Library and information center accessibility: The differently-able patron's perspective

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Abstract

The 1980's “Decade of the Disabled,” stimulated increased awareness regarding rights of differently-able people for better access to education, employment, and information (United Nations, 1982). As “great equalizers of knowledge,” (Epp, 2006) libraries and information agencies were among organizations striving to become accessible, enabling environments for their differently-able patrons. While “diversity” remains a critical focus for libraries and information agencies, many remain inaccessible for the differently-able (Murray, 2000, 2001; Wojahn, 2006). In recent years, few research studies have investigated how library – physical and virtual – accessibility might be improved.

The purpose of this study is to understand library services and accessibility in public and academic libraries from the differently-able patron's perspective. Recognizing the marginalization and disenfranchisement that can be experienced by diverse and differently-able individuals, this study investigates information center accessibility and services for such populations. The research identifies differently-able patrons in a variety of communities and the information professionals serving them. Through a series of interviews and focus groups with these individuals, this study explores “lived experiences” of these groups to understand how library accessibility / inaccessibility may contribute to the social construction of disability within these contexts. Specifically, it investigates the impact of social constructivism and technological advances upon library accessibility and services. Ultimately, the study's goal is to illuminate issues related to library accessibility / inaccessibility and services in public and academic libraries. Through participants' voices, the results of the study are expected to suggest how library accessibility and services may be improved. Findings may also suggest strategies that libraries and information centers may employ to help patrons overcome challenges related to technology skill development and unemployment.

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