our "large print" computer is now better able to live up to it’s name with the addition of a ZoomText large print keyboard. Read more on my website. […]