Understanding accessibility needs is vital to providing truly useful accessibility services for the community. Geoffrey Allen, Director of Collections at Regine Public Library (RPL), says that hiring staff with lived experiences of disabilities significantly impacted the library’s collective understanding of what accessibility means in the real world.
“We’ve been working hard and implementing accessibility in all aspects of our library,” says Allen. “But hiring staff with lived experience was eye-opening for us all.”
After a summer student who uses a wheelchair was hired, the team realized that while the library’s front of house was completely wheelchair accessible, the staff entrances were not! Modifications were immediately made for the new employee, and RPL was made more aware of potential mobility issues. RPL has also been inspired to incorporate text transcriptions at more public and staff events after hiring someone with auditory challenges.
During his four years as Director of Collections, Allen has expanded the large print and dyslexic collections at the library. Like many libraries, Regina offers delivery services to their homebound patrons and provides DAISY talking books at all branches for patrons with print disabilities. But Allen has also been looking at the library’s physical space. He began by ensuring accessibility standards were met for shelving in ten branches across Regina.
Accessibility Testing and the RPL Website
More recently, Allen has also been working with a team to redesign the Regina Public Library website to make it more accessible to patrons and usable with screen readers after it became clear to him that the library was not up to standard. Since then, Allen has been committed to a full review of the website to make the user experience more accessible. While the team used online code testing tools to create a list of shortcomings, it was clear that this testing would only get them so far, and they needed help. Recently Allen has been engaging with staff at NNELS with lived experiences of a disability to work on a more thorough website review and to address more nuanced elements like language comprehension.
Allen says, “Regina Public Library is thankful for the support as it allows us to go much deeper on this project and really understand all the elements that come together for a truly accessible website.” Allen is now anticipating a more detailed report that goes through the elements line by line to tackle the challenges the website poses for accessibility needs.
Overall, Regina Public Library is taking some great proactive steps to create accessible spaces, including increasing staff’s knowledge and understanding of accessibility needs through training available to all staff. But Allen acknowledges that the facility itself presents some barriers. The facility is sixty years old, is not accessible and cannot be made to meet accessibility standards. RPL is looking to make a case to replace the current central library.
Despite that, Allen and the team at RPL continue to work toward removing whatever accessibility barriers they can and expand accessible resources, programs and services while continuing to help staff grow and feel involved in making their libraries more accessible.
If your library is interested in connecting and sharing ideas, please contact Geoffrey Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org.