Beyond ADA Compliance

Expanding the library’s service to patrons with disabilities

March 1, 2024

Headshot of column author Amy Holland

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—while a good framework—must be bolstered by our libraries.

In 2020, staff members at Irondequoit Public Library (IPL) in Rochester, New York, began rethinking our approach to accessibility and inclusion. With reduced hours and services during the COVID- 19 pandemic, we had an opportunity to reenvision how we wanted to welcome patrons back.

ADA guidelines provide for a minimum standard of service, but we knew we could do better for the thousands of people who live with a disability in our community. According to 2022 census data, nearly 16,000 Irondequoit residents either have a disability or are over age 65. Futher, a welcoming and accessible library is beneficial to everyone, as design features that improve accessibility for people with disabilities often improve usability for people without disabilities as well.

Our director secured state aid that allowed us to hire consultants, provide training, and purchase equipment. However, you don’t need a big budget to commit to expanded accessibility and inclusion at your library. These steps can be scaled or modified to fit a variety of budgets and needs.

Build a team. We started by assembling a group of five staffers committed to accessibility and inclusion to help facilitate and advise on initiatives. Some had lived experience with disability, but our knowledge and backgrounds covered only a small portion of what disability can look like.

To ensure we considered a range of experiences, and for general support, we partnered with Rochester Accessible Adventures (RAA), a local organization that helps institutions ensure access and inclusion in all settings. RAA staff assisted us in evaluating IPL operations and developing an action plan that designated me and another colleague from the accessibility team as inclusion coordinators. We provide a point of contact for anyone, whether community member or staffer, who has questions or feedback.

You don’t need a big budget to commit to expanded accessibility and inclusion at your library.

Create a culture of inclusion. The accessibility team monitors the action plan at monthly meetings, but all staffers play a role. To initiate a culture shift, all employees took a free online training course to become Certified Inclusion Ambassadors. The course, now required during new hires’ onboarding, teaches participants how to identify and dismantle physical and social barriers to inclusion.

We also schedule periodic staff trainings led by disability advocates. In recent months, this has included sessions on serving patrons with autism and those who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Additionally, weekly staff meetings include regular inclusion coordinator updates, providing opportunities for discussion and problem solving.

Gather feedback. After we built our team and underwent training, we invited a local disability rights advocate who uses a wheelchair to tour our space and point out potential barriers. One eye-opening example was her attempt to use our fixed-height iPad catalog stands. They were too high for her to access, and we didn’t have any other options for catalog use. This led us to purchase adjustable-height gooseneck iPad stands.

Spread the word. The accessibility page on IPL’s website is a one-stop shop for patrons. It’s also a useful resource for staffers who receive questions about accessibility and inclusion. It describes IPL’s available services and equipment, including motorized scooters, walkers, and adjustable-height desks; books in braille, large print, and audio formats; and contact information for the inclusion coordinators, who are available to provide orientation tours and other accommodations as needed.

Expand your public profile. This was our final step. In 2023, we participated in Rochester’s Festival of Inclusion, an annual event highlighting organizations that support the disability community. In the future, IPL plans to host a smaller-scale version specific to our town. This event will send the signal, without hesitation, that we are committed to includ­ing everyone.


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