New project to create accessible library makerspaces

JooYoung Seo
JooYoung Seo, Assistant Professor
Kyungwon Koh
Kyungwon Koh, Associate Professor and Director of the Champaign-Urbana (CU) Community Fab Lab

Library makerspaces offer community members the opportunity to tinker, design, experiment, and create with a range of technology in an informal learning space. However, because current makerspaces and maker tools are highly vision oriented, blind and visually impaired (BVI) people have limited access to these learning opportunities. A new project led by Assistant Professor JooYoung Seo and Associate Professor Kyungwon Koh, director of the CU Community Fab Lab, seeks to address this problem by creating accessible maker programs for BVI learners and developing training materials on accessible making for librarians and maker professionals. The researchers were recently awarded a three-year, $498,638 National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS grant LG-252360-OLS-22) for their project, "Promoting Computational Thinking Skills for Blind and Visually Impaired Teens Through Accessible Library Makerspaces."

For the project, the iSchool and CU Community Fab Lab will partner with the American Printing House for the Blind, Young Adult Library Services Association, and Reaching Across Illinois Library System Makerspace Networking Group. The research also has received support from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) and Information Accessibility Design and Policy (IADP) program at the University of Illinois. Activities will include training maker professionals and conducting an accessibility status assessment, hosting a summer camp with BVI teens to co-design accessible maker curriculum, testing the developed accessible maker programs in four Illinois library makerspaces, and training library users who will benefit from a more inclusive and accessible makerspace.

"Just as curb cuts help more than a person who uses a wheelchair, accessibility features added to maker tools and learning materials can make the system more usable by everyone," said Seo. "The tangible making activities and integrated curricula in our project will bring the current maker movement a new insight into how we can broaden the participation of maker and STEM learning for underserved populations of diverse abilities."

The goal of the makerspace project is to not only enhance BVI learners' computational thinking skills and STEM interests but also help librarians and maker professionals become more confident and capable when working with BVI populations.

"This is one of the very few research projects conducted by, with, and for BVI learners, where their nonvisual approaches and sensory abilities, such as touching, hearing, smelling, and some remaining low vision, are utilized as a central asset in realizing the full potential of multi-modal maker learning," said Koh.

Koh's areas of expertise include digital youth, the maker movement, learning and community engagement through libraries, human information behavior, and competencies for information professionals. She holds an MS and PhD in library and information studies from Florida State University.

Seo's research focuses on how to make computational literacy more accessible to people with dis/abilities using multimodal data representation. He is an RStudio double-certified data science instructor and accessibility expert who is certified by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). Seo earned his PhD from the Learning, Design, and Technology Program at Pennsylvania State University.

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