Volume 25, Number 2, 2003

Nothing about Me without Me: Planning for Library Services for People with Disabilities

by Barbara Will, California State Library

State Librarian of California Kevin Starr has initiated a multi-year, multi-million dollar project to assist public libraries in improving their services to people with disabilities. “Libraries are for all people, all the time,” he said. “More than one in every five Americans has a disability that limits his or her ability to benefit from traditional library services and resources, and we want non-traditional to become the traditionï¿Ã‚½ It is not good enough merely to be compliant with the law. It is imperative that all of us—regardless of our condition or age or other barrier to use—be able to benefit from what is a great public good: the public library.”

Funded by a Library Services and Technology Act grant, the 30 public libraries participating in this project worked with their local communities to identify priorities for improving library services to people with disabilities in their communities, along with developing service plans to implement them.

A team from each public library participated in three intensive training sessions and a “homework assignment” designed to further involve the local community in serving the needs of people with disabilities. The first training session focused on learning about the full range of potential disabilities from visual difficulties to physical limitations to learning difficulties. Local teams next convened a community forum to identify the prevailing disabilities and unmet needs in their local communities as well as the organizations or institutions currently providing services to these people. After choosing an initial disability focus, each library team added an appropriate community partner to its team, either a person with that disability or a person who works with people having the identified disability. The libraries selected a wide range of disabilities: learning disabilities and mobility were each selected by seven libraries; developmental disabilities, vision, and the frail elderly were chosen by four libraries each; special needs children were the focus for two libraries; and hearing and newly-diagnosed disabilities were each identified by one library. Since California hopes to have libraries modeling services for many populations, the variety of the programs was welcome.

The second training session for the library teams was held in conjunction with the annual “Technology and Persons with Disabilities” conference in Los Angeles, sponsored by California State University, Northbridge. Besides the experience of touring the massive exhibit halls, the public library teams prepared the outline of their intended service programs. Teams worked with their communities to complete their plans, including evaluation plans, when they returned home.

At the final training session, teams fine-tuned their service programs and developed individual outcomes measures. Each library received a grant of $20,000-$50,000 as “seed money” for adaptive equipment, library resources in alternative formats, signage, transfer-training for staff members, public programs and/or other elements to implement its program beginning in July 2003.

An electronic discussion list for program participants is in place, and the full group will gather again in the spring of 2004 to evaluate their individual programs and the statewide planning process as a whole.

For further information, contact Barbara Will, Library Programs Consultant, (916) 653-7071. .