Learning about Disabilities

Disability in the LibraryChildren’s librarians often tell me that no child with a disability has ever visited their library. I usually respond that either they do not recognize people with disabilities or they make them feel so unwelcome that they never return. “According to the U.S. Department of Education Web site Ed Data Express, 12.8 percent of the nation’s K—12 students had disabilities in 2008-09.” This statistic implies that one out of eight school children have a disability. So it seems unlikely that even the smallest library has not been visited by a child with a disability.

Although we are all familiar with the wheelchair logo used to represent disabilities, very few children with disabilities arrive at the library in a wheelchair. In fact many disabilities are what I call “invisible.” There is no evidence to an unknowing observer that the person has a disability. How would you know that a child entering your library has dyslexia, is on the autism spectrum or has a hearing impairment?

For the past two years I have been teaching an ALSC online course, Children with Disabilities in the Library. Using an approach described in the book, Teaching About Disabilities Through Children’s Literature (Mary Anne Prater and Tina Taylor Dyches, Libraries Unlimited, 2008), course participants read four juvenile novels that contain characters with disabilities. Then we explore ways to design library services if the character in the book were a patron in the library.

Reading in the library about disabilities

The books that will be assigned in the course beginning January 16, 2012 are:

1. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. Joey has attention deficit.
2. Deaf Child Crossing. Megan has a hearing impairment.
3. Reaching for Sun. Josie has cerebral palsy.
4. Rules. David has autism and Jason cannot speak and uses a wheelchair.

I find that this approach to learning about disabilities works well since appropriate services often need to be designed with an individual in mind. In fact, accommodations that would help one child might be an impediment for another. For example, an audio track added to a tutorial for a student who is blind would not be accessible for a student who is deaf. Addressing the individual needs of these fictional characters creates a strategy for designing services for actual library users.

There are many excellent children’s books with characters who have disabilities. Exploring them can provide new insight into how to offer the best possible service for all children who visit our libraries.


Our guest blogger is Kate Todd. Kate was a children’s librarian at The New York Public Library for over 25 years. She also worked as an adjunct instructor and emerging technologies librarian at Manhattanville College. She has taught several online courses and webinars for ALA. Her areas of interest include library services to people with disabilities, readability/leveling strategies, educational gaming, online instruction and iPad apps for kids. You can contact Kate at EduKateTodd@gmail.com. Her online course, Children with Disabilities in the Library begins January 16, 2012.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

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4 Responses to Learning about Disabilities

  1. Renee Grassi says:

    Thanks so much for this fantastic post, and for providing all of us in ALSC with such great learning opportunities. I’ve learned so much from the classes that you’ve taught!

  2. Bookbird103 says:

    Another book to conside: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. I’m an upper elementary school librarian and I recommend this to all of my teachers and students. It’s a must read for anyone who interacts with children with disabilities.

  3. Alfredo Chanler says:

    Hearing loss exists when there is diminished sensitivity to the sounds normally heard. The terms hearing impairment or hard of hearing are usually reserved for people who have relative insensitivity to sound in the speech frequencies. The severity of a hearing loss is categorized according to the increase in volume above the usual level necessary before the listener can detect it.*`;’

    Kind thoughts

  4. Pingback: Course Explores Services to Children with Disabilities | ALSC Blog

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