Meet the librarian advocating for Assistive Technology - Technical.ly DC

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Oct. 18, 2017 12:45 pm

Meet the librarian advocating for Assistive Technology

DCPL's James Patrick Timony is looking to transform a discussion group to an AT hacking space. Local developers can help.
DCPL’s James Patrick Timony

DCPL's James Patrick Timony

(Photo by Julia Airey)

On a recent Tuesday night, I arrived at the Library Express for a meeting no one was likely to attend.

Called Tech Talk Tuesday, the meeting helps people with low vision or low hearing learn how to text, use Excel or learn tech skills. Unfortunately, just getting to the library requires more assistance than most members can regularly access. Organizer James Patrick Timony hopes to change that.

Timony has worked as an adaptive tech (AT) librarian at the D.C. Public Library for the last 13 years. For the last nine years, he’s organized Tech Talk Tuesday meetings and led outgrowth projects like the 2011 Accessibility Hackathon. Now he sees a need for a permanent restructuring.

“The idea is that there are a couple of projects that the Library Center for Accessibility Community could work with the tech community on,” explained Timony to me during the empty meeting.

Timony, who is sighted, became a champion for AT due to a reading disability that has affected his vision from a young age.

“I was lying to people about reading,” he said. I asked him if ever imagined as a kid he would one day be a librarian. The answer was an emphatic “no.”

The breakthrough, he said, came while practicing music with a blind friend of his who showed him how to record their songs using voice-over technology. “They’re like me,” he said he remembered realizing. It led to passion for AT where he began teaching it, he said, and now, advocating for it on a larger scale.

Together with other group members and community stakeholders, he now hopes to form partnerships with #dctech to address three main accessibility issues: transportation, communication, and employment.

“[Transport DC] could have some solution provided to it to make it more like Uber,” said Timony of the local accessibility transport service. “The trouble that we’ve had is getting web developers on board.”

As for communication, Timony envisions “an app that is totally accessible to the blind community to talk to one another, but also share resources.” This project is reportedly underway by former Apple developer Zaid Al-Timimi, who is sighted, and blind group member Zachary Battles.

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Timony also wants to explore whether it’s possible to build an inventory and point of sale system for AT users. “Then you’d be employable,” he said. “Then you could start your own business.”

The group’s plans for transforming Tech Talk Tuesday are ambitious, and still in their infancy. But the collective experience and passion for the community at the table led me to walk home feeling hopeful. It’s also good timing. After releasing a strategic plan to foster “digital citizenship” this summer, the DCPL has formed other tech-centric partnerships such as with this youth coding club we covered.

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