Is Your Online Library for Everyone?

Libraries Are For Everyone by Hafuboti

This blog post explores six common web accessibility myths and implications for online library services and programs. Stay tuned for even more information and resources to help you serve diverse children and families in the forthcoming ALSC Virtual Storytime Services Guide!

Myth #1: People with disabilities don’t use the internet or interact with my library online.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 U.S. adults experiences disability. The CDC estimates that about one in six children between 3 and 17 years of age have one or more developmental disabilities. There is no library community (or library staff) without disabilities! If individuals with disabilities aren’t interacting with us online, it’s not because they don’t want to – it’s because we’ve made our web content and virtual services inaccessible.

Myth #2: It’s not really that important to make youth library programs accessible. Most people with disabilities are adults, right?

Disability impacts everyone! Even if disabilities did only affect adults (which they don’t), these adults still matter when designing online library experiences for young children. Caregivers are an essential component of both high-quality storytimes and developmentally appropriate screen time experiences. In a 2012 joint position statement, the National Association of the Education for Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center recommended that technology use with young children “should be limited to those that appropriately support responsive interactions between caregivers and children and strengthen adult-child relationships.” Therefore it is essential that we make our virtual program experiences accessible and empower all adults to interact with their children.

Myth #3: Web accessibility is optional. Libraries don’t have to provide auxiliary aids (such as closed captions) unless they are requested.

Libraries have both a professional and legal obligation to create accessible online experiences for their communities. These responsibilities are made clear by federal legislation and numerous court interpretations based on the:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title II
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III
  • Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Professionally speaking, the very first Core Competency for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries is Commitment to Client Group. This commitment is demonstrated by:

“Recognizing racism, ethnocentrism, classism, heterosexism, genderism, ableism, and other systems of discrimination and exclusion in the community and its institutions, including the library, and interrupting them by way of culturally competent services.”

By treating web accessibility as something available only by special request, we run the risk of appearing unwelcoming and uncaring to our communities. Libraries could also face litigation in court.

Myth #4: People with disabilities have assistive devices (such as screen readers) that will enable them to interact with our online content regardless of the platforms we use.

This statement implies that the problem resides with the individual, rather than with the inaccessible technology. Not all websites, video players or social media platforms are compatible with assistive devices. Libraries are responsible for sharing content and delivering online services in an accessible way.

Myth #5: Designing with accessibility in mind makes things look “ugly” or “boring.” Most of our library users won’t find it helpful or attractive.

Designing with accessibility in mind is essential for some to access our content, but these measures also improve everyone’s experience! This is called the curb-cut effect. Consider how many people benefit from ramp requirements introduced by the ADA. Originally intended for wheelchair users, other beneficiaries include stroller rollers, travelers with luggage, skateboarders, cyclists, individuals with arthritis, and many more.

Curb Cut Beneficiaries
This image was created with materials from the Microsoft Inclusive Design Toolkit and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License.

The curb-cut effect also applies to online library experiences. Far from being mutually exclusive, accessibility and functionality go hand in hand. For example, a platform that is forgiving of user errors benefits both users with limited fine motor control and caregivers with squirming toddlers on their laps!

Another curb-cutter: captioning. As evidenced by the 85% of Facebook videos that are watched without sound, captions assist and appeal to a wide variety of video viewers. The 15% of American adults who report trouble hearing, viewers watching from busy background environments, and viewers for whom English is a second language all benefit from closed captioning. UW Madison researcher and professor Dr. Ann Morton Gernsbacher (2015) points to “more than 100 empirical studies document that captioning a video improves comprehension of, attention to, and memory for the video.” By providing captions for virtual storytime performances, libraries empower caregivers to better retain the early literacy practices they see and hear in action – and to implement these early literacy practices at home!

Adding captions can also increase your virtual program’s discoverability! In a 2014 study, Digital Discovery Networks found that YouTube videos with captions had 13.48% more views in the first two weeks and 7.32% more lifetime views. Closed captioned videos also rank higher in search engine results.

Myth #6: Creating accessible online experiences is someone else’s responsibility (e.g. Technology Departments).

Everyone within the library can take steps towards accessibility! Storytime providers can add variety such as size, shape or type to their flannel board activities so that color is not the only way for participants to perceive information. Leadership can commit to providing funds for outsourcing captioning and transcription services, or leadership can provide time and training for staff in-house. All library staff can become digital accessibility advocates and help raise awareness by sharing this post!


The forthcoming ALSC Virtual Storytime Services Guide will contain a multitude of resources to help your library on the path to virtual program accessibility! In the meantime, start learning how to make your online content accessible with the #AccessThat training videos from Rooted in Rights. Be sure to also explore the Rooted in Rights step-by-step guide to Creating Accessible Videos.

Jessica Fredrickson PhotoJessica Fredrickson is a Youth Services Librarian, a Project Coordinator for the ALSC Virtual Storytime Services Guide, and the current Training and Advocacy Chair of Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL). She is one of the 26% of adults in the United States who experiences disability. <Brief bio edited on 6/4/23>

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group; III. Programming Skills; and V. Outreach and Advocacy.

Libraries Are For Everyone Image: The feature image of this post was created by Hafuboti/Rebecca McCorkindale and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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