Disability Advocacy: Making Connections

June 23, 2018

“Nothing About Us Without Us" event
Carrie Banks of Brooklyn Public Library, JJ Pionke of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Marti Goddard of San Francisco Public Library emphasize the importance of community engagement in their panel discussion “Nothing About Us Without Us,” sponsored by ASCLA.

Inspired by the title of James Charlton’s classic work on self-advocacy, three librarians working in the area of services to individuals with disabilities shared their experiences and insights in a panel titled “Nothing About Us Without Us: Engaging the Community in Creating Disability Friendly Libraries” on Saturday at the 2018 ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition.

Marti Goddard’s work at the San Francisco Public Library draws on connections with community organizations to provide expertise in staff training. Goddard’s staff express the importance of hearing from individuals with disabilities themselves in order to learn from real experiences and gain insight and inspiration in their work with patrons. Goddard reminded us that while our building may be ADA compliant, “welcoming and knowledgeable staff is as important as physical accessibility.”

Goddard’s role as access services manager and ADA coordinator has focused on collaborating with local organizations to provide training on specific topics, ranging from the use of service animals in the library to recruiting speakers from mental health speakers’ bureaus. She encouraged us to think about the local organizations with whom we could liaison to create meaningful staff training.

JJ Pionke became intrigued with disability advocacy after discovering the lack of accessible bathrooms at the University of Illinois library where Pionke works as an applied health sciences librarian. That experience led not only to an overhaul of the library’s physical accessibility, but also to a new role for Pionke in creating the university’s Research Services for People with Disabilities and a number of LibGuides on different disabilities.

Pionke stressed the need to solicit input from individuals in your organization rather than expecting that they will come to you with accessibility concerns. A focus group organized by Pionke discovered a need for reflection rooms, which have been created for the library, featuring soundproof spaces with tranquility toolkits and flexible lighting.

Carrie Banks, supervising librarian for Inclusive Services at Brooklyn Public Library, also emphasized the importance of recruiting volunteers and how they are a source of vital input. For over twenty years, volunteers at her library have helped create adapted programming, pointed out hidden physical barriers, and assisted with staff training. Interns have also been an important resource. Banks encouraged us to seek self-advocates when creating programming and staff training, noting that “welcoming volunteers is a critical part of community engagement … you will gain as much, if not more, than you give.”

As a family advocate for individuals with special needs and a first-time conference attendee, I was eager to make connections with colleagues with similar interests. To learn more about the Association of Specialized & Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) and its role in providing services to underserved populations, I attended a session titled “ASCLA 101.”

Presenter Lily Sacharow gave an enthusiastic overview of the division, encouraging new members to get involved with this diverse organization that focuses on advocating for underserved populations. ASCLA’s numerous interest groups and committees are looking to “hear what the newer generation has to say.” I’m eager to get involved—how about you?


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