In order to dramatically benefit the underserved blind and visually impaired community, what design decisions can be made within a public library system?
We looked into The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library.
Service Design, User research, UX design, Interior design
Jennifer Wei, Margarita Yong, Paula Daneze
Collaborated with team members throughout research, ideation and presentations. Contributed heavily on solutions and prototypes.
The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library is the only branch of the New York Public Library that serves people who are blind, visually impaired, or are otherwise physically unable to read standard print. The Library serves residents who live in New York City and Long Island. It provides reading rooms, large collections of specially-formatted materials, audio playblack equipment for listening to recorded books and magazines, and a variety of other electronic reading aids.
In addition, the Library offers educational and individual assistive technology training, as well as, local community events for patrons.
- The Andrew Heiskell Library offers three major skills (braille literacy, mobility and orientation, and keyboard touching) in its trainings and workshops. These matter the most to the participants of our user research.
- The new proposal needs to be deliver these core values:
A welcoming and familiar environment, the library is a place where visually impaired and blind people feel safe and just like bring at home, the sta members know the patrons by name and guide dogs are welcomed.
It is important to be free because as the research showed most of the blind and visually impaired people are unemployed.
It is personalized, so they can get the skills they want based on their needs at different skill levels with a flexible schedule.
It needs to be easy and fast, so patrons can easily apply for the library trainings and workshops. The library already offers a simple application process. Staff members can make the judgement if a person is visually impaired or blind and process their application with no need for them to be registered as legally blind. If it is not obvious that the person has a visually impairment, all they need to show is a doctor’s note.
Move library service to the very early stage of the user journey:
Brochure Design: NYSCB Welcome Packet
The NYSCB provides vocational rehabilitation and other direct services to legally blind New York State residents. The brochure will be included inside the welcome packet of the NYSCB. The existing package includes information about the NYSCB and other organizations that assist the blind, including the Andrew Heiskell Library. The existing library information does not mention the training and workshops.
This new brochure is written on both regular text and braille. In regular text so visually impaired and blind people’s family members and friends can also know about the information and read to them. It is also in braille to assist the visually impaired and blind that already know braille and may benefit from more advanced trainings and workshops provided by the library. Finally, there is a QR code for the ones that don’t know braille so they can scam the code on their phones and listen to the information on audio with the assistance of a care giver or a NYSCB counselor.
Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Website
MOPD provides information on accessible programs, accessible transportation, employment, health services and activities. Its website also provides information about the Andrew Heiskell Library. However, there is no information about the trainings and workshops.
The new design will include information about trainings and workshops. The left menu of the page will be removed because the items do not offer any useful information to the visually impaired and blind people. The reason is to simplify the user experience of a visually impaired and blind person because they listen to a website as opposed of reading, so minimizing the words to be listen will allow them to obtain information a lot faster.
The trainings and workshops are listed with the events, which is confusing and difficult to find.
In the new page design, all the elements on the website are re-arranged to be blind friendly. “Workshops and Trainings” section becomes a button, and moved up. It lists with other services in a clear way.
Click on the “Workshops and Trainings” button, visitor will be direct to a dedicated page where the visually impaired are able to understand the service quickly and book events easily online.
Inconsistent teaching quality. The proposal will bring in more patrons into the program, and the library will need more volunteer instructors. Volunteers are usually less experienced in teaching. One of the volunteer at the library said: “It would be nice to have more volunteers who are capable of teaching, who are trained to do so … to have more systematic instructions.”
- The Risk can be mitigated through bringing an extra staff into the program. The staff will report to the coordinator. They will also come up with a training system for the volunteers to quickly understand specific class’s standards. At last, the staff will keep the coordinator informed about the quality.
Lack of physical space. More patrons and staff in the future also means a lack of available space for activities in the future.
Below is a floor plan of the 2nd floor of the Andrew Heiskell Library. Current workshops take place in the two rooms located at the northwest side of the Library. This floor also contains the Library’s extensive collection of Braille Books, displayed on tens of the book shelves. However, observations indicate that users rarely use this space. The northeast (top-left) part of this oor feels cold and deserted.
In the proposed design, more activities will extend to these shelving areas.
- By rotating the shelves by 90 degrees, natural sunlight will come in through the aisles.
- The distance between each two shelves will be decreased by 10 inches. The total amount of saved space from six rows of selves then will create a large empty space where the library can put table and chairs in. In the future, patrons can use these table and chairs as a workshop space or discussion area.
- We use a partition wall to divide this floor into two separate zones. The North Wing will become an active, multipurpose zone that fosters conversations between the visual impaired. It encourages the blind to easily interact with the braille books as they are learning in the same space. The South Wing, on the other hand, will become a quiet zone.
The new interior design not only solves the problem of space lack, but also strengthens the visually impaired and blind community. From the users research, the team understood that the library is always on a tight budget. Therefore in this proposal, rearranging book shelves and tables doesn’t create any material cost. While the high end glass partition wall can cost more than $14,000, they library has the liberty to choose dry wall which only cost about $3,000.
Research. Continue researching on blind people’s learning curve by interviewing more users to understand their learning di culties. Study how other schools are teaching their students by attending vocational training related assistive technology classes.
Design New Syllabus. A robust course offering is crucial because many patrons will come into the library and expecting the library to be the central hub for learning and gaining vocational skills. In order to serve large amount of people, the service design team and the library staff will work together to design an effective and sustainable syllabus for the library.
Potential partnerships. Outreach to other non-profit organizations to promote the library’s workshop. Work with tech companies, interior designers and architects to design a modern space for accessibility.
- Read the full research and proposal here.
- Due to the sensitivity of the in-depth research on the stakeholders who work for the NYPL, I am not able to display some of the research and names on this website. Some information and quotes are intentionally generalized here.