LIS 7850 Final Blog Post

As we close on the semester, I’ve focused a lot on education, community, and social justice within my studies of universal access and library services to people who are disabled and older adults.  I’ve realized that there are many different things that librarians can do to help these populations, but the biggest one is to educate ourselves.

We must educate without belittling or lessening the experiences that others face in their day to day life.  It is important to understand and support, without ever assuming that we truly understand what populations different to us goes through.  We must actively work to change the cultural idea of what “normal” is to include a wider range of people than it currently does, in all levels of society.

This means being aware of what micro-aggression is, and how to avoid behaving in similar ways.  It means having some idea that books written about people who are disabled may not be accurate representations, and therefore perpetuate painful stereotypes.  Educating ourselves also involves and understanding of the resources people have in our communities, and how the library can reach out and harness these resources, to provide a full and engaging experience.  While also keeping aware of the fact that sometimes, the services we provide are not accessible.  However, our education will help us make these services more open.

When I started this class I was asked to write out a handful of assumptions, an assignment I balked at, because I know assumptions are often unsafe to make.  I came up with the following:

1) Disabilities manifest differently for every person.  Two people may have the same disability, but it will manifest with its own unique challenges and issues.

2) Aging presents its own set of issues and challenges that cannot always be addressed in a blanket fashion.

3) Being old, or being a person with a disability does not have to affect your quality of life.

4) There is just as much diversity in aging and disabilities as there is in other identities.

All of my assumptions have remained the same throughout the course of this class.  If anything, the readings, course material, and other assignments of this class has only served to propel these assumptions into firm truths. I have been made aware of a wider range of issues, challenges through this class than I was before.  I am also well on my way to a better understanding of how to counter these issues,  and to create a library environment that is welcoming to a wide range of people of varied abilities

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Universal Access

Universal access is the concept that physical buildings, technology, information, and many other things should be open and accessible to those who are physically disabled or have other issues from preventing access in a traditional manner.   It is an idea that needs to take root in society, as even with the technologies and advances we have made, there is still a large barrier when it comes to people who fall outside of a “normal” preconceived notion of ability and ability levels.

Universal access is the concept that buildings should be barrier free, beyond just ADA compliant, but properly accessible to people of all types.  It is the idea the computers should be easily adaptable for people who have low or no vision, and limited mobility.  It also pertains to things like websites, presentations, and documents; that there is an uncomplicated way for people who are disabled to access the information provided on these materials.   The ADA mandates that buildings be accessible, yet there are some situations were buildings can be grandfathered in to be non-compliant.  In other situations, even if the buildings meet ADA codes, does not mean they are practically accessible.

However, in the situations such as educational materials, websites, and virtually everything else, are often not accessible.   This provides the biggest issue for libraries and information agencies.   There are many ways to make buildings more accessible, and things such as furniture and software on computers.  Yet, making buildings more open, including furniture and other settings, are expensive and often hard to retrofit.  Technology is costly to purchase, and hard to retrofit.  On top of that, these items then have to be marketed, which takes staff time and additional funding.

Sadly, this all falls to the clients, leaving them as underserved within the library.  Buildings, even accessible ones, provide different hassles of navigation.  Computer labs will not have the software needed to make computers fully accessible.  If a library does have these services, the marketing might not reach the people who need it most.

As librarian professionals we need to be aware of little changes we can make, and educate ourselves.  This will allow us to look at our workplaces, down to the physical buildings, to the materials that we but out, more open and accessible to a wide range of people.

Outreach and the Library

I’ve addressed my local library and its outreach to seniors in a previous blog post.   So for this post I’m going to turn to a library outside of the Detroit area, Rochester Hills Public Library.  I was exceptionally impressed with RHPL’s library service for older adults.

RHPL has an Outreach Coordinator, who is in charge of services to senior adults, as well as services to the disabled community and is in charge of running a bookmobile service.  They work hard to make sure that older adults are connected to the library and they have services that are geared toward them.

