Kim Charlson on "Access to print: Literacy, information access, assistive technology, and opportunity as a civil right"

Kim Charlson, director of the Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library, will be our featured guest at the next Ethos Roundtable!

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011
4:30 - 6:00 pm
Charles Hotel
1 Bennett Street
Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Featured guest: Kim Charlson, Director of the Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library
Topic: "Access to print: Literacy, information access, assistive technology, and opportunity as a civil right"

Here's a little bit about Kim from the Perkins School for the Blind

Kim Charlson was appointed director of the Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library in 2001 following 16 years as the Service Management Librarian and Assistant Director. She has distinguished herself as a recognized national and international expert on library and information services for people with disabilities, braille literacy, adaptive technology in libraries, and information access.

Ms. Charlson serves on a number of committees for the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and as a national member of the Braille Authority of North America, the standard-setting body for braille in the United States and Canada. She is chair of the Massachusetts Braille Literacy Advisory Council, past treasurer of the international Council on English Braille, and has served as an appointed member of both the Governor’s Advisory Council on Disability Policy and the Secretary of State’s Help America Vote Act Advisory Committee. She is first vice-president of the American Council of the Blind.

She is also active in a wide range of consumer advocacy arenas including arts access and audio description, civil rights, guide dog access issues and special education.

In addition to her many other responsibilities, Ms. Charlson has published Establishing a Braille Literacy Program in Your Community: A Handbook for Libraries and Other Community Organizations. She has contributed to numerous other publications including a chapter on braille library services in the book, Braille: Into the Next Millennium, which was published by the Library of Congress. She is a contributing author to the book, Making Theatre Accessible: A Guide to Audio Description in the Performing Arts, published by Northeastern University Press. Recently, she has published Drawing with Your Perkins Brailler, an instructional book for using Braille to create tactile pictures that blind children and adults can share with sighted people.

In 2004, she was inducted into the Massachusetts Library Association Hall of Fame. In spring 2005, she was named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker, in spring 2006, she was honored as the Alumni of the Year by the University of North Texas, School of Library & Information Science, Denton, Texas. In the fall of 2008, she was honored with a Special Recognition Award for outstanding community service by the Watertown-Belmont Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. Charlson has a master’s in library science, summa cum laude, from the University of North Texas.
Here's a little bit from Kim herself about the topic:
Most people can participate in reading by going to their local bookstore or public library to borrow the latest bestseller, browse newspapers and magazines, or check out videos or CD's. The convenience of having a community library available is a resource often taken for granted.

However, for people who are blind, visually impaired, have a reading/learning disability, or have difficulty holding a print book, access to information and reading materials in a format they can use is not always readily available.

For an estimated 150,000 individuals across Massachusetts who have difficulty reading standard print, the Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library is their equivalent of a local public library. The Perkins Library is the primary source for borrowing audio books and magazines, materials in braille, or in large print (with over 125,000 audio titles and 19,000 braille titles in the collection). Users access daily newspapers through Newsline, a computer-generated speech output phone service, and check out audio-described videos that announce the key visual elements of a movie including action, settings or facial expressions. The Perkins Library also loans special digital players for talking books, has staff to assist in finding materials that meet each person’s needs and interests, and provides online and downloadable access to its vast collection. Like public libraries, the Perkins Library’s services are provided free of charge and all materials are delivered to a borrower's home through the mail at no cost.

Sounds like a great service, doesn’t it? Yet, only about ten percent of Massachusetts residents eligible to utilize the Perkins Library are being served because of limited state funding and/or people not realizing the service is available and that they are eligible to use it.

As the Director of the Perkins Library, and a person who is blind, I know what a difference this resource makes. Patrons come from all walks of life -- from the child who is blind and reads books in braille to develop lifetime literacy skills, to the teenager who has a learning disability and borrows audiotapes for class, to the young professional who listens to The Boston Globe on her cell-phone while riding the "T" to work, to the senior citizen who takes great pleasure in listening to talking books by her favorite authors.

Like those who are sighted and use print materials, people with disabilities still depend heavily on books, magazines, and newspapers for valuable information to help them participate fully in the life of the community, satisfy their thirst for knowledge, and enhance the quality of their lives through the sheer joy of reading.

We will discuss assistive technology, have demonstrations of specialized equipment, show web access with a talking computer, and explore the myriad issues surrounding providing access to information in accessible formats. This will be a very hands-on presentation with equipment demonstrations, discussions and question and answers. My role as Director of the Perkins Braille & Talking Book Library is to ensure that reading is for everyone, including those of us with disabilities. Reading for the sighted community is not a luxury, it is a right. It should be no less so for people with disabilities.
After the Ethos Roundtable session adjourns at 6:00 pm, we will stroll down the hall to enjoy the good company, charming venue, and free food at the 501 Tech Club, which is generously underwritten by TechFoundation. The 501 Tech Club is the monthly gathering of technology professionals who work with nonprofit organizations.

All Ethos Roundtable attendees are welcome at the Boston 501 Tech Club, and vice versa.

Please remember that there's never any need to make a reservation to attend Ethos Roundtable events. Just come if you can, and feel free to invite others! However, if you're planning to attend the Boston 501 Tech Club event at 6:00 pm, we ask that you send an email to Kathleen Sherwin of TechFoundation (ksherwin AT techfoundation DOT org). Since TechFoundation is providing the free food, it's both courteous and prudent to let her know how much to order.

See you on the 20th!

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