Reasonable Adjustments in the Healthcare Library: UK Disability History Month 2023

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Have you ever stopped to think how many people have a disability of some kind? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it’s around 1 in 6 of us. That’s 1.3 billion people, or about 16 percent of the world’s population. The disparity in health equity for those with a disability has also been highlighted by the WHO — put simply, it’s harder for those with a disability to access health care, even in wealthy countries like the UK and the US, and the outcomes are often worse.

In the UK, it’s estimated that almost a quarter of the population has a disability, although some parts of the country have more inhabitants with a disability than others. The North West of England, along with the North East, Scotland, Wales, and the East of England, all have higher levels of disability in the population than the South of England, where the percentage is lowest.

In the UK, the main piece of legislation that covers us is the Equality Act 2010. We also have to comply with the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Equality Act 2010 serves many of the same functions in the UK as the Americans with Disabilities Act in the US. The ADA became law in 1990, later supplemented with the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 (becoming law on 1 January 2009).


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Both of these pieces of US legislation cover the rights of those with many different types of disability and aim to ensure that those with a disability have equal opportunity of access to “accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications” ( The definition of a disability has widened in the last decade or so, and the responsibilities of employers and service providers have also been clarified. The term “reasonable adjustments” is often used in the UK; in the US, the equivalent term is “reasonable accommodations.”

At present, our library is currently located in an old building. In this part of the main hospital site, some areas date back to the time when a fever isolation hospital was located here. Due to the layout and age of the building, what we can do at present to change the physical space is limited, so we are very excited at the prospect of moving into a shiny new purpose-built structure around spring next year. The accessibility will be much better than in our current building, and we’re also looking forward to being much nearer the main hospital entrance.

We try to make sure that our collection has good coverage of conditions, and our allied health professionals make very good use of what we have (especially the occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and speech and language therapists). Although many of the patients treated at the hospital and in community settings are adults, there is also a very active and well-regarded children’s and young people’s department. A very large part of my own job role is to track down the latest evidence for the colleagues I just mentioned on various conditions. It’s extremely interesting but can sometimes be easier said than done. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t all on Google!


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A large part of our activity in the health library at the NHS Trust, where I work, involves working with other teams to support the various national and international health days, weeks, and months that take place across the year. There’s usually a different theme each month; starting in the middle of November, this year’s theme for UK Disability History Month (UKDHM) 2023 is Disability, Children, and Youth. This follows on from last year’s Disability, Health, and Well-Being theme.

When I was growing up, I don’t recall seeing many people with a disability out and about, and looking back, I’m appalled at how difficult it must have been. (My own dad had a hidden disability, although it wasn’t obvious when you met him.) We still have such a long way to go, but over the years, I’ve seen some improvements in public buildings and libraries as the law has been changed. Education is another area where, thankfully, things have changed for the better — part of the official UKDHM website for this year has some very moving stories from people who navigated their school days with a disability.

Typically, when we support themed months, we’ll promote a selection of print and online books in a display and coordinate a series of social media posts. Usually, this involves combining any official hashtags with information supplied by the Trust Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Manager and the team and with any official resources collated by NHS England, one of our main overall funders. It’s always interesting to see who responds to the posts.


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This year, one of the areas of disability that is finally receiving more attention than in previous years is neurodiversity . When we looked at our collection recently, we realised there was a gap there, and we’re trying to plug it with suitable texts. What was quite surprising was that, although there are some great titles out there looking at neurodiversity in general, there don’t seem to be all that many books — yet! — that look at the topic from the perspective of a health professional helping patients with the condition.

Tracking those titles down just might have to be my next mini-mission. . . .


2023: Disability, Children and Youth — UK Disability History Month. (2023, October 30).

Research Briefings Archive. (2023). House of Commons Library.

‌WHO. (2023, March 7). Disability and health. World Health Organization.



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