Funding for assistive technology — Where should libraries look?

In our last post, we explored how libraries can improve accessibility for blind and visually impaired patrons. Today, we’re going to address one of the biggest so-called barriers to accessibility: finances.  We’d like to share a few fundraising ideas from an accessibility guidebook created by the Perkins School for the Blind and the Brooks Free Library. (Note: while this article focuses mainly on libraries in Massachusetts, the ideas can be generalized to other geographical areas.)

1) Funding for assistive technology: start with donations

Approach individuals, businesses, and service organizations such as the local Lions Club about contributing to your library’s assistive technology fund. The Brooks Free Library in Harwich saw success with this approach, which helped launch their VITAL program, now in its 17th year. Every penny helps, and by engaging local organizations in your fundraising, you are also building community.

2) Disability commissions

Established by town meeting or city council vote, municipal Commissions on Disability (CODs) “promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of community life” (see Check with the leadership of your city or town to see if there is a disability commission with funds that may be used toward the purchase of assistive technology for your library. If your city or town does not have a disability commission, you can establish one by following guidelines from the Massachusetts Office on Disability.

3) Grants

Explore local, state and federal grants such as the Massachusetts Library Services and Technology Act’s “Access for All” grant.  Here are some key details on this grant:

  • Grants range from $7,500-$15,000 which may be used for training, assistive tech, equipment and staffing. All types of libraries may apply.
  • Duration: 1 or 2 years
  • Information about the Library Services Technology Act’s grant rounds and a schedule for the submission of grants can be found online:
  • Or, for more information about this program, contact Shelley Quezada at the MBLC: 1-800-952-7403 x235 or [email protected]

To learn more about the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) in other states, visit the Grants to States page on the Institute of Museum and Library Services website.

COVID-19 Response Funding

On March 27, the Institute of Museum and Library Services announced that the CARES Act was signed into law, designating $50 million in federal coronavirus response funding for IMLS.  The application deadline for IMLS Cares Act Grants for Museums and Libraries has now passed, and funds are expected to be awarded this month.  If your library was among those awarded, we encourage you to share in the comments how you plan to use the funds, especially if you will be purchasing technology or otherwise using funding to enhance accessibility at your institution.

Nonprofit libraries

The CARES Act also contains a number of provisions for 501(c)3s that can be used by nonprofit libraries. Registered 501(c)3 organizations are potentially eligible for financial help through Small Business Administration programs instituted in the CARES Act.  While many of these programs are intended for payroll protection and operating costs, nonprofit libraries would be wise to research what funding may be available for improving access to all members of the community during the current health crisis.  Currently, applications are still being accepted on the SBA website.

Funding for assistive technology: summary

Through donations, disability commissions, and grants — or perhaps through a combination of these and other funding sources — it is absolutely possible to finance the purchase of essential assistive technology equipment for members of your community with vision loss.  P.S. When it comes time to purchase, be sure to double-check any available warranties and maintenance agreements which could help save costs down the line.

Adapted from the Perkins School for the Blind and the Brooks Free Library’s “Planning for Library Accessibility” guidebook, with additional sources hyperlinked above.

Learn More

If you’re seeking a bit more guidance, AdaptiVision can help you find the most affordable solutions for your budget.  Here are some items that may be of interest:

Optelec Compact 10 HD Portable MagnifierThe new Compact 10 HD Speech by Optelec is an excellent portable magnifier for library circulation, at an affordable price of $1,595.

Optelec ClearView GO Portable Magnifier

Another great portable option is the ClearView GO, which integrates a distance camera.

OrCam Read

OrCam Read is a pen-size handheld AI reader that reads text aloud from any printed or digital surface.

Zoomax Snow 12 Portable Video Magnifier

The Zoomax Snow 12 is yet another portable option with full-page OCR text-to-speech.

Additionally, we carry standalone text-to-speech scanners like the ClearReader+ ($1,995), plus a wide range of desktop video magnifiers.  From time-to-time we also carry refurbished equipment at reduced rates.

All of our products include a 30-day satisfaction guarantee (some also carry extended manufacturer warranties).  Contact us today to schedule a free product demo at your location, in-person or by remote video conference.  You may even win a free Optelec PowerMag in our giveaway exclusively for libraries in New England!