Within the main branch, there is a dedicated room for outreach services, which is where most of the services for the senior community are organized.  This room includes their large print collection, computers, a home health care library, relevant magazines, and assistive devices to aid in reading.  RHPL also has mini-branches in each of the designated senior living complexes in the area that they support.  There is also one located in the community center for older adults.  These branches are run by volunteers within the communities and provide access to large print, audio book materials, as well as bestsellers, DVDS, and other paperbacks.  RHPL have book cards for residences where the patients may be room/bed bound, where they can pick a selection of books, audio, and movie materials off a mobile cart on a twice weekly visit.

These stations are more than just a collection of books, and allow greater access to materials to patrons who might not be able to make it to the main location.  They also provide excellent opportunities for older adults to become engaged in their communities and participating and staying active.  This type of partnership, between the housing complexes and the senior living center is a brilliant partnership that more libraries could think of fostering.

There are additional situations to provide programming directly at these mini-branches, depending on size of the branch.  These could be educational or entertainment events, which will allow people to remain connected to one another and engaged in discussion.  Not only will people be able to enjoy the programming, but they could enlist volunteers from the housing complex and senior centers, which provide an even better opportunity to stay involved.  Nurturing a community is can, and should be, an important role for libraries.

The Digital Divide with Older Adults and People who are Disabled.

a picture of several rows of computers in a library.  some patrons are sitting scattered in the rows

image courtesy of Lester Public Library

As an adult child of a woman who has learned to use Facebook in the last year or so, I am very well acquainted with the digital divide between older adults and those who have grown up with computers in school and at home.  There is nothing more frustrating, on both sides, to see a parent post something meant to be a private message as a status, after explaining the difference over and over!   Yet the issue is much more serious than accidental Facebook posts or regular email forwards from parents.   To employ a bit of hyperbole for a moment, the world (or at least most of mine) seems to be run via the internet.   To know that there are still large populations of the United States who are non-users, be it through lack of access or understanding, is a problem.  As an information professional, it is my place to be a part of the solution.  First, however, let me address some important background and statistical information.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) from 1995 to 2000 published a series of reports that first started to detail this growing gap between people who have access to technology and the internet, and those who do not.  The final report stated,

Each year, being digitally connected becomes ever more critical to economic and educational advancement and community participation. Now that a large number of Americans regularly use the Internet to conduct daily activities, people who lack access to these tools are at a growing disadvantage (2000).

The Pew Internet Project picked up where the NTIA survey ended.  In a report released earlier this year, Pew looked into this trend of a digital divide.  While the report indicates the gap is closing, it is still highly significant.

In 2000 12% of adults over the age of 65 accessed the internet, in 2011 that number increased to 41%.  Age is one of the biggest factors in determining if a person has access to computers and the internet.  The other major factors are lack of a high school education and living close to, or below the poverty line.  The Pew Internet Project also reports that of 48% of non-users report that main reason they do not use the internet is not relevant to their lives, or in other words, they have no use for the technology. This is followed (in order or percentage reporting) by the cost of using internet, usability issues, and finally by lack of access and availability.   These statistics also take into account access to different mediums for internet access, such as tablets, computers, and mobile/smart phones.

In regards to disability, the Pew Internet Project reports that:

The 27% of adults living with disability in the U.S. today are significantly less likely than adults without a disability to go online (54% vs. 81%). Furthermore, 2% of adults have a disability or illness that makes it more difficult or impossible for them to use the internet at all.

Furthermore, even after they’ve controlled for demographic issues such as income and education, the number is still disproportionately high.

These numbers are exceptionally important for information professionals to be aware of, in particular the public library sector.  While we cannot put a computer and internet in everyone’s hands, we can provide access through our public computer services.  We provide education by offering both classes to groups of our patrons, but also through short one on one instructional sessions.

Both older adults and people with disabilities are those we can reach out to, and make the library an inclusive place for them.  It is my experience that the local libraries in my area are trying to reach out to the older demographic.  With free computer and internet use, free or low cost beginner classes, and programming to engage older adults.  This trend needs to remain, and it needs to have continued support to remain viable.  Examples for future ideas could include reaching out to senior centers to offer classes on computer usage just for members of those facilities.

