What is Accessibility?

One of the core purposes of libraries is to provide access to information to patrons, including patrons with disabilities. Over the past two decades, our nation has witnessed an explosion in new technologies that has revolutionized the way that librarians provide services to patrons. Today, many library research tools are digitized, available over the Internet, and capable of reaching audiences outside the immediate walls of the library. This new flexibility in delivery of services can also improve access for individuals with disabilities who have traditionally been unable to access library services and facilities. It is critical, however, that librarians approach the acquisition of these new technologies with accessibility in mind, to ensure that these vast services are capable of meeting the needs of a diverse group of patrons.

What do we mean when we discuss accessibility for library patrons? In its most basic definition, accessibility refers to the physical accessibility of the library facilities. As discussed in greater depth in the following tutorials, there are federal and state laws that govern the physical accessibility of libraries. These laws establish guidelines that delineate the appropriate use of signage in the library and other non-visual cues such as Braille, require universally designed doorways, bathrooms and ramp configurations, standardized placement of equipment and materials, accessibility of telecommunications devices and other informational technologies.

Accessibility, however, is more than just physical access to library services. In conventional terms, accessibility generally refers to functionally equivalent access to the materials and services. In essence, this means that individuals with disabilities should be able to use and access all the same services and materials in the library as their non-disabled peers, either through alternate means or with assistance. Sometimes, accessibility can be achieved through the use of assistive technology devices, which are pieces of equipment that can make an otherwise inaccessible product or service accessible. Assistive technology devices are discussed in greater detail in a subsequent tutorial. Ultimately, in order to promote broad access for all patrons, librarians should consider the accessibility of their materials and services during the procurement and implementation process, and develop a plan to maximize accessibility for all patrons.

Further information:

American Library Association:

Access Board:

ADA Department of Justice Homepage:

Microsoft Accessibility:
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