Library access and The American Rescue Plan Act

On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed into law the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act.  As part of this funding package, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) was allocated $200 million, its largest increase to-date.

Individual state allocations are calculated based on population, with a minimum funding requirement set at $2 million.

As libraries consider important financial and programming decisions in the wake of this announcement, we’d like to highlight an opportunity to improve library access for people with low vision.

How technology can help bridge the library access gap

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, news media has emphasized the particular hardships faced by the disabled community, especially among those who are blind or visually impaired.  At the same time, libraries across the nation have risen to the occasion, quickly pivoting and adapting programs to meet the needs of their patrons.

One challenge that librarians faced was in dealing with pandemic-related delays of braille and audio materials from the National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind and Print Disabled.  In partnership with a national network of partner libraries, NLS provides accessible materials and devices to approximately 350,000 users.  Unfortunately, parts of their services experienced slowdowns over the past year.

Person reading a braille book

Still, librarians rolled up their sleeves and went the extra mile, figuring out ways to get materials into patrons’ hands even while working remotely.

While the NLS’s Talking Book Program and other services remain vital to thousands of visually impaired community members, libraries can supplement these programs and expand library access even further by bringing technology in-house.

Expanding library access through portable assistive technology

Assistive technology attacks the same issue from the opposite angle.  Rather than relying solely on specially-formatted materials, what if libraries had equipment at their disposal that made traditional formats accessible to visually impaired users?

There are a number of options for affordable, portable devices that can help people with low vision read any printed material at their local library.  Some examples include:

Portable assistive technology can enhance library access for people with low vision

The beauty of portable devices is that they can be put in circulation for low vision patrons to check out and use at home.  (For step-by-step instructions on incorporating assistive technology at your institution, follow our guide.)

Desktop video magnifiers

In addition to portables, many libraries opt for an electronic desktop magnifier for patrons to use on site.  The Optelec ClearView C Speech ($3,995) is a popular choice among libraries.  Simple to use, the ClearView C instantly converts any printed text into speech, and offers magnification in high contrast.  With a standalone magnifier like the ClearView C, low vision patrons successfully access library materials, eliminating barriers caused by vision loss.


If you would like more information about any of these products, please browse our product pages, or feel free to contact us for a free consultation and demonstration.  We also offer free training and tech support to all of our library clients.

The influx of stimulus funds presents a unique opportunity for libraries to invest in technology that will provide long-term, sustainable access to resources for patrons with vision loss.  We look forward to supporting you in your decision-making as we all look forward to better days ahead.

Author Information

By Bethany Wyshak. Reviewed by Stuart Flom.

A lighting industry specialist, Stu Flom worked at Dolan-Jenner, a leader in fiberoptic lighting, for 15 years before launching his own company in 1994. As product manager, Stu helped find lighting solutions for clients in such diverse areas as photography, microscopy, robotics and automotive manufacturing. He was also involved in supplying the fiberoptics illuminating the Hope Diamond exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. A member of the International Society for Optics & Photonics (SPIE), Stu was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and is the author of several publications, including Integrating Optical Fibers in Machine Vision (Proceedings), Designing Fiber Optic Lighting for Machine Vision (Society of Manufacturing Engineers), and Light Up with Fiber Optics (Vision). Prior to his work in lighting, Stu was a special education teacher. Stu’s expertise in lighting and background in education form the backbone of his company. As AdaptiVision’s founder and president, Stu is dedicated to applying advanced lighting technology to assist people struggling with low vision, teaching them how to use technology to achieve greater independence.


American Library Association. (2021, March). Library Recovery Funding Summary.

Dankowski, T. (2021, February 25). A Disproportionate Pandemic. American Libraries Magazine.

Kromer, K. (2021, March 12). What the American Rescue Plan Act Means for Libraries. American Libraries Magazine.,E%2DRate%2C%20and%20other%20programs&text=Of%20the%20%24200%20million%20for,on%20a%20population%2Dbased%20formula.