Diversity Inclusion Community & Equity

Dis/ability // accessibility in LIS

By Michael Sholinbeck posted 02-26-2019 13:39

Please consider Dis/ability //accessibility  from a patron as well as staff perspective.

Areas of discussion:
  • Accessibility from the POV of Patrons/Clients;
  • Accessibility from the POV of LIS staff;
  • Accessibility at Professional conferences or Association “Communities” events.

Accessibility from the POV of Patrons/Clients:

Stephanie Rosen, accessibility specialist at the University of Michigan Library, in 2018 started her position in this title asking of the library staff:

  • How is accessibility part of my job?
  • What is disability?
  • How can attention to the needs of people with disabilities potentially transform the usability of our resources, the inclusivity of our spaces, the reach of our scholarship, and the equity of our institution?


Among elements information professionals can act upon are the resources we offer patrons.  In SLA's 2018 Annual Conference Jaime Lin discussed Designing for Online Accessibility ( tinyurl.com/sla2018-accessibility).

Information professional are seeing library space, not as spaces that must provide some concessions to physical access and egress, but along the principals of Universal Design.  Resources on Universal design: https://www.washington.edu/doit/universal-access-making-library-resources-accessible-people-disabilities .

Accessibility from the POV of LIS staff:

The conversation on disability in LIS has been primarily how to adapt the library space and resources, but how has the LIS profession and professionals seen its own Disability/Accessibility point of view:

Jodi Johnstone published Employment of disabled persons in the academic library environment in October 2004.  At that time Johnstone's literature review indicated, "Consequently there is little literature, and no studies immediately apparent that have been done regarding the inclusion of disabled people in the staffing profiles of libraries in general, let alone academic libraries specifically. Some literature exists regarding the inclusion of disabled people in the workforce, particularly with legislation that has arisen specifically targeting their rights (Healey, 2000; Hogan, 2003). And yet there is a proliferation of literature about satisfying the needs of the disabled patron in the library environment (Lisiecki, 1999; Hopkins, 2004).

In 2017 Stephanie Rosen called for the LIS profession to look at itself and see Accessibility as a Tool for Promoting Justice in Librarianship.  Rosen's article expresses her position that, "...diversity initiatives often fail to address deeper power imbalances, and they offer new language for the effort to make our institutions more just.

This essay offers another term for that effort: accessibility. Linked to legal discourses of compliance on the one hand and to library values of access on the other, accessibility is rhetorically very useful. It is also historically complex and politically powerful."

Rosen goes on to explain in her article, "Accessibility may help librarians interrogate the exclusions built into the design of our institutions. Beyond achieving compliance with standards and making accommodations for people with disabilities, a lens of accessibility has the potential to transform many aspects of what we do. Accessibility in hiring can be a starting point for addressing bias in job descriptions and search practices. Accessibility in meetings can be a starting point for shifting power dynamics among working groups. Accessibility in the classroom can be a starting point for inclusive teaching and engaged pedagogy. Accessibility in scholarship can be a starting point for open access and community-accountable projects. Accessibility in space design can be a starting point for built environments that invite and sustain more kinds of bodies and ways of moving or being."

 In 2019 Joanne Oud published one of the few studies on the workplace experiences of academic librarians with disabilities. Her research found that no equity-related research on librarians with disabilities existed at that time.
Systemic Workplace Barriers for Academic Librarians with Disabilities
Although studies related to diversity within librarianship as a profession are increasing, few have examined librarians with disabilities—and none so far have included their voices or perspectives. This qualitative study involved interviews with ten academic librarians with disabilities in Canada. With a grounding in the social model of disability, it examines their workplace experiences and concerns and the barriers they face within the context of cultural assumptions about disability and work, finding that the major barriers encountered are lack of awareness of disability issues and negative cultural stereotypes of disability.

Accessibility at Professional conferences or Unit events:

How we pay attention to these issues as Information Professionals outside the library spaces, has also been something to interrogate.  How have Information Professional associations looked at its own response to accessibility.

Have association conferences, symposiums, or workshops tried to address:

  • Assisted Listening Devices, sign language interpretation, sighted guides
  • Gender Neutral Restrooms
  • Quiet Space
  • Maternal Care Room
  • Fragrance Free Conference Environment
  • Licensed and bonded onsite childcare service
  • Clear directional signage
  • Seating options between rooms
  • Dietary alternatives to accommodate food allergies and intolerances
  • Give instruction Accessibility Requirements for All Presenters
  • Accommodation Point Person - some training in disability inclusion available to address issues as they arise.
  • The best way to be inclusive of people with disabilities is to engage in conversation. Ask people with disabilities that you want to participate at your conference what they need.

Further reading:

Jamie Lin's article, "Four Ways to Talk about Accessibility," from Information Outlook.

Also for your consideration, please see
Sins Invalid: a disability justice based performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and LGBTQ / gender-variant artists as communities who have been historically marginalized. Led by disabled people of color, Sins Invalid’s performance work explores the themes of sexuality, embodiment and the disabled body, developing provocative work where paradigms of “normal” and “sexy” are challenged, offering instead a vision of beauty and sexuality inclusive of all bodies and communities.

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