Monday, August 13, 2007

How accessible is your library?

How accessible is your library for older adults and the disabled? One way to test the accessibility is to borrow a wheelchair and try to navigate through the stacks and around the entire building. While in the chair, you can notice anything that may be a problem.

For example, if your circulation desk is very high, it is hard for a person in a wheelchair to hand books to the checkout person. If that is the case, it helps to add a lower counter which is equipped with a checkout computer and scanner. If it is not possible to add another desk, another idea is to add a scanner to the reference desk, so that the reference librarian can checkout books for people in wheelchairs. I have worked in a library that used this idea and it worked very well.

One thing that we can learn from grocery stores is to help people by providing wheelchairs or Amigo shopping cart/scooters for their use. If the library is small, or does not have the funds to buy these items, there are still ways to make it easier for older adults with limited mobility.

First, the large print section can be located close to the entrance. I also believe that separating paperback books into genre sections - westerns, romances, mysteries, and science fiction/fantasy is a good idea. This can significantly decrease the time that is needed by the patron to find the kind of books that he wants. If this grouping of paperbacks is not possible, I recommend using genre stickers on the spines of paperbacks, so that people can spot the books that they are looking for in less time. For many older adults, this is not just a convenience, it is a necessity, because they can not spend a long time standing.

I have heard from many people, who use a cane or walker, that they can't take the time to browse for books like they used to when they had better mobility. I encourage reference librarians to "rove" the library and offer reader's advisory to people who have limited mobility. You can also offer to place books on hold for them. Many older adults do not know that we can do this for them - or they do not approach the librarian because they don't want to impose on them.

A Medical News Today article highlighted a European firm which is designing furniture for the elderly. At my library, I have talked to people who have a lot of trouble getting into and out of chairs, due to arthritis and other conditions that decrease their mobility. I think that libraries should consider adding at least a few chairs that are designed to be easier for older people to use.

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