NJ program improves access to the internet for the blind and visually impaired

Newark Public Library has become the latest chapter in the state to launch the Library Equal Access Program, or LEAP. What is it?

“It is about providing important skills on how to use things like assistive technology, such as magnification and audio reading tools to help visually impaired users with reading websites, emails and other documents, really providing that essential bridge to all of the information resources that many of the rest of us take for granted but that are vital with keeping up with the way the world works today,” said Carole Johnson, commissioner for the NJ Department of Human Services.

LEAP turns the page on access to the internet for the blind and visually impaired through beginner-level assistive technology software training, thanks to the new technology installed on the library’s computers and iPads.

Colleen Faupel, Supervisor of Assistive Technology at NJ Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, gave a demonstration of how the technology works.

“So, I hear ‘Notes,’ I double-tap on the screen. I don’t have to tap on the icon itself. I just heard, oh, that’s what I want, I go into it,” said Faupel. “Now, in here, I can do two things: I can move my hand around the top and it’ll read as I’m moving my finger, whatever I touch, and that could be me just trying to explore because I don’t know what’s on the screen.”

Before this major technological upgrade here at the Newark Public Library and several others across the state, what would the blind and visually impaired have to do to access computers and so forth here?

I have to wait on somebody. I have to call somebody. I have to depend on somebody else,” said Jim Jasey, Founder of the organization Beyond the Eyes.

The State Library and the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired partnered to make this vision a reality.

“We bring the community that hopefully will benefit from the services, and they bring some of the money and some of the expertise,” said State Librarian Mary Chute.

Newark Council President Mildred Crump is a long-time advocate for the blind who’s taught Braille for 40 years, including, she says, to Stevie Wonder.

“This, for me, is a glorious day,” Crump said.

Newark native and Lieutenant Gov. Sheila Oliver recalled coming to the library to take out books when she was a kid. Now she has another story this building can tell.

Access to information in the 21st century is crucial, and not having the ability to have access to resources that can be easily used by visually impaired people is really a barrier to being fully engaged in the mainstream of our life,” Oliver said.