by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

(Adapted from the publication Equal Access: Universal Design of Libraries.)

Libraries play an important role in ensuring that everyone has access to information in printed and electronic forms. In making these resources accessible, principles of universal design (UD) can be employed.

Legal Issues

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. According to these laws, no otherwise qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity. "Person with a disability" means "any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment."

Universal Design

To make your library accessible and useful to everyone, employ principles of UD. Universal design means that rather than designing your facility and services for the average user, you design them for people with a broad rage of abilities, disabilities, ages, reading levels, learning styles, native languages, cultures, and other characteristics — such as age, reading ability, learning style, language, culture, and others. Keep in mind that students and other visitors may have learning disabilities or visual, speech, hearing, and mobility impairments. Preparing your program to be accessible to them will make it more useable by everyone and minimize the need for special accommodations for those who use your services and for future employees as well. Make sure everyone feels welcome and can

  • get to the facility and maneuver within it,
  • communicate effectively with support staff,
  • access printed materials and electronic resources, and
  • fully participate in events and other activities.

Train staff to support people with disabilities, respond to specific requests for accommodations in a timely manner, and know whom they can contact if they have disability-related questions.

Guidelines and Examples

The following questions can guide you in making your campus services universally accessible. Your disabled student services office may also be able to assist you in increasing the accessibility of your unit. This content does not provide legal advice. Consult your campus legal counsel or ADA/504 compliance officer regarding relevant legal issues. Consultation with your regional Office for Civil Rights (OCR) can also help clarify issues.

Planning, Policies, and Evaluation

Consider diversity issues as you plan and evaluate services.

  • Are people with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, students with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, young and old students, and other groups represented on your staff in numbers proportional to those of the whole campus or community?
  • Does the library have a written policy and description of services for patrons with disabilities, including information on how to request accommodations?
  • Is accessibility considered in the procurement of library holdings?
  • Does the library have procedures that ensure timely response to requests for disability-related accommodations and other special assistance?
  • Are disability-related access issues addressed in your evaluation methods?

Physical Environments and Products

Ensure physical access, comfort, and safety within an environment that is inclusive of people with a variety of abilities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, genders, and ages.

  • Are there parking areas, pathways, and entrances to the library that are wheelchair-accessible and clearly identified?
  • Are all levels of the library connected via an accessible route of travel, or are there procedures to assist patrons with mobility impairments in retrieving materials from inaccessible locations?
  • Are elevator controls accessible from a seated position and available in large print and Braille or raised notation? Do elevators have both auditory and visual signals for floors?
  • Are wheelchair-accessible restrooms with well-marked signs available in or near the library?
  • Are information desks and facilities such as book returns wheelchair accessible?
  • Are aisles kept wide and clear of obstructions for the safety of users who have mobility or visual impairments?
  • Are there ample high-contrast, large-print directional signs throughout the library? Are shelf and stack identifiers provided in large print and Braille formats? Are call numbers on book spines printed in large type? Is equipment marked with large print and Braille labels?
  • Are telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTY/TDD) available?
  • Are private study areas available for patrons with disabilities who need to bring personal equipment, who need the assistance of a reader, or who are distracted by noise and movement around them?
  • Is adequate light available?

Library Staff

Make sure staff are prepared to work with all patrons.

  • Are all staff members aware of issues related to communicating with patrons of different races and ethnicities, ages, and abilities? (See Helpful Communication Hints).
  • Are all staff trained in the use of telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTY/TDD), the Telecommunications Relay Service, and assistive computer technology provided in the library?
  • Are all staff trained in policies and procedures for providing accommodations to patrons with disabilities?
  • Do staff members have ready access to a list of on- and off-campus resources for students with disabilities?
  • Are all staff knowledgeable of other organizations, such as federally funded Talking Book and Braille Libraries, that provide services to patrons with disabilities?
  • Do service staff wear large-print name badges?
  • If there are staff members with sign language skills, are they identified to other staff members so that, when available, they can assist patrons who are deaf?

