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How to Be a Better Information Professional for Persons with Disabilities…My Summer Study

As I’ve been in library school, I’ve become more aware of disability and the need for accessibility. Some of this came when I suffered a severe injury that put me on disability leave for a month. I had to use Dragon Naturally Speaking to write my assignments and papers for school and Siri to tweet for me. The full healing process took a whole year and I found myself coping with inaccessible doors, etc. There was a point where we were unsure if the injury would heal and I had to accept that I might spend the rest of my life without most of the use of my arms.

Most of my awareness, however, has come from getting to know people on Twitter who have disabilities—friends with varying degrees of blindness, friends who use wheelchairs some or all of the time, friends with chronic pain, etc. Because of Twitter’s nature, I would see their frustrated tweets about someone grabbing a blind friend’s arm or “sneaking up” on him/her, or a building being inaccessible for a friend in a wheelchair. Or a salesperson might ignore the friend in the wheelchair entirely, asking her husband who happened to be with her “what is she looking for?” One friend who uses a wheelchair because of her heart, not her legs, is frequently challenged when she stands up to get something or moves her legs in the chair.

My first year out of college, I worked as a newborn hearing screener, which led me to have some conversations with Deaf people, using the hospital’s interpreter. I learned the etiquette of talking directly to the patient and not looking at the signer. When I worked in a public library, I had to learn how to use TTY, thanks to a patient operator who explained that I should converse with her as though she were the person on the other end, not an interpreter. Those were skills I had to learn on-the-fly, and wished I’d had more preparation for.

This growing awareness of disability/accessibility and the lack of any formal preparation for most people, including librarians, to provide the best customer service to people with disabilities has made me want to learn even more about both physical and web accessibility. By physical, I’m including both physical spaces (ramps, wide enough doorways) and interpersonal (sitting when providing reference service to a person in a wheelchair, informing a person with a vision impairment of your presence/that you’re leaving).

Materials I’m Using So Far

I’ve decided to put together a self-study for the summer on law, web accessibility, history of disability, and etiquette. Because I work in a law library, I have easy access to quite a few books about the ADA. There were also several good historical books. I’m starting with Make Them Go Away: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Reeve and the Case Against Disability Rights (a history of challenges to the ADA), When Is Separate Unequal?: A Disability Perspective (not as sure how good this one will be, but it’s an important topic), The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation, and A Disability History of the United States (which I’m looking forward to the most for a broad view of laws/policy).

Materials I’m Collecting Online

I’ve been bookmarking accessibility-related websites/blogs using Pinboard (my favorite low-stress bookmarking service). I’ve also started sharing some of the things I’m learning via a new tumblr I created called Accessibility for Librarians. As an archives student, I’ll be including archives things as well, but I think it’s important for the entire information service profession.

What I’m hoping to learn from this is how I, as a future information professional, can provide the best service to everyone. That’s why I got into this field in the first place—to help people find the information and entertainment they’re searching for. I’ve come to realize that understanding how to overcome barriers to access and service is a critical component. And I know I have plenty left to learn.

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