One of my favorite parts about my job are the school tours that I give each month. The students come to learn what makes our library different – from providing braille and talking books to accessible technologies to our recording studio. Lately, the most common conversation I’m having is making me a little sad.
Parents and teachers alike have apologized for their children with disabilities needing a few extra moments to acclimate themselves to a new environment with so much stimuli. From a teacher whispering to me “Oh, we’re an inclusive class. I should have warned you”, to parents quickly rushing their child out when they begin to get loud, I worry that my library isn’t representing itself as the inclusive space that it is. If a space is inclusive but no one knows about it, it isn’t really serving the intended community.
Of course, the easiest way to combat this is to have the conversation right then and there. I explain that our library, especially our children’s room, are welcome to children of all abilities no matter what kind of day they’re having. We talk about the programming we have for children with special needs and I invite everyone to come back at another time that works for them.
I try to target my outreach to schools, programs and organizations that work with families of children with special needs so that they’re aware of what we do before they even visit. We’re also trying out new ways to advertise our programs including advertising them in our newsletter, putting signs in our windows for people walking in the neighborhood to see and creating listings on sites that advertise accessible spaces.
I know social stories have been a valuable tool for other libraries trying to spread the word about their inclusive spaces. I have also heard that including clip art of people with special needs in your advertising materials has been encouraging.
What are some ways you let the teachers and other visitors know that your space is inclusive?
Jordan Boaz is the Children’s Librarian for the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, a branch of New York Public Library. She regularly plans innovative, inclusive programming and outreach for children with disabilities. Jordan is experienced with story times, summer reading programs and reader advisory. She currently serves on the Library Service to Special Population Children and their Caregivers committee. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.