Information Resources and Technology

Ensure that publications and websites welcome a diverse group and content is accessible to everyone.

  • Can the library's electronic and information resources, including web pages, online catalogs, indexes, and full-text databases and CD-ROMs, be accessed with a variety of adaptive computer technologies, such as screen readers?
  • Are librarians prepared to assist patrons with inaccessible electronic resources by providing consultations or materials in other formats?
  • Are reader and research assistants available to patrons with visual impairments?
  • Are reference and circulation services available by phone, TTY/TDD, and electronic mail?
  • Are resource delivery services available for patrons unable to leave their homes, retirement facilities, or hospitals?
  • Are applications for the nationwide network of Talking Book and Braille Libraries available for print for patrons who are print disabled?
  • Are large magnifying glasses available for patrons with low vision?
  • In key publications, do you include a statement about your commitment to universal access and procedures for requesting disability-related accommodations? For example, "Our library's goal is to make all materials and activities accessible. Please inform project staff of accessibility barriers you encounter and of accommodations that will make information resources accessible to you."
  • Are all printed publications available (immediately or in a timely manner) in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, and electronic text?
  • Are key documents provided in a language(s) other than English?
  • Do electronic resources, including web pages, adhere to accessibility guidelines or standards adopted by your institution or library? The Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology and the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are most commonly used. For general information about making your website accessible to everyone, consult the World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design video and publication.
  • Do you include a statement on your website affirming your commitment to accessible design? For example, "We strive to make our website universally accessible. We provide text descriptions of graphics and photos. Video clips are open-captioned and audio-described, providing access to users who can't hear the audio or see the video, respectively. Suggestions for increasing the accessibility of these pages are welcome."
  • Do videos developed or used in the library have captions? For more information, consult Creating Video and Multimedia Products That Are Accessible to People with Sensory Impairments. For making distance learning accessible, consult the Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone video and publication.
  • Do you ask vendors about accessibility features (e.g., captioned video, compatibility with assistive technology) before purchasing computers and software?
  • Is an adjustable-height table available for each type of workstation to assist patrons who use wheelchairs or are small or large in stature?
  • Do you provide adequate work space for both left- and right-handed users?
  • Are large-print key labels available to assist students with low vision?
  • Is software to enlarge screen images and a large monitor available to assist patrons with low vision and learning disabilities?
  • Do you provide a trackball to be used by someone who has difficulty controlling a mouse?
  • Are wrist or forearm rests available to assist patrons with mobility impairments?
  • Are staff members aware of accessibility options (e.g., enlarged text feature) included in computer operating systems and of assistive technology available in the facility?
  • Are procedures in place for a timely response to requests for assistive technology?


Ensure that everyone feels welcome and can participate in events sponsored by the organization.

  • Are events located in wheelchair-accessible facilities? Is the accessible entrance clearly marked?
  • Is information about how to request disability-related accommodations included in publications promoting events?
  • Is accessible transportation available if transportation is arranged for other participants?

Additional Resources

The questions on this web page were field tested at more than twenty postsecondary institutions nationwide by members of the DO-IT Admin team. The results of a nationwide survey to test face-validity of checklist items led to further refinement of this checklist. To increase the usefulness of this working document, send suggestions to

An electronic copy of the most current version of this content can be found in the publication Equal Access: Universal Design of Libraries. A 14-minute video, Equal Access: Campus Libraries, demonstrates key points summarized in this publication. It may be freely viewed online and purchased in DVD format from DO-IT. Consult DO-IT Streaming Video Presentations with Support Publications for access to this and other videos that may be of interest.

Consider joining an electronic discussion list to discuss access issues with colleagues. In the ADAPT-L listserv group, librarians discuss adaptive technology. To join, send email to with no subject but one line of text: "subscribe adapt-l Firstname Lastname". The AXSLIB-L listserv discusses access issues for libraries. To join, send email to with no subject but one line of text: "subscribe axslib-l Firstname Lastname".

Consult the searchable Knowledge Base for questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices.