Libraries and the Americans with Disabilities Act
An overview of standard accessibility services provided by American public libraries in honor of National Disability Independence Day.
The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is a law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The ADA applies to jobs, schools, public and private spaces, and transportation. Since public libraries are shared community spaces, the ADA applies to all public library facilities across the country. Here are some accessibility services provided by American public libraries. See our March article, Services for People With Developmental Disabilities, for more information.
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Libraries are all about providing books in an accessible and affordable way, but this can come with barriers for people with disabilities. Thus, libraries provide accessible reading materials such as audiobooks, large print books, and books printed in Braille. In other words, libraries bridge the gap between affordability and accessibility, especially when many of these resources are expensive. See Library Services for Blind and Low Vision Users for more information.
In compliance with the ADA, all libraries must remove structural and communication barriers that could exclude patrons from accessing the facility. Thus, libraries will have accessible parking spaces, ramps, elevators, automatic entrances, and more. Walkways must be clear of obstructions and roomy for mobility aids and accessibility. Amplifiers, microphones, and ASL interpreters make libraries more accessible for people who are hard of hearing.
Libraries provide unique assistive technologies that may not be available to people at home. These allow people with disabilities to use library resources independently and whenever convenient. Examples of assistive technology include auditory computer-screen text and text enlargement. Library staff train to use these technologies to assist patrons upon request.
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Many libraries provide outreach services that expand beyond the boundaries of the facility’s walls. Some people with disabilities need access to library materials but can’t use the physical building. Thus, outreach services like home visits and book-by-mail accommodations can significantly help people with disabilities. For example, patrons at the Hennepin County Library in Minnesota can check out materials from the library and have them sent to their homes for free!
As extensive as these accommodations are, there’s always room for improvement. Librarians are very aware of accessibility barriers negatively affecting patrons with disabilities. According to an article published in “American Libraries,” librarians with disabilities face accessibility obstacles, even in their workspace. Many advancements make libraries more accessible, but this is only the beginning. Continual adjustments and additions will continue to make libraries accessible to everyone.