Prioritizing Accessibility and Disability Inclusion at Your Library
“Providing equitable access for persons with disabilities to library facilities and services is required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, applicable state and local statutes and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).” Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy, Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA), a division of the American Library Association
Putting a focus on accessibility helps create a library that can be enjoyed by more people and can connect more people to the information and resources they need. Opportunities to make libraries more accessible can include decisions about your collections, offering technology that improves the patron experience, designing or improving a physical building, and managing the library's online presence to be accessible and inclusive. With such a broad scope, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge and some are afraid that they might not get everything right. However, even small changes make a difference, so it is important to get started. Don’t wait for someone to ask for these changes, create the space and opportunity for everyone. Here are a few ideas to help you begin or take further steps.
Check your website for accessibility – users who depend on software such as screen readers depend on websites being readable by their software. Many tools exist that can help evaluate how well your website meets the standards laid out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Changes recommended are often straightforward, like making sure that images on your web pages have descriptions. Updating your site to incorporate feedback will help ensure that your content can be accessed by more people.
The WAVE (web accessibility evaluation tool) from WebAIM, out of the University of Utah, can be used to check your website for accessibility issues, and provides recommendations on what to improve.
Hearing loss is a hidden disability and one that effects millions of Americans. One way to be inclusive of the events at your library is to always have a microphone and promote its consistent use. Speakers will sometimes try and avoid the microphone by saying something along the lines of, “I have a loud voice, everyone can hear me, right?” While the majority of the room may be able to hear, by requiring one or two people to voice their preference/need for a microphone, you’re forcing them to publicly acknowledge a disability. Check out the Twitter hashtag #usethemic for reminders of how this change can create equity in your library.
Small amplifiers and microphones are reasonably priced and can make a positive difference for participants. Create policies that encourage all library staff and guest presenters to use the microphone. Also consider the option of installing hearing loop technology in your library, particularly in your larger meeting rooms. A 2014 study found that hearing loops dramatically improved the ability to hear in places of worship, theaters and auditoriums, and conference rooms.
It's also a good reminder that in our presentations as well as daily conversations that facing an individual while you are speaking, helps not only with hearing, but in seeing lip patterns for lip reading. Before events, share this tip as well as a request that presenters, moderators and comments all avoid speaking too quickly to improve clarity. We can all do our part!
Accessibility software on public access computers helps to bring online resources to more people. In addition to installing the software, it’s important remember to market the availability to patrons, including those not in the library, and to also familiarize staff with how to use the software so they can provide recommendations and assistance. These are two common tools found in public libraries:
- ZoomText – software that helps magnifies the text on the computer to aid those with low vision.
- JAWS (Job Access With Speech) is a popular screen reader software designed for patrons with low or no vision.
Offer curbside pickup! Some patrons may find it difficult to leave their cars to enter the building. The Forbes Public Library in Massachusetts allows patrons to arrange to have materials brought out to them.
Take some free training! Project ENABLE was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services to help create “inclusive library and information services and programs” for school-aged children. This free, in-depth training consists of six modules and can be completed at your own pace.
Reach out to a local partner and learn more about the needs of people in your community. Is there a local school for children who are blind or deaf? Does your state have a library for the blind? Is there a local non-profit that works with individuals with disabilities? Working with these partners can help you identify library services that can meet the needs of people in your community.
Learn more about how people first language can be used to speak appropriately and respectfully about an individual with a disability. People first language emphasizes the person first not the disability. For example, when referring to a person with a disability, refer to the person first by using phrases such as: “a person who ...”, “a person with ...” or, “person who has...” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides resources on Disability Inclusion, including Communicating With and About People with Disabilities (pdf) which provides recommendations on language that emphasizes a person first, not the disability. [Edit, July 23, 2019: Please see the note that Rachel Morton left in the comments below which provides good context for using first person language.]
Looking for more ideas?
Check out some of the accessible services offered by these libraries:
- Akron-Summit County Public Library
- Sonoma County Library
- Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
- Bridges Library System
- Forbes Library
- Creating accessible digital exhibits – a conversation, with OCLC's Research Library Partnership
- Library Accessibility Toolkits, Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA)
A toolkit with a series of 16 guides with tips and resources that address everything from assistive technology to mobility impairments to service and support animals
- National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS)
Through a national network of cooperating libraries, NLS administers a free library program of braille and audio materials
- U.S. Department of Justice Americans with Disabilities Act Home Page
Information and technical assistance on the A.D.A.
- 2019 LYRASIS Accessibility Survey Report, Understanding the Landscape of Library Accessibility for Online Materials
- The A11Y Project
A community-driven effort to make web accessibility easier