One of the biggest challenges in making a space more accessible for people with hearing, vision, or mobility loss is awareness. Many disabilities are often hidden or invisible, and not everyone who experiences them feels comfortable coming forward for help. Contacts, glasses, hearing aids, and other discreet accessories or technology make it less obvious that someone might need support, plus they may be shy or unable to speak up. It's easy to assume that others around you can hear, see, stand, walk, or perform other every day activities at the same pace or ease that you can. Being mindful of other's reality can go a long way in making sure your classes, conferences, meetings, and other events are welcoming and inclusive for everyone.
Some basic measures to take include always using a microphone or speakerphone, minimizing background noise, reserving the frontmost seats and seats closest to exits or entrances, using subtitles, ensuring there is seating available, providing headphones, hiring a sign language interpreter, and adjusting lighting in the presentation and event space. When sending invites or posting details for an event, be sure to include a note and a point of contact for those with a condition to be able to reach out with their individual needs or concerns.
Communication is key; ask a person if they would like assistance, and let it be known that you are available to help, instead of jumping right in or assuming help is needed. Asking "How may I help you?", offering your elbow, being respectful of service animals, facing someone so they can see and read your lips, and using specific language for directions (think the face of a clock), are simple ways to make someone feel more comfortable and supported. During group presentations, try to pause frequently, ask if anyone has questions, and enunciate your speech and not speak too quickly. Provide written or visual supplemental materials for those who cannot hear or see as well - such as emailing your visual presentation out ahead of time, or providing physical print outs.
Image from hiddendisabilitiesstore.com
Technology & Software
Libraries can increase their accessibility enormously by installing helpful technology for meeting rooms, public computers, check out stations, and other work spaces. Some effective and commonly used adaptive and assistive applications include Hearing Loop Technology, Zoom Text, Job Access With Speech, and many more. Other helpful options are providing headphones, computer keyboards with braille and larger keys or letters, trackpads, joysticks, and installing adjustable desks and seating at various workstations.
The ASCLA and ALA have compiled an extensive guide concerning available software for libraries, with brief descriptions of how they work. At the bottom of the page are some checklists to help ensure computers and other technology are adaptive and have the proper settings updated.
Perhaps some of the adjustments that libraries have implemented during COVID-19 could be useful once we transition into a new kind of normal- one that is more inclusive. Curbside book pickup and drop off locations, chapter scans and digital book copies, virtual events, and instant messaging apps can significantly enhance patron usability. These accommodations could also be helpful for non-English speakers, increasing options and resources regarding how patrons and librarians communicate.
Screenshot of the Association of Specialized Government and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASGCLA) website. The wheelchair icon on the right side of the homepage expands into a drop down menu with options for adjusting font sizes, contrast and color scale customization, link highlighting, and keyboard navigation.
Moving forward, Gottesman Libraries would appreciate any feedback from our Teachers College community, as well as suggestions for making the library accessible and easier to use for patrons who have difficulty with sight and vision, or experience other disabilities. Please use the comment section below or send us a private note using our ticketing system (https://support.library.tc.columbia.edu/en/support/tickets/new).