Bodies with Needs

Published June 11, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Interesting discussion had today at a library conference I attended.  The theme was teen and young adult services for public libraries.  One of the excellent papers was presented by Denise Barker of the Disability Services Commission in Western Australia, about libraries working with young people with disabilities.  I got some fabulous snaps while listening to Denise’s paper.

Firstly, when you make your library (and for that matter any other public space) accessible and useable for people with disabilities, it benefits everybody in the community.  Ramps are also good for people with walkers or prams, or small children who are yet unable to negotiate stairs.  Taps and door handles etc with levers instead of knobs, or automatic sensors are easier on people with arthritis or Parkinson’s, or people who have temporary injuries or repetitive strain injuries.  They’re also more hygienic in bathrooms because there is less contact with the fittings.

Creating an inviting space for people with disabilities encourages socialising with a wider group of people, not just for the folks with disabilities, but also for the able-bodied, which promotes compassion, understanding and empathy, and frankly enriches everybody’s experiences.

You don’t always know if someone has a disability, and they may not tell you, even if they are having difficulties using your library.  Hooray!  It’s so good to hear someone acknowledging “invisible” disabilities.  You cannot tell just by looking at someone what their body is able to do, or not able to do, or requires assistance to do.

People with intellectual disabilities need to be welcome in our libraries too.  They need to feel comfortable and included.

Young people with disabilities don’t want to be special cases, they want to be included.  They want access to the same things as everyone else, not “special” things.  Sometimes they just need tools to be able to do so.  Treat those items as tools for those people, not “special”.

And not to forget mental health issues either.  As for everyone else, libraries need to be safe and welcoming for sufferers of mental health issues.

Mostly I guess the core message was about a) being inclusive and b) the benefits to all of the community.

All in all it was great to hear some thoughtful talk about the needs of young people (12 – 24) with disabilities in libraries.  I know so often it gets overlooked.

8 comments on “Bodies with Needs

  • What a nice warm fuzzy to start the day! I use my library a lot, mostly for books, so I don’t do much socializing; but that’s just me. It is very important that everyone feel comfortable using the library, it’s such an important resource, particularly for people who aren’t as fortunate as I am to have computer access at home.

    • It’s that “third place” that isn’t home or work/school, a public library. A place where people can be on neutral ground but meet and socialise as well as study, read for recreation, and pick up all the other formats.

  • thanks for including those of us with mental health disabilities…that’s not as often mentioned. thanks

  • Here in the US, we’re losing libraries and/or they’re cutting a lot of costs due to the internet – so, they’re open few hours or days during the week. I really hope they don’t get eliminated from our society. The library was one of my favorite places to go as a kid and I still like to go there!

    • It’s good to hear positive memories of libraries La. Sadly by cutting out libraries with the thought that the internet replaces us actually creates generations who are unable to verify the wealth of information available to them (this is why so many hoaxes exist, because people aren’t taught to critically seek information) or learn how to actually USE computers to access the internet. Not all homes have access to the internet either – and that’s libraries job to bridge that gap.

  • Libraries in smaller towns are closing, but the ones in the larger towns are actually getting bigger. I heard talk a few months ago of the library here moving so they could have more space. And there are other ways for the library to stay open. The library I worked at in Iowa during high school started letting people borrow audio books off their website! My sister takes them with her on her ipod when she goes on walks.

    Some libraries unfortunately don’t have people who want to make change. This was true of that library I mentioned above until we got a brand new head librarian who started movie and video game nights in the newly finished basement, the audio book on the internet thing, and a ton of other things. She also went through our shelves within the first three months and weeded out books no one had checked out in years. We were very busy after she started working. ^_^

    • We have real issues in my library service with those adverse to change. I have to fight tooth and claw to get staff to engage with new projects, or to even engage with new processes. They are often just biding their time until retirement. Not all of them of course, but a sizeable chunk.

      We are expanding again this year, adding our 33rd library to our fleet, and are in the process of designing the building, so it’s pertinent for us to be looking at things like disability access.

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