A few years ago, my library brought JJ List and their Disability Awareness Players to our library for a staff development day. We had recently launched new programming in the Children’s Department to serve patrons with special needs and their families. Because of our increased outreach efforts, we noticed more and more patrons with special needs were utilizing our library. So, in an effort to prepare staff with the knowledge and tools they needed to serve patrons with special needs more effectively and equally, the library brought in an outside group to provide staff with disability awareness training. And I’m so glad they did because it was absolutely the best staff development day I have ever experienced.
What is disability awareness training?
Disability awareness training is an interactive and open forum for examining the stereotypes and misconceptions about people with disabilities. During this training, you have the opportunity to develop skills that will help you communicate, interact with, and work with people with disabilities. One of the goals of a disability awareness training program is to learn how to treat others equally, regardless of their disability–something that is absolutely essential for all of us working in a public library. What I appreciated most about the Disability Awareness Players was that they created a safe space for people to ask questions and participate in a dialogue about questions and concerns that might be otherwise uncomfortable.
Who is disability awareness training for?
All library staff! Public libraries are open to all people. So, all library staff should be well versed in disability aware customer service techniques. Even if you do not work on a public service desk, disability awareness training can help you learn positive strategies for interacting with a coworker who has a disability. It’s sad to say that many of us were not given disability awareness training in our MLIS or LTA programs. So, we have to rely on our libraries to provide us with on-the-job training opportunities like this. During my library’s disability awareness program, I saw firsthand how this type of training can bring staff from all levels together. Whether you work on the front lines or are in upper management, participating in a shared experience like disability awareness training builds camaraderie.
What can you learn from disability awareness training?
Mastering “soft skills” is key to workplace success, especially when you are in a customer service position working at a public library. Disability awareness training can give you the tools you need to practice those interpersonal skills. For example, you can learn tips about communicating with someone with autism or someone with a speech impairment. You can also learn how to make accommodations for someone who is blind, a person with limited mobility, or someone with a cognitive disability. One of the most important things I took away from our disability awareness training program was something less tangible. I learned to become more empathetic towards people with disabilities. During this training, stereotypes are addressed, attitudes are changed, and you realize that it’s the person that comes first.
Has your library brought a disability awareness training program to your staff development day? If not, make the suggestion! Anyone from any level of the library can suggest ideas for professional development. Many organizations in your area offer disability awareness training programs to local businesses, and that includes public libraries. So, it’s important for all of us to work towards creating a safe, welcoming place for all of our patrons to visit–disability or not.