Digital Technology Accessibility Pilot Project success

Seated woman using a tablet as part of the pilot program

Mackay Regional Council (MRC) Libraries received a $3,000 Realising Our Potential Micro Grant through the State Library of Queensland to develop a Digital Technology Accessibility Program Pilot Project targeting homebound clients and caregivers who are elderly and/or disabled.

Through statistical and personal information through the ABS QuickStats 2016 and engagement with key stakeholders, information gathered has shown that both demographics are continually growing in the Mackay region. Our region’s population currently represents 18.8% over sixty and 20% are living with an identified disability. This pilot project enabled our libraries to enhance learning opportunities that improve literacy and public access to information and knowledge, by providing the relevant technology resources and one-on-one training to our homebound clients and their caregivers that are currently isolated and lack social engagement.

Our aim was to provide clients and caregivers who are physically unable to visit the service, the opportunity to borrow digital devices and receive one-on-one technical support. This approach brings library eresources right to the door of our Home Library Service members.

The MRC Library Community Outreach Team set out on 2 May 2019 for the first session of our Digital Accessibility Pilot Program. With two groups of six pilot testers and a handful of tablets, we started to introduce our eresources to the Mackay community. On that first Thursday morning, we didn’t know just how much of an impact we were about to have on the lives of our pilot testers.

Over the next eight weeks, we met up with our pilot testers to teach them the ins and outs of tablets (Apple iPad or Samsung). We introduced them to our library’s eresources and taught them how to troubleshoot. Although each participant was at different levels of skill, each took away something new, feeling more confident to use the electronic tablets to access the fabulous library eresources.

Feedback from one of our participants described how having a tablet and being able to access the library’s eresources brought him back out of his shell, as he was now staying up late to read the newspaper or listen to audiobooks.

It has been an absolute delight to sit down with every person in their home, as this created a wonderful learning environment where we could really listen and get to know them. It has been a fantastic opportunity to help facilitate this pilot program, and experience first-hand just how easy it is to make a difference in someone’s life.

Seated woman and standing man using a tablet as part of the pilot program

The participants’ comfort level in using the tablets increased by 51% and they are now using tablets as a source for their books, magazines and newspapers. Each of the tablets will continue to be used in the Digital Accessibility Program, as many residents are asking for assistance in learning how to use the eresources due to limited mobility and/or accessibility to their local library.

In the future, each of the tablets purchased will be entered into our library collection, as a loanable item to those clients under the Home Library Program. The devices will then be borrowed like a book but will be delivered by one of our team. The team member will sit with the client and step them through using the device on items that they have flagged as preferences. A weekly follow-up with the client will occur to ensure a positive experience.

The benefits for the program are infinite, as it is providing our members and their caregivers with a dedicated resource where they can explore new resources and learn new technologies that assist in their daily lives and reduce isolation.

About the author

Kimberly Lehto-Head, MRC Libraries Community Outreach Team Leader.