The Diving Bell: Enabling Access to the Oceans of Possibilities

Well-defined, time-limited efforts like your Summer Library Program often serve as a rich environment for testing new services. This summer, consider expanding your support of patrons in your community with visual, physical, and reading disabilities by using the following strategies and resources outlined by Jaclyn Owusu, Public Awareness Coordinator for the Talking Book Program.

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Libraries are all about people. It does not matter if your library is small or large, system or stand-alone, rural or urban, libraries try to be as accommodating as they can in serving everyone who enters their doors. Prioritizing special populations takes a little work and research, but remember people with disabilities are just people who have individual abilities, interests, and needs.

“People with disabilities are just people who have individual abilities, interests, and needs.” 

– Jaclyn Owusu

Deciding where to begin can be the most challenging part of developing new library services for any population. Below are some ideas and tips to help you start looking at various ways to serve people with disabilities.

DEFINE YOUR GOALS

What are your goals? Do you have a need in your community to serve people with disabilities? Whatever the reason, remember to communicate the “why” behind your decision to improve service to this population and make the connection that libraries are for all.

TRAIN YOUR STAFF

A designated employee should act as liaison person with disability groups and support organizations. However, everyone from frontline staff to the director should be equipped with customer service tools to serve patrons effectively and inclusively. Additionally, training can be valuable for connecting staff with resources to help build an inclusive environment for both the communities they serve and their colleagues.

ASSESS THE ENVIRONMENT

Every library serves people with disabilities, even if these patrons may not be taking a book out of your building. Do you have public computers? Are your computers accessible for people with disabilities? Do you know where to get assistive technology? Are you meeting staff needs? Are there any barriers for staff members with disabilities?

While the ADA requires libraries to offer some basic assistive technology, there are additional devices and features that make the library more useful for everyone such as offering people with low vision an assortment of handheld and lighted magnifiers as well as a closed-circuit TV magnifier (CCTV) or having a personal listening device (such as a PockeTalker) for patrons who are hard of hearing. In addition, posting clear and easy to understand signage that includes iconographies, infographics, or brail further enhances accessibility.

Well-planned technological solutions and access points based on the concepts of universal design (link: https://universaldesign.ie/what-is-universal-design/) are essential for effective use of library services. For additional resources, peruse the chart and list below.

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS

The people we serve are at the heart of the library’s mission. Serving patrons with disabilities is no different. Our mission is to serve people. Are there any local disability-related organizations in your area? You can connect with senior centers or local disability-related organizations. There is no harm in collaboration. Networking with agencies and organizations of and for people with disabilities is important. These groups can help us better understand our own community and how the library can offer meaningful services, support existing programs, and create new coalitions. 

If you or someone in your library has already established a rapport with patrons with disabilities, ask these patrons about their perceptions and impressions of your library.

IMPLEMENT PROGRAMS

There is no “one size fits all” program for patrons with disabilities. Instead, program planning is a spectrum. One implementation for those patrons with print disabilities could be to become a Talking Book Program (TBP) Demonstration site or deposit collection site. Demonstration Sites make TBP’s services known to potential patrons who otherwise might not have been aware of them. Demonstration sites do not circulate materials or machines; rather, they show potential patrons and others what services are available. You can also supplement your collection by participating as a Deposit Collection. This allows your library to provide books for qualified readers in-house.

As we move ahead, let us be champions for reading and literacy, for all.

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Talking Book Program Information

The Talking Book Program is a free library service for Texans of all ages who cannot read standard print due to a visual, physical, or reading disability whether permanent or temporary. Qualified individuals may receive books on loan from TBP in large print, braille and/or on digital audio cartridge. The playback digital talking book machine is also provided to use free of charge as long as they are active in the program. Postage is paid for when the materials are returned. Patrons of the program may also download books through the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) website, or they can use a free mobile app called BARD mobile to download books onto their smartphone or tablet.

Veterans who have been honorably discharged are given priority status and are offered a variety of recreational and educational reading materials.

Qualified patrons include Texas residents of all ages in one or more categories:

  • An individual who is blind.
  • An individual who has a visual impairment that makes them unable to comfortably read standard print books.
  • An individual who has a physical disability that makes it hard to hold or manipulate a book or to focus or move the eyes as needed to read a print book.  
  • An individual who has a perceptual or reading disability, like dyslexia.

Please note that an individual may qualify with a temporary disability. TBP has patrons recovering from strokes, challenged with severe fatigue due to illness, in hospice, recovering from severe accidents, etc. If patrons currently meet one of the qualifying disabilities, they may be enrolled with a temporary disability.

Applications must be submitted with a signature from a “Certifying authority”. A certifying authority is defined to include public or welfare agencies (such as an educator, social worker, case worker, counselor, rehabilitation teacher, certified reading specialist, dyslexia specialist, school psychologist, superintendent, or librarian), registered nurse, therapist, professional staff of hospitals, institutions, Doctor of Medicine, doctor of osteopathy, ophthalmologist, optometrist, or psychologist. Certifying authorities are not permitted to certify relatives.

Also, TBP offers the Disability and Information Referral Center (DIRC) to anyone in Texas who needs disability and/or health-related information. It is a great tool. The DIRC provides information about disabilities or disability related services. Ask your librarian any questions you may have about accessibility, grants, loans or what local support groups are in your area. You do not have to be a patron of TBP to use the DIRC. The DIRC has put together a great list of resources ranging from financial and shopping assistance to mental health resources, assistive technology, grants, loans, support groups, and more.

For more information visit TexasTalkingBooks.org.

Chart of resource types fr=or different ability groups

Resources

American Printing House for the Blind

Bookshare

  • www.bookshare.org
  • audio & braille books and textbooks
  • FREE for K-12 and college students

Learning Ally

Library Reproduction Service

National Braille Press

Seedlings

American Action Fund for Blind Children & Adults (FREE)

American Printing House for the Blind

Web Accessibility Initiative

Daisy Consortium

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Jaclyn Owusu is the Public Awareness Coordinator for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s Talking Book Program (TBP). Since 2016 she has traveled around the state of Texas promoting services and raising awareness for TBP. Jaclyn graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies. As a native Texan, born in Abilene and raised in Big Spring and Frisco, Texas, she is enthusiastic about the importance of community education, literacy, raising awareness, and advocating for the services that are available for Texans.

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This is part of a series written for the CSLP slogan ‘Oceans of Possibilities.’ For the associated programming resources, graphics, and book lists, peruse the 2022 program manual on the CSLP website.


Questions?

For more information, visit our youth services page, contact Christina Taylor at ld@tsl.texas.gov, or call 512-463-5465.

Youth Services Updates Archive

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