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Make Your Library ADA Friendly, Not Just ADA Compliant

by on June 15, 2021

Having an ADA compliant library is necessary by law, but you can go above the ADA requirements to become an ADA friendly library and better help your patrons with different abilities. 


Think about how you address or how you and your colleagues talk about people with different abilities. Use phrases that highlight the person more than the disability. For example: a person who uses a wheelchair, a person who has a mental illness, a person with limited sight. The disability always comes second, and the person comes first. Also think about common phrases that might not be inclusive such as “falls on deaf ears” or “the weather is so bipolar this week.” While it is common to use deaf in this context and to refer to things as bipolar people who are deaf or have a bipolar disorder might not feel included if you use their different abilities as a negative. The words you use and how you use them matter. If you’re unsure how to refer to someone, just ask. 


But words are not the only part you and your library need to think about. Space, collections, accessibility of programs are all topics you should think about while making your library friendlier. Take into account the physical space of your library and how ADA requirements may require that you make some adjustments to how your library is arranged. The ADA requires 36 inches between aisles of shelving units, but the recommendation is 42 inches. Six inches may not seem like a big difference, but it could mean having a patron in a wheelchair be able to turn around in the middle of an aisle versus having to back out of an aisle or go the whole way down the aisle and retrace their path. There is a requirement of 40 inches between furniture, but again having a wider area, even if it is just a few inches, could make it easier for people using motorized wheelchairs, which can be larger than non-motorized wheelchairs, get around in the library. 

Periodical shelving should not be taller than 48 inches, but there is not a listing for the height of bookshelves. Book shelving is another area to think about. If your library needs to use top and bottom shelves to fit the collection make sure there is signage pointing to where someone can ask for help if they cannot access a book. Sometimes books on the bottom shelves can be as hard to access as those on the top. 

Assistive Media

Make sure your library staff is informed about alternatives. The Talking Books Program is amazing and not always talked about. In Pennsylvania, the local Library of Assisted Media for Pennsylvanians (LAMP) has wonderful handouts and does trainings for libraries. The Erie County Public Library staff has gone through several of them. This program provides large print and audiobooks plus players for people with sight differences. When I explain it to patrons, they think the program is not for them because they only have trouble reading regular print, but this program is for them.  LAMP has a larger large print collection than most libraries could afford. 

The Talking Books program can get audiobooks that are not commercially released as audiobooks because of the type of work they do. Check out your local Talking Books library and see if they have trainings available for you and your colleagues or staff. Also, the program has materials for kids and young adults as well.  

Mark Lee, administrator for LAMP said, “Hot spots are piloted with us. During the pandemic we couldn’t ship anything and realized people didn’t have access to the internet. We put Braille labeling on them. We tried to make the more accessible since most don’t have audio cues and are very inaccessible for most people with sight issues. ” He continued, “Other libraries have been calling asking how we did it. National Library Service has allowed us (LAMP) into a locked down cell phone service pilot program where people can access BARD.” BARD is an audiobook system available for smart devices and tables. See what types of accessible media library materials are available for your state. 

ALA Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy

In 2001, the American Library Association created a policy for patrons with different abilities. If you are not offering these services, try to find ways to incorporate them into your programming. “Libraries must not discriminate against individuals with disabilities and shall ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to library resources. To ensure such access, libraries may provide individuals with disabilities with services such as extended loan periods, waived late fines, extended reserve periods, library cards for proxies, books by mail, reference services by fax or email, home delivery service, remote access to the OPAC, remote electronic access to library resources, volunteer readers in the library, volunteer technology assistants in the library, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter or realtime captioning at library programs, and radio reading services. Libraries should include persons with disabilities as participants in the planning, implementing, and evaluating of library services, programs, and facilities.”

There are organizations that will do walk-throughs of your facilities and let you know how you can make your library more ADA friendly. If you have questions or want to have a more inclusive facility, think about reaching out to schedule a tour. The Erie County Public Library contacted The Human Relations Commission (https://eriecountypa.gov/departments/human-relations-commission/) who put them in touch with Community Resources for Independence (CRI) (https://www.crinet.org/), who did an initial walk-through of the library.

It is quite easy to see people who have physical different abilities, but those with invisible different abilities are not as easy to spot or know how to immediately help. Asking your administration to host or having your staff taking a mental health first aid training can help with some of these invisibilities but not all. There are some diseases that attack the body from within like lupus or fibromyalgia that affect what a patron can do, but we, as library staff, might not be able to see.

Above all, be helpful and kind when dealing with requests. You have no idea what someone else is experiencing. There are hundreds of other ways to be more ADA friendly. If you are interested in more resources, please see the following:

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