Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State

cover, print version of Trustees Handbook

Access to Library Services

“Barriers to employment, transportation, public accommodations, public services and telecommunications have imposed staggering economic and social costs on American society and have undermined our well-intentioned efforts to educate, rehabilitate, and employ individuals with disabilities.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Questions and Answers, 2009.

Access begins with an awareness of the diversity of the individuals we serve.  Be they seniors lacking mobility, an autistic child, those with by hearing or visual impairments, or a wounded veteran returning home; all deserve the same level of service as anyone else. The concept of free and open access to libraries is fundamental to their very existence.  Such access takes many forms: convenient hours, a well-designed facility and website and friendly, helpful staff.  The role of the public library is to be a valuable resource to everyone in the community. 

Even four decades since the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and 25 years after ADA, library employment opportunities, as well as library programs and services, are not always fully available to people with disabilities.  Therefore, it is imperative to include an awareness of the needs of individuals with disabilities in all library planning and budgeting.

New York State Education Commissioner’s Regulations require the library board maintain a facility which meets community needs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG); the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Sections 504 and 508); and the Architectural Barriers Act prescribe specific building standards to ensure access for persons with disabilities. All new construction and substantial renovations must comply with ADA requirements. Libraries with inaccessible (or even partially inaccessible) buildings must have a written plan describing how their programs and services will be delivered to customers who cannot gain access and document efforts to improve the accessibility of the facility.

There is no such thing as your facility being “grandfathered in” under ADA.

Many of the laws, regulations and provisions overlap, but ultimately provide legal guidance in creating and maintaining accessible library services, programs and employment opportunities.

But access to library service is more than just about the library building. Public library trustees, directors and staff should receive disability awareness training. Such training will educate them about assistive technologies to make the library’s materials accessible to all, how to provide alternative library services and resources, and how to use the library’s traditional outreach techniques to engage disability-related service providers and organizations in the community.

Every library should provide their constituents with information about the services available through the New York State Library Talking Book and Braille Library (for residents of the 55 upstate counties) and the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library (for residents of New York City and Long Island.)

Services to people who are homebound must be a recognized service program in every library, both for the fact that such patrons need library services as much as or more than others in the community, and that homebound services are legally required under the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Accessibility applies to every aspect of library service. This is especially true of the library’s website.  Many tools are available to help your online presence be useable by everyone in your community.  If a public service environment is not fully accessible, it cannot play its unique role in the support and preservation of democracy or fulfill its true community purpose.  It is the trustee’s responsibility to plan and budget for library service to people with disabilities in their community.

Resources:

Related Policies and Documents:

  • Accessibility / ADA Statement
  • Collection Development
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Statement
  • Programming
  • Vulnerable Adults
  • Website

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Last Updated: August 21, 2018