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BellaOnline's Disabilities Editor

Access the Public Library

The term, “public library” can be defined as any structure that is intended to provide free public access to materials for study and enjoyment. More important, the library plays a role in offering a mentally stimulating environment, provides a means for social contact and can help promote job skill development using information based technology.

In 1972, the United Nations' Public Library Manifesto declared that the library should be freely accessible to all members of the community and continued the work of the ADA to make sure that all public places are available by those persons with disabilities. That broad statement includes building access, library services and electronic resources.

Parking areas and entrances to the library building should be wheelchair-accessible. Doorways and aisles should be free from barriers. Materials should be available from all locations or procedures in place to respond to requests for help to access those materials. Since not all disabilities can be accommodated, it is expected that universal design be in place, meaning that the facility is designed for a broad range of abilities and disabilities.

The following are aids that are generally employed by public libraries:

---Elevators have both auditory and visual signals
---Wheelchair accessible restrooms are available with clearly marked signs
---Service desks should be wheelchair accessible
---Shelf indicators, books and equipment are identified in large print and Braille
---Telecommunication devices for the deaf should be available
--- There should be at least one adjustable table for those who need special accommodation for wheelchairs or mobility needs.

Often there is adaptive equipment available for those with mobility impairment, those with vision or hearing impairment and those with learning disabilities. There may be a speech output system, Braille conversion software and printer, trackballs, wrist rests and keyguards for those who have difficulty with upper body mobility.

In addition to general access to books and equipment, many libraries have gone steps further. There may be a staff member who coordinates library services for the disabled. The library may include those with disabilities on the library’s board of trustees and committees including access planning. Resource delivery is often available for those unable to physically access the library.

Keep in mind that the library cannot anticipate needs for every disability. If you have a special need, speak with the staff about how they might help make the materials more easily usable for you. And make sure that there is information available that informs you about accessible computer technology and other services. The library is a wonderful place to enhance your education, enjoy the arts and get involved in the community.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Jeanetta Polenske. All rights reserved.
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