Universal Access: Making Library Resources Accessible to People with Disabilities

As more information is delivered using computer and network technologies, libraries play an increasingly important role in ensuring access for all people to Internet and other information resources. In making electronic resources accessible, principles of universal design should be employed.

Universal design means that, rather than design your services and facility for the average user, you design them for people with a broad range of abilities and disabilities. Keep in mind that patrons may have learning disabilities and visual, speech, hearing, and mobility impairments.

Although a library cannot be expected to have specialized equipment for every type of disability, staff should be aware of the options for making library resources accessible and should make available equipment that they can anticipate will be used or is available at relatively low cost. In addition, develop a procedure to ensure a quick response to requests for accommodations to meet the needs of patrons with disabilities.

The following information and questions can help guide you in making all of your library's programs and resources universally accessible and inviting to people with disabilities. Resources listed at the end of this handout, including DO-IT's World Wide Web site, provide a starting place to locate additional information as you make your library and its resource more accessible!

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 individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of her/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.

In general, "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."

Access Issues

The following questions related to the library building and environment, staff, services, and electronic resources may help guide you in making your library universally accessible.

Building Access and Environment

__ Are parking areas, pathways, and entrances to the building wheelchair-accessible?

__ Are doorway openings at least 32 inches wide and doorway thresholds no higher than one half inch?

__ Are aisles kept wide and clear for wheelchair users? Have protruding objects been removed or minimized for the safety of users who are visually impaired?

__ 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 ramps and/or elevators provided as alternatives to stairs? Do elevators have both auditory and visual signals for floors? Are elevator controls marked in large print and Braille or raised notation? Can people seated in wheelchairs easily reach all elevator controls?

__ Are wheelchair-accessible restrooms with well marked signs available in or near the library?

__ Are service desks and facilities such as book returns wheelchair accessible?

__ 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 (TDD/TTY) available?

__ Are library study rooms available for patrons with disabilities who need to bring personal equipment or who need the assistance of a reader?

__ Are hearing protectors, private study rooms, or study carrels available for users who are distracted by noise and movement around them?

Library Staff

__ Are staff aware of disability issues? (See Helpful Communication Hints)

__ Are staff trained in the use of telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTD/TTY) and adaptive computer technology provided in the library? Are there regular refresher courses to help staff keep their skills up-to-date?

__ Are staff trained in policies and procedures for providing accommodations to patrons with disabilities? Are staff aware of services provided for people with disabilities?

__ Are staff knowledgeable of other organizations, such as federally-funded talking book and Braille libraries, that provide information services to patrons with disabilities?

__ Do public services 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?

Library Services

__ Does the library have a designated staff member and/or committee who coordinates services for patrons with disabilities, monitors adaptive technology developments, and responds to requests for accommodation?

__ Are people with disabilities included in the library's board of trustees and committees? Are people with disabilities included in the library's access planning process?

__ Does the library have a written description of services for patrons with disabilities, including procedures and information on how to request special accommodations? These policies and procedures should be advertised in the library and library publications.

__ Are reference and circulation services available by phone, TTY/TDD, and electronic mail?

__ Are resource delivery services available for patrons confined to their homes, retirement facilities, or hospitals?

__ Are large print and Braille versions of library handouts and guides available?

__ Are applications for the nationwide network of Talking Book and Braille Libraries available for print disabled patrons?

__ Are reader and research assistants available to patrons with vision impairments?

__ Are sign language interpretation services available by request for library sponsored events?

__ Are large magnifying glasses available for patrons with low vision?

Adaptive Technology for Computers

The library won't have special equipment on hand for every type of disability. But you can anticipate the most commonly requested adaptive technology and have that available. Start with a few items at first, and add new technology as patrons request it. Here is a list of adaptive technology for computers and computer workstations to get you started.

__ At least one adjustable table for each type of workstation in the library can assist patrons with mobility impairments or who use wheelchairs.

__ Large print key labels can assist patrons with low vision.

__ Software to enlarge screen images can assist patrons with low vision and learning disabilities.

__ Large monitors of at least 17 inches can assist patrons with low vision and learning disabilities.

__ A speech output system can be used by patrons with low vision, blindness and learning disabilities.

__ Braille conversion software and a Braille printer can assist patrons who are blind.

__ Trackballs can assist those who have difficulty controlling a mouse.

__ Wrist rests and keyguards can assist some patrons with mobility impairments.

Electronic Resources

Be sure that the library's World Wide Web pages and other electronic resources are designed to be accessible to people with disabilities. Consider these items in ensuring accessible electronic resources.

__ Do electronic resources with images and sound provide text alternatives to these formats? Is the design consistent with clear navigation paths?

__ Can the library's electronic resources including online catalogs, indexes, and full-text databases and CD-ROMs be accessed with a variety of adaptive computer technologies such as screen readers and speech synthesis?

__ Do collection development policy statements specifically state that electronic products should be evaluated for accessibility as part of the purchasing process?

__ Do library Web page style guidelines require that pages be designed in an accessible format?

__ Are librarians prepared to assist patrons with electronic resources that they cannot access by providing research consultations or materials in other formats?

Helpful Communication Hints

When you are working with someone who has a disability, keep in mind that you are dealing with a person first. Other than this, there are no strict rules when it comes to relating to people with disabilities. Here are some helpful hints.

General Guidelines

  • Treat people with disabilities with the same respect and consideration that you give others.
  • Ask a person with a disability if they need help before helping.
  • Talk directly to the person with a disability, not through the person's companion.
  • Refer to a person's disability only if it is relevant to the conversation.
  • Avoid negative descriptions of a person's disability. For example, "a person who uses a wheelchair" is more appropriate than "a person confined to a wheelchair." Remember, in actuality, a wheelchair is not confiningÐit's liberating.
  • Refer to the person first and then the disability. "A man who is blind" is better than "a blind man" because it emphasizes the person first.

Visual Impairments

  • Be descriptive with people with visual impairments. Say, "The computer is about three feet to your left," rather than, "The computer is over there."
  • When guiding people with visual impairments, offer them your arm rather than grabbing or pushing them.
  • Always ask permission before you interact with a person's guide or service dog.

Learning Disabilities

  • If asked, read instructions to users with some specific learning disability.

Mobility Impairments

  • Try sitting in order to make level eye contact with patrons in wheelchairs when you interact.

Speech Impairments

  • Listen carefully and ask people with speech impairments to repeat what they have said if you don't understand.

Hearing Impairments

  • Face people with hearing impairments and speak clearly when you talk to them.

Additional Information

Contact Information