However, I see a disturbing lack of support for people who are disabled.   Yes, many libraries have outreach programs.  Yes, most all libraries are ADA accessible.  Yet just because a building is considered accessible through ADA codes, does not mean that it is actually accessible in practice. This is, I hope, largely a budgetary/space issue, and not just apathy.  Although, I do believe apathy or ignorance plays a large role in facilities that remain difficult to access.

Beyond actual technology library facilities, particularly pavement, sidewalks, and doors should always be well maintained.  Cracks in the cement, awkward ramps, and broken automatic doors can make navigating in a wheelchair or with a walker difficult to the point where someone may decide not to enter the facility.

If a library has a computer lab, there should be an effort to have at least one (if not more, depending on size of the library) computer that is equipped with an adjustable desk, screen reading software, and magnifying abilities.  Keyboard, mice, and mouse trackpads that are easy for people to use with limited mobility would also be valuable additions to any computer lab.  It is not enough just to have these items, however.  They should be marketed in library promotional materials and passed around to relevant community sources.

In the end, libraries in the United States are there to support access to information, and we need to do our best to provide access to all members of our communities, not just the members of the communities who are the easiest or largest populations to assist.

Bibliography

National Telecommunications and Information Administration (DOC), W. C., & Bureau of the Census (DOC), W. n. (2000). Falling through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion. A Report on Americans’ Access to Technology Tools.

Zickuhr, K., & Smith, A. (2012, April 13). Digital Differences. In Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved November 12, 2012, from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Digital-differences.aspx

Book Review: Three Nights with a Scoundrel

Tessa Dare, winner of Romance Writers of America’s RITA award, and bestselling romance novelist brings her Regency era romance trilogy, The Stud Club, to an end with the novel Three Nights with a Scoundrel (2010, Ballantine Books).  However, it can also function as a standalone title.  Based around the men involved in joint ownership of a prestigious racehorse, the novel opens after the murder of the Stud Club’s founding member, Leo.  Leo’s best friend, Julian Bellamy is convinced the murders meant to kill him, and is on a destructive path to find them.  Leo’s “on the shelf” sister, Lady Lily Chatwick, a woman who lost her hearing eight years prior, is determined to stop Julian from finding an early grave as he searches for her brother’s murders.

Three Nights with a Scoundrel happily fits in with the major tropes in Regency area romances.  Lily and Julian have known each other for years, and with Leo’s death, Julian is determined to protect Lily.  Both our hero and heroine harbor feelings for one another, yet are kept apart by Julian’s honor.  He is from a low born background, a bastard son of a nobleman living a double life of a rake and a businessman.  Julian is also on a path that can only lead to his death, as he puts himself in increasingly dangerous situations, searching for the men who murdered Leo, men he believes also want to murder him.  Ultimately, the two manage to come together in a clash of emotions and turmoil.  In a twist ending, the two end up together, and while it might not be a “happily ever after” ending, it is certainly a happy ending that will leave most romance novel readers pleased.

However, Three Nights with a Scoundrel provides refreshing twists on the typical romance novel.  First, Lily is a deaf woman.  Unlike other romance novels featuring a deaf protagonist, Tessa Dare manages to handle the situation with surprising skill.   First, she manages to grasp the concept of lip reading.  Typically, a person who lip reads to follow a conversation can only pick up between 30 to 40% of what is said.  Dare manages to avoid this rather neatly, but having Lily state that she cannot always follow a conversation clearly.  In fact, Dare goes beyond this, and often illustrates some of the difficulties that a deaf person can have in following a conversation accurately.

Dare is also exceptionally careful about putting Lily in situations where she cannot see a person, and yet can still understand what is going on.  However, at several points in the novel, the readers are, in amusing detail, told just how much light is present.  Beyond lip reading, Dare accomplishes bringing Deaf Culture and British Sign Language (BSL) into her novel.  While the methods for this is contrived, it is refreshing to see that Lily haltingly learning a language that will allow her greater freedom of expression.  Particularly with Julian, who is already aware of BSL, and can converse with Lily using the language.

