The University Record, March 25, 1997

Adaptive computing site at Shapiro Library
reflects users' needs

Editor's Note: This article is excerpted from one by Judy Dean of the Information Technology Division that appears in the March issue of ITDigest. The full text is available on the Web at

In 1992, Jack Bernard was a U-M law student spending long hours in front of a large computer monitor in the Adaptive Technology Computing Site (ATCS) on the fourth floor of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library. Due to a vision impairment, he needed the site's special equipment to accomplish the volume of reading required by his studies. He remembers many long nights in the tiny, not-so-comfortable corner of the library.

"The lab wasn't much to look at, but it provided me with access to a $5,000 monitor I could never have afforded to own," he recalled.

photo of student using computer workstationA recently completed renovation of the site has created a far more comfortable environment. From early on, the site's users have worked together to make the best use of the site and share information about other resources.

The original site was established in 1980 and served primarily students with vision impairments. By the late 1980s, its equipment base had broadened to address the needs of a growing and more diverse population.

Around this time, ATCS users formed the Barrier-Free Computer Users Group (BFCUG), a special-interest group organized around information sharing and the pursuit of common goals.

In 1994, ATCS users learned that the Library was about to undergo a major renovation and that their site was earmarked for a move. Once they learned that the site was slated for a much larger space on the basement level, members of BFCUG took action.

A March 1994 meeting of the group resulted in a report that articulated both a conceptual framework and a detailed list of site requirements. In part, the report envisioned, "an excellent study environment, embodying the best features of a library carrel. . . . It should be as conducive to study and learning as possible, and it should have amenities to make it a comfortable place to spend long hours."

photo of student using computer workstation

Following the suggestion of an expert in human ergonomics who was at the meeting, Bernard, then BFCUG president, and Information Technology Division (ITD) staff member Jim Knox approached Herman Miller Inc. with a request for support.

The project captured the interest of Herman Miller's marketing manager and a co-
worker who is one of the company's experts in ergonomic design. They liked the idea of joining with the U-M on a unique case study, and a partnership was formed.

Today, there are nine ergonomically designed workstations with motorized, adjustable-height work surfaces, adjustable seating and full monitor-positioning capabilities. Each station is double-sized to accommodate a human and a canine companion. The lab also includes soundproof partitions that allow students with attention deficit disorders or learning disabilities to work without distraction. The site features a fully automated door. It also serves as a drop point for 747-FAST, a delivery service for students who need help locating or retrieving library materials.

There is still some work to do. Staff and users are working to solve some noise problems, and special software and large monitors are on the "still needed" list. Herman Miller plans to stay involved through an evaluation and improvement cycle. All look forward to celebrating the renovation with an open house on April 9. For details, see the ATCS Web page at

Renovation of the Adaptive Technology Computing Site is the result of a partnership among the Information Technology Division, the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, the Office of Student Affairs and Herman Miller Inc., as well as the Barrier-Free Computer Users Group.