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Innovative Literacy Programs

by Eva Poole on March 19, 2013

Focusing on a variety of literacies to meet community needs continues to be a top strategic priority in public libraries across the nation. Nineteen percent of adults living in the District of Columbia today have “below basic” literacy skills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.1 In a concerted effort to address this community issue, the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) Adult Literacy Resource Center, headed by Marcia Harrington, provides a full range of information and services for adult learners, including tutoring services, practice GED tests, and a book reading club (“A Feel for Books”) with themes and selections targeted specifically to adult learners. The resource center has established collaborative partnerships with the DCPL Foundation, a number of city agencies that primarily target literacy, and adult literacy providers.

DCPL’s Adaptive Services Division (ASD), headed by Venetia Demson, is the D.C. community place for free access to inclusive reading formats and adaptive technologies that support literacy, education, and lifelong learning. The division provides a welcoming environment for the deaf community, the visually impaired, older adults, veterans, and injured service people through services that include a Talking Book and Braille library; adaptive technology lab and classes; sign language classes; cultural and informational programs; at-home reader service; and informal learning environments.

Several innovative literacy programs provided by ASD that I would like to highlight include DCPL’s Braille Book Club for Kids. The club meets monthly at the library and attracts blind children from the greater D.C. metropolitan area. Elementary school-age Braille readers and adult Braille mentors read aloud from Braille books in hard copy and refreshable Braille-display formats. Children improve their knowledge of the Braille code and learn to read aloud expressively. They also socialize and share stories with each other. This DCPL program is a partnership with the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind.

DC VIP Teens is a weekly after-school program for blind and low-vision teens who attend D.C. public schools. Sessions focus on aspects of the Expanded Core Curriculum in which teens practice orientation and mobility skills by traveling from school to the library or assigned cultural venue each week. The teens socialize over pizza and converse about books with blind teens from Pittsfield (Mass.), in monthly virtual book club sessions. They use technology to access books and training materials on self-advocacy, transition, careers, and financial literacy. The teens take a field trip to a local university each semester to learn about accessing disability support services at the college level. They enjoy audio-described visits to the museums, theaters, concert halls, and national parks. The teens benefit from homework help through the library’s databases and a mentoring program led by a local university student Lions Club. DCPL’s partners include the Friends of the DCPL for the Blind, and six other local and national agencies that serve the blind.

Sensory Story Time with Micki Freeny is a monthly program for children age three to six that brings stories to kids with developmental disabilities who may not be comfortable in a regular library storytime. With a flannel board schedule and lots of visuals, children enjoy songs, stories, and movement in a welcoming environment. bring literacy-building opportunities to people with sensory and mobility disabilities through its permanent installation for people with disabilities, aptly called the AbleGamers Accessibility Arcade. Major equipment includes a:

  • High-end gaming computer. This computer is the hub of the gaming library for people who are blind or have low vision. The computer allows gamers with disabilities to play PC-based games and Internet-based multiplayer games.
  • Microsoft Xbox console system. The Xbox console gives gamers with mobility disabilities access to the most popular games through the state-of-theart Adroit Switchblade controller. This switch-enabled adapted controller can be operated by hand, with a head pointer, an arm-mounted chin switch, or programmable light-touch finger switches.
  • Mobile Microsoft Xbox with Kinect. This system brings motioncontrolled gaming to library customers with mobility disabilities. Additionally, game makers are starting to imagine voice control into games, potentially adding another dimension of game control for gamers with disabilities.
  • iPad. A mounted gaming iPad and a head pointer are offered for those that may need it. In order to support this first-in-thenation accessibility arcade, DCPL partnered with AbleGamers.com to create an online community for gamers with disabilities in the Washington, D.C., area to meet, plan, and discuss gaming with the staff of ASD, and the larger worldwide AbleGamers community.

As public libraries continue to explore ways to promote literacy as essential to success in education and employment, PLA will continue to showcase all types of literacy programming @ your library!


1. National Center for Education Statistics, “National Assessment of Adult Literacy: State and County Estimates of Low Literacy,”  (accessed Jan.22, 2013). P