LIS 7160: Criticism on Chapter 7 “Abilities with Disabilities” of The Reference Interview Today

Citation for the text: Knoer, Susan.  The Reference Interview Today.  Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited, 2011.

I felt the need to explain some of the criticism I am leveling at this chapter.  First, I’d like to address the issue of “empathy training.” No person without a disability can accurately talk about the issues and troubles a person of that community faces.  My experiences will be nothing like what a person who is blind experiences.  To appropriate their experiences is problematic, because it leads to a very shallow understanding of the issues at hand and can lead people to underestimate actual challenges and issues people face on a daily basis.

While this kind of training may be well suited for children, to help them understand the need for empathy for those who are different; an adult who will be making policy decisions based on this training, has the potential to harm those they are trying to help.

As I’ve stated in other blog posts, as information professionals,

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.

From, “Reaching Out to Disability Culture.”

Secondly, I take great issue with the suggestion that we lie to our patrons, if they do not speak in a way that we can understand them. This can go for people who speak differently due to a disability, or someone with a heavy accent To blame the background noise, in what is generally a quiet library, is offensive.

A situation like this is more complicated to explain why it is a flawed suggestion. However, I feel that you would be doing the patron a great disservice to lie. Instead, ask them to write it down, or yes, repeat themselves.

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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.