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Between the Hammer and the List: Doable Accessibility

December 6, 2012
Custom ballpein hammer

The Hammer

Grocery list written on a yellow legal pad

The List

Accessibility discussions are a perennial marginal topic in the library literature and at conferences. No librarians known to library literature are staunchly anti-accessibility. Despite friendly intentions, however, libraries can be a bit behind on accessibility in some way  or (perhaps more commonly) librarians just aren’t sure. This may be partly attributable to the tenor of the discussion around accessibility which tends to focus on two organizing schemata: it’s federal law and must be done or lawsuits will soon follow (the hammer) or here is a 508 compliance checklist, tick the boxes (the list). Getting beyond the hammer and the list maybe require a shift in mindset. Librarians of various passions can get excited about accessibility. Are you interested in:

  • Outreach
  • Issues of access
  • Usability
  • Library as place
  • Web design
  • Technology
  • Student success/assessment/retention
  • Multiple intelligences/modes of learning/literacies

If accessibility is conceptualized as somewhere “over there,” outside the purview of a speciality (or librarianship itself), then it can be deprioritized. But there is hope. Beyond the quick fear of lawsuits and the arcane meanderings of accessibility laws lie simple steps that libraries can take to create a welcoming atmosphere for learners of all types.

A little knowledge

Librarians are deluged with many yet-another-thing-to-worry-about issues. Not every library has the resources for a dedicated accessibility position. A doable solution is to widely spread shallow knowledge. Librarians and all library staff need to have a baseline familiarity with the accessibility options provided by the library. What adaptive technologies and software is available at library accessibility stations? Librarians do not need to be able to troubleshoot, but a little familiarity will stave off that moment of hammer fear when a patron asks “Do you have JAWS 11+?” Librarians that don’t get asked these questions often will need periodic reviews or, in the best case, a section in a institutional knowledge platform with accessibility information. If you don’t have these avenues, a “cheat sheet” placed around the desk or station can also work. It should detail basic functions and current version numbers. Versions are important and can have major updates that make one internet technology or another greatly more accessible.

A point person

Another way of streamlining accessibility knowledge is to appoint an accessibility liaison that has the responsibility to keep other folks in the library abreast of current accessibility issues. This person won’t *only* work with accessibility, but can liaise with the office on campus that deals with accessibility issues. Accessibility offices tend to be looking for partners in much the same way librarians do and it can be a “natural ally” situation. This point person can break through the hammer and the list with practical accessibility knowledge hopefully grounded in experiential knowledge.

For more great ideas see the Oct. issue of Library Technology Reports: Making Libraries Accessible.

Photo credits: ‘the shopping list’ or ‘another one of the reasons why I adore him’ by Aaron Edwards

Perfect Handle Counterfeit Hammer by Noel C. Hankamer

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