They kicked him out of the library!
My daughter-in-law told me a sad story this evening. Her brother was visiting the library when his carer decided to read The Hunger Games to him. I’m not sure if he was enjoying it or not, but he expressed his feelings with some rather loud vocalisations – the only way of communicating for this young man with significant disabilities. It wasn’t long before he was asked to leave. The library later supplied the family with an apology for his treatment, but I think it still leads us to an important consideration. How do we ensure our libraries are catering for the needs of our disabled patrons? In our twitter chat on information literacy many comments were made about services for the elderly, but little mention was made of the needs of people with disabilities.
“The 2012 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) estimated that 4.2 million Australians, or 18.5% of the population, had a disability”. In 2008 Australia ratified The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabitilies, which states that, “States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others… to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems”(Article 9) and also that, “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through all forms of communication of their choice”(Article 21).
Wow! this has major implications for us as librarians!
Digital technologies have improved availability of information for many people with disabilities. Lazar and Briggs describes how in the past they would send print impaired patrons to a special ‘library for the blind’, but now with the increase in digital resources such as ebooks, audio books and databases, the public library is more able to cater for these users. New assistive technologies, such as the Window-eyes Screen readers , are also now available. The Brimbank Libraries have a great range of these services.
However, A really interesting paper by Sachdeva et al, published only last year, discussing what they call the ‘digital disability divide’, identifies that people with impairments are less likely to have computer or internet access at home, and also claims that one of the most significant factors impacting on this problem is the lack of motivation by users to learn these new technologies. They claim that “Increasing technology adoption for citizens with impairments is the first step toward bridging the disability divide” and this is an area where librarians could play a significant role.
The community of people with disabilities is a large and widely varied one. It is a community of many different people who all have very specific needs when it comes to accessing information. The ALIA Guidelines on library standards for people with disabilities states that “in order to provide successful library services to people with disabilities, it is essential that all staff have appropriate attitudes towards people with disabilities. Attitudes based on ignorance or misconceptions create barriers and they are most-frequent cause of inadequate or non-existent services.” I believe this is a key statement. The only way we can discover the needs of these individual people is to be educated about the resources that are available, open and available to talk, offer assistance and build confidence. Individual attention is the only way we can cater for these very individual needs.
Not kicking them out of our libraries would be a pretty good place to start too!