Library Services for People with Developmental Disabilities

Libraries continue to make their spaces and services more inclusive

Libraries have always found a way to reach all kinds of populations in their communities, from those that are homeless, to seniors, to toddlers. They offer resources so that everyone feels like they can go to the library for whatever they need. And, when the library finds that there are people that aren’t being equally served, they make the effort to change that by finding new ideas and training their staff.

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Providing services to people with developmental disabilities is one area where libraries have really grown throughout the years. From assistive technology to specific programming, those with developmental disabilities will find that libraries are continually finding new ways to be inclusive.

Libraries Serving Children

Public libraries are there to support kids throughout their learning and growing journey. The resources available for children with developmental disabilities vary by library. Common programs include book talks or story times that are designed to foster developmental growth in all children, activities that help them practice skills, and programming that allows them to expand their creative thinking. Librarians use coloring pages, puzzles, board games, crafts, and other activities to keep children engaged. Many libraries now offer sensory gardens and storytimes which provide new experiences for children of all ages and abilities.

Libraries also purchase books in their collection that are relevant to children with developmental disabilities. Everyone needs an opportunity to see themselves represented in literature and libraries are great at curating materials that do just that.

The Carnegie Library has an entire collection on disabilities and inclusion in the children’s services department. Sharing stories, having conversations, and seeing diverse experiences allows children to explore their own identities. These books are free through the library both online or at their branches and include nonfiction and fiction titles. Just a few of the many options to check out include I like Berries, Do You? a book that shows photographs of children with down syndrome enjoying healthy foods, and A Friend for Henry, which tells the story of a little boy on the autism spectrum. If your library does not carry a book you can always ask your librarian about an interlibrary loan.

The West Virginia University library also keeps resources on hand for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There are fantastic materials that cover all types of situations. It includes the “Hopkins Toilet Training Kit” that helps parents hold the attention of their children as they learn basics about potty time. It also includes Disabled Fables, which is a new retelling of Aesop’s story created and illustrated by artists with developmental disabilities.

Libraries Serving Adults

Libraries develop innovative programming for adult populations that meets a vast array of needs and interests. In other cases, even when activities address the skill-level needs of both adults and children, librarians recognize the need to create comfortable environments for both parties.

The Lackman Library in Johnson County, Kansas librarians created craft programs that addressed the needs of children with developmental disabilities. A group of special needs senior adults that visited the library were also receiving benefits from attending these crafting sessions. However, the staff at the time were worried about overflow and varied needs with both children and adults in the same session. They came up with a solution quickly and soon a duplicate program was established so that adults would feel just as welcomed. These “Create!” sessions were the perfect fit because they allowed the seniors to practice fine motor skills and decision-making in a place that they felt comfortable learning in.

In another situation, a youth services specialist working with preschoolers incorporated crafts into storytime sessions. The books that were read were used as inspiration for art and she used themes in each story to develop relevant crafts. She found that many of these preschool-level activities could also be adapted to serve adult populations. Some challenges came with this such as choosing materials that accomplished goals while still respecting the status of seniors as adults. Another challenge was getting enough volunteers and staff available because the abilities of participants varied greatly with some having very limited motor or verbal skills. However, by being encouraging, and flexible, the staff are always able to make it work, and the library won a national achievement award for their work in filling a crucial role in their community.

Tools for Expanding Services

Ask your library about their offerings or ask if you can start your own program to fill a need in your community. Lifelong learning and growth are common goals for libraries and their patrons. Therefore, new ideas, guides, and tools are always being developed so that everyone can continue to serve their communities to the best of their abilities.

There are lots of projects and resources that have been established to help librarians stay on top of inclusive and accessible work. Project Enable is one example of this. Project Enable is dedicated to raising the librarian’s understanding of and sensitivity for the needs of students with disabilities and fostering librarians’ abilities to develop programs and services, provide facilities, and select resources and technologies to meet those needs. This resource has over 1,000 items in its database touching on topics like developmental disabilities, inclusive outreach and services, creative budgeting, and other useful categories. The training that the project provides librarians and educators is also free for people to register for. There are six modules in the training covering everything from disability law and policy to planning inclusive programs in addition to assessments and resources that trainees can use to gauge their learning and support diverse learners.

Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected is another award-winning project created by two librarians in New Jersey that offers in-depth training, workshops, and resources to serve those on the autism spectrum and their families. This project has held workshops across the country, teaching libraries and library staff how to implement outreach programs to those in their community with disabilities and create strategies to provide inclusive services. It also has an annual grant program that provides funding to libraries creating new initiatives or bringing already-successful programs to their campus.

Keeping in Mind Inclusivity

If there is one thing that libraries are great at doing, it is including people from all walks of life in their spaces. There is an abundance of initiatives, programs, and resources today that were created by or for libraries that specifically touch on closing the gap for those with developmental disabilities. This makes the library an ever more inclusive space, a safe and welcoming environment for children, parents, adults, and seniors.

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