This month’s Deaf Awareness Themed Reviews and all my reading for the Schneider Family Award has me thinking about serving young library patrons with special needs. Certainly the passage of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 spurred not only making physical accommodations in libraries (like wider aisles between shelving, Braille signage) but more importantly sparked inclusion of children with special needs in library programs and classes. Children with an array of physical, learning, and emotional disabilities comprise an increasing portion of our clientele. Most school and public librarians aren’t trained to work with children with special needs, yet we should and want to provide these young people the same good service as others. How can we do that?
Perhaps the easiest way is to be aware of our language. We must remember to use “people first” language. Instead of saying a deaf child, say a child who is hearing impaired. The emphasis is on the person, not the disability. Personally engage with students to help them feel welcome and to help enable a successful library experience. (Train your staff to do this as well)
Request professional development. Ask for training not only on specific disabilities (i.e., what they are), but also on strategies for working with patrons or students with those disabilities. Learn about assistive technologies that would help your patrons and students be more successful readers and learners.
Search for articles online to help increase your knowledge and skills. The Council for Exceptional Children site is an excellent resource about disabilities, specific strategies, and resources. Their journals, including Teaching Exceptional Children, are often available through library databases. The National Center for Learning Disabilities is another great online resource. The entire thrust of January/February 2011 issue of AASL’s Knowledge Quest was serving students with special needs. The ALSC Blog includes pieces on Special Needs Awareness.
Watch for resources on special needs for you, your staff, your parents, and your teachers as you peruse professional journals. We are all in this together! The field is ever evolving, with new strategies, technologies, and materials constantly being made available.
Consciously add materials to support those with special needs.
- Include books with characters with disabilities or special needs. The Dolly Gray Award recognizes authors, illustrators, and publishers of quality fiction children’s books that appropriately portray individuals with developmental disabilities. The Schneider Family Book Awards honor “an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”
- Graphic novels help increase reading comprehension for the deaf, who’s diminished command of spoken language causes deficiencies in reading comprehension. Have many available for readers on every level.
- Provide print and online materials to support the curriculum on a variety of levels so those with learning disabilities can complete their tasks.
- Offer Playaways or books on CD for those with visual impairments.
- Publicized digital book options which employ multisensory approaches and can make books accessible to those with dyslexia and others who find printed material difficult. Inform students, teachers, and parents about free online resources such as Learning Ally and Bookshare, online libraries aimed at those with print, reading, or learning disabilities. If your library subscribes to services such as Tumblebooks, BookFlix, etc., advertise these eresources available for download. If you have tablets available, load them with book apps for kids. Start with titles suggested at Best Book Apps for Kids. (If you don’t have tablets for patron or student use, prepare a bookmark about book apps for kids.)
Reach out to the Special Education teachers in your district. Let them know of your interest and your efforts to reach out to those with special needs. Make them aware of what’s available in your library—both in your collection and your programming. Look for common ground in your goals and ways to collaborate. Offer to host a department meeting or a parents’ meeting; don’t just make your space available—be present and actively engaged!
Provide work or volunteer opportunities for teens with special needs to support and empower their transition to the adult world.
Brainstorm with colleagues (via meetings or virtually) about your efforts to reach special populations. This ALSC Blog post might help get you started.
All libraries—school, public, college/university—share a common goal: to meet the needs of all. Research has shown we all learn differently. September is the unofficial “new year.” As we begin again, let’s hone our skills and knowledge to make the library an inclusive, empowering place for all.
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