Caroline Smith, Inclusive Services Consultant, South Carolina State Library
Equitable access to information has long been a goal of the library profession, but when it comes to people with disabilities, full accessibility is still far from reality. Even when accessibility is part of an organization’s goals or strategic plan, the work of accessibility can fall through the cracks if it is not included in job descriptions and day-to-day responsibilities. How do we put accessibility into practice and make it a reality in our organizations?
In April 2019, the South Carolina State Library set out to address this by forming an Accessibility Team with members representing nearly every department of the library. This includes staff from South Carolina Talking Book Services, which is housed inside the State Library and has a long history of working with the blind and visually impaired. Other departments, such as Electronic Resources, provide services used by public and school libraries statewide.
Our team’s goal was to audit the organization for accessibility and collaborate on agency-wide improvements. In order to identify the major issues and barriers, we sought out training and feedback from patrons and community partners with disabilities and disability-serving organizations. We developed a working list of known issues which we began to address.
Here are our recommendations based on our first year:
- Audit your social media for accessibility. Use Alternative Text for all images to make the content accessible to screen readers.
- Add captions to video content and transcribe audio content like podcasts. This can be done in-house or outsourced to a transcription company. Some services automatically generate captions, but these still contain errors and should be corrected by a real person.
- Ask about accessibility when negotiating with vendors for services such as databases and software. You can request a VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) and ask if the product meets standards set by Section 508 and WCAG 2.0. The response may reveal whether accessibility is a priority for their company!
- Make “reasonable accommodations” easier by including information about accessibility on every event listing. Invite attendees to make requests and direct them to the right person. One example statement is:
“If you need a reasonable accommodation in order to participate, please contact [the event organizer] at [email] or [phone] at least two weeks prior to the event.”
- Reasonable accommodations should be available to everyone, including library staff and presenters. Include accessibility information for internal staff training and meetings, not just events for the public.
- Create an internal process for accommodation requests and communicate this to all staff. We decided that the event coordinators should contact the Accessibility Team for assistance in arranging accommodations.
- Audit the physical space for ADA compliance. We contracted this out with our local Center for Independent Living (CIL).
- If possible, provide assistive technology such as personal listening devices, magnifiers, screen readers, and braille embossers.
- Incorporate best practices for accessibility into procedures and policies.
- Include people with a variety of disabilities, from a variety of backgrounds, in every step of the process.
What We Learned
Forming the Accessibility Team has enabled our library to implement broad changes. Similar initiatives can be an effective way to advocate for accessibility improvements in any organization. Support from the library’s leadership is essential during this process. Accessibility work requires staff time and, when possible, a dedicated budget.
Change can be slow. We can implement some improvements immediately while others require board approval or major investment. Start where you can and make note of what is left. Accessibility is a long-term goal and the work will never be finished. So why not get started now?