Making Historical Documents More Accessible

Truman computer science major Sierra Gregg received the Student of Achievement Award from the St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired at its Visionary Gala in April for her ingenuity to make historical documents from presidential libraries accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

In the summer of 2011, Gregg, herself visually impaired, was chosen as the social media intern at the Office of Presidential Libraries within the National Archives in Washington, D.C. By July of that year, Gregg started searching around in the National Archives digital catalogs for records relating to the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Signed into law on July 26, 1990, the ADA was a ground-breaking civil rights act for the disabilities community. Gregg found only two records relating to the signing of the ADA in the Archives’ digital catalog and neither of those two records was the Act itself. She could see lists of records relating to the Act, but they had not been digitized, meaning a researcher would either have to travel to the physical location of the record or request a copy.

Because Gregg wanted to increase the number of digitized records relating to the ADA, she submitted a proposal for the Americans with Disabilities records webpage. The scope of the original project grew far beyond what she and her supervisor had first imagined. During the last few weeks of her first summer in Washington, D.C., Gregg helped write the proposal and a request for digitized records that was sent out to the 13 presidential libraries. When the summer ended, she came back to Truman for the school year, and although she did not work directly on the project, she stayed in contact with her supervisor.

When Gregg returned to Washington, D.C., in 2012, almost all of her time was devoted to completing the project. By then, the libraries had sent back a list of more than 50 different records, including pictures and text documents, relating to Americans with disabilities. Each library’s records illustrated that president’s work with people with disabilities. For example, the Roosevelt Library’s records focused on Polio, and the Kennedy Library’s records focused on mental impairments. Gregg helped coordinate getting these digitized records listed in the online catalog and the development of the webpage. In July 2012, the Office of Presidential Libraries did a series of posts to all of its social media outlets about the launch of the new webpage.
Even though Gregg will not be working for the National Archive this summer, she hopes the webpage continues to grow to include more records from the presidential libraries, she and would like to have the opportunity to work with them again. Her experiences working for the Office of Presidential Libraries have reinforced her desire to work in a library/archives environment.

“I am truly honored that the Society for the Blind has awarded me the Student of Achievement Award, but I am not the only one that needs to be recognized for creating this new resource,” she said. “Everyone who works for the Office of Presidential Libraries, the archivists that collected the records and numerous other people who work for the National Archives helped make this webpage possible,” said Gregg. “Without them, these important historical records would not be accessible to everyone interested in learning more about disability history.”
Gregg’s project can be found online at

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