The Ottawa Public Library provides service to the entirety of Ottawa. As such, our customers are diverse and eclectic. Each brings to OPL unique experiences that in turn inform how they use, think and feel about the Library. In this series, the Ottawa Public Library is asking customers to reflect on their relationship to the library – what they come to OPL for, why the library is meaningful or important to them and their communities, and how they envision the Library changing. Read the previous entry here. This time, Steve, Russ, and Jorge answer the question: What’s your OPL Experience?
Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, the public library was the source of all knowledge and most of our entertainment. We were an hour's drive from the nearest branch, and in between visits I would compile lists of books to borrow, then stock up on as many as I could carry in the hopes I had enough reading to last until the next trip. These days, thanks to the seemingly endless supply of digital content on offer, I can't remember the last time I’ve actually had to carry a book home. Instead, though, I’ve been able to discover what libraries offer beyond the collection.
My name is Steve Crane, and for most of the past 20 years, I've been a support worker for people with disabilities. Currently, I work at ComputerWise, a local non-profit program that supports adults with disabilities, focusing on issues of computer literacy and access. We serve more than 40 clients in the Ottawa area, providing person-centered approaches to assistive technology and education.
When I joined the team at ComputerWise, there were two issues in particular that I sought to address. One was the need for new projects to engage our clients and offer them meaningful results. The second was the availability of satisfactory custom assistive devices for our clients. There are many commercial assistive technology solutions out there, but often they are too expensive or insufficiently meet clients’ needs. With the help of the Ottawa Public Library’s Imagine Space, I’ve been able to significantly address both.
We were already collaborating with OPL to create accessible workstations when I first learned of the Imagine Space. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed making things, and found tremendous satisfaction in holding in my hands something that just started as an idea, something made real by my own efforts. Due to the nature of their disabilities, most of our clients have never had the opportunity to feel that same satisfaction. But, amazed by the maker-oriented technologies available to anyone with a library card, I was struck by the possibilities of what could be created both by and for our clients.
Speaking of clients, I’d like to introduce you to two of them: Russ and Jorge. Russ is one of CompterWise’s founders. He uses a powered wheelchair, speaks with difficulty, and uses a pointer he wears on his head to type, point and click on his computer. Jorge uses an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device to speak. He controls this device, his PC and his wheelchair with a joystick mounted on the footrest of his chair. Both of these men have been with our program much longer than I have. They’ve spent decades working with graphic design software and are committed and dedicated to their craft. Despite this, they tell me they were reluctant – even anxious – about encountering these new technologies before our trip to the library. Russ says: “I talked with Jorge. We didn’t know if it would work. We were afraid to be disappointed.”
Our introductory visit to the Imagine Space was as part of a larger group, where we were taught how not to set things on fire with lasers. To Russ, “It was very nice. We learned a lot about how to set things up. I was very surprised that we could do that.” I took videos of the laser cutter on my phone so that Russ and Jorge could see it in action (it was a bit too high for them to see clearly). I was pleased that the laser cutting process would be very accessible, and thought their graphic design skills would translate to it very well. As a support worker, I still had some concerns. Since our clients use a lot of custom hardware and software to facilitate their computer use, and they prefer to work at their own pace, I was searching for a 3D modelling software we could use in our office to shape projects that we would then bring to life in the Imagine Space. What I had initially found relied on many mechanics that Russ and Jorge would have difficulty with, like dragging with the middle or right mouse buttons.
Nevertheless, as soon as we got back to our office, Russ and Jorge started planning. Russ wanted a custom keyguard (a clear shield that fits over the keyboard with holes for the keys), and Jorge had an idea for a mosaic of a popular cartoon character as a gift for his nephew. In the midst of this, we got an email from OPL asking us about our experience. It led to a long discussion in which we were offered every imaginable accommodation, and before long, we were ready for a return visit.
During that next visit, not only were Russ and Jorge able to follow-up on their projects, I was able to revisit my goal of making available custom assistive devices for our clients – I had a prototype case, developed by some friends of the program, built by the 3D printer. At lunch afterward, as we showed off our work and talked about what we’d each design next, I saw in Russ and Jorge the same satisfaction that I’d always enjoyed. Thinking back to that first project, Jorge says, “I feel proud of it and I am surprised how good it looked.” For my part, I wasn’t surprised at all.
Since these initial trips, things have snowballed – we’ve returned many times. We found a very accessible 3D modelling platform called TinkerCAD, and Jorge and Russ have branched into 3D printing. Several other clients have gotten involved as well. What’s more, seeing the level of engagement and interest fostered by the Imagine Space, our program has purchased its own 3D printer and laser cutter, and we have plans to share our work and expertise with others in the community.
Based on our experience, I’d say that for anyone looking to take the plunge into making, there’s no better place to start than at the Library. With particular thanks to the efforts of Tristene, Katia and Mary Jane, OPL and the Imagine Space have been instrumental in opening up a whole new world of achievement and development for the clients we serve at ComputerWise.
Thanks to Tristene Villanyi Bokor for help in facilitating this blog entry.