Three Nights with a Scoundrel adroitly, without making a large production over the issue, addresses some of the concerns that Lily faced from outsiders.  Concerns that people outside of the Deaf community may project on Deaf/deaf people, even today.  Consider Lily’s thoughts on discrimination she faced, compared to the more hostile discrimination Julian faced over being low born:

“Still, she faced subtler forms of prejudice and disdain.  And always, that backhanded “concern: from the imbecilic, self-righteous [people] of the world…If you cannot be like the rest of us, their subtle shaming implied, at least do not call attention to your differences.”

If readers are looking for an exceptional insight on Deaf Culture in England during the early 1800s, they will not find it with Three Nights with a Scoundrel.  The novel does, however, provide a bit of accurate history of what life was like for a deaf person in that time period.  The novel is also careful not to perpetuate any romantic and false stereotypes of what it is like to be deaf, or to become deaf after growing up as a hearing person.   Nor is Lily’s deafness used as a major plot point.  She is simply a woman who is deaf, and her identity within the novel does not center on her deafness.  This was a very smart move on Dare’s point, which allowed her to stay clear of misappropriating the life of a deaf person, when she herself admits no previous knowledge of deaf life before this novel (2011, September 22).  In regards to its portrayal of deafness and Deaf Culture a librarian should feel comfortable recommending this book to a Deaf person.

Ultimately, this novel would be ideal for any reader who loves Regency era romances.  It contains the beloved predictability of romances, with just enough twists and humor to keep the reader entertained.  This novel could be suggested to readers who are fans of Julia Quinn or Eloisa James, while not as witty as Quinn and James tend to be, it is a solid example of the genre.

 

References:

Dare, T. (2011, September 22).  Romances and Deaf Characters.  Dear Author. Retrieved October 10,

2012, http://dearauthor.com/features/essays/romances-and-deaf-characters/#comment-313532

Reaching out to disability culture

Prompt:  Why is knowledge of Disability culture important to library and information professionals/practitioners? What barriers exist in library and information agencies for individuals with disabilities? How can LIS practitioners leverage this knowledge to reduce barriers to information access?

There is one, very large reason that disability culture is important for information professionals to be aware of; to educate ourselves on populations we service.  As I have stated previously, we need to educate ourselves on our library population, including the aged and disabled.  We cannot expect them to be our sole educators, it is not their responsibility.   A culture, be it an ethnic or social culture, should not be held responsible for the ignorance of outsiders.  They should not suffer due to the ignorance of outsiders.

I cannot presume to know what a person with disabilities faces on a daily basis that prevents them from accessing a library or information agency.   However, I can speak with those who are disabled, and have.  Reoccurring themes in my conversations with people are physical barriers.  These range from broken or badly maintained ramps, shelves that are inaccessible, or buildings that are old enough to use ADA loopholes, so they do not have to provide full access to all facilities.

The second set of barriers comes from apathy.   Sydney (a pseudonym) is an older woman who uses an electric wheelchair and a cane to get around, due to chronic pain and other health issues.   In conversations between her and I, she has often lamented that people simply do not want to think about, or care, about disabled people.  They do not find a one inch step into a building an issue, where to her, it means she is not able to access that facility.   She tells me that complaints often go unheard and often with no response.

Making ourselves aware of disability culture should make us aware of the problems and issues that are faced by the members of that culture.   It will provide librarians and information professionals insights into their needs  In addition, if we approach that culture in honest and open communication, a tie can be formed that will help us strengthen our services and facilities.

Reaching out to those active in disability culture will help us find ways to actively change our programing, buildings, and other services so we can meet the needs of a much wider population.   The library, or information agency, can be known as a place people can trust to deliver unbiased and accessible assistance.  If there is a dialog open between the agency and the community, people will know that their comments and concerns are being heard, and give them a forum to address further issues.

Reaching out to a culture can also help remove stereotypes, biases, and other problematic behaviors that people may have (unknowingly or not).    Issues such as micro-aggression can be lessoned, and the library can become a more welcoming environment.