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Persons with disabilities often need help with the simplest things such as where to find housing that they can actually navigate or how to make sure that a certain test that they’d like to take is accessible to them. Federal, state, and local government agencies provide various services for those with disabilities, and it is important for the library to provide information about these services.
When looking at the staff training which is provided in Georgia with regard to training of persons who have special needs, what stands out is the fact that it is important to consider services such as the Braille which are offered to the people who have visual impairments.
Library disability training
The main purpose of a library disability training program should be to eliminate unlawful discrimination, to promote equality of opportunity for individuals with disabilities, and to develop policies and best practices to best serve the needs of individuals with disabilities.
Developing a training plan to serve individuals with disabilities is much like developing any other aspect of library training. The top priority should be involving individuals with disabilities throughout the planning and implementation process.
One of the main mandates of the ADA is that libraries should solicit public comment regarding the self evaluation plan for serving individuals with disabilities, cooperative relationships will be a necessity in order to provide the best quality services and materials for patrons.
A transition team for accessibility should be appointed that includes a wide presentation of all areas of responsibility. Individuals with disabilities should be appointed to this ad hoc committee. Some individuals do not need to attend all committee meetings.
The transition team will recommend and encourage the best use of resources to meet the information needs of library staff and patrons with disabilities. One of the first tasks of the groups should be to carry out an access audit.
The international Federation of Library Associations checklist compiled by Irvall and Nielsen (2005) is an excellent plan for auditing the library facility as well as materials and equipment for individuals with specific disabilities. The transition team should make specific recommendations to help improve both the physical space in the libraries and general services to staff and patrons.
Disability training like any other training includes the analysis, planning, implementation, and control of careful formulated programs designated to bring about voluntary exchanges of values with target goals for the purpose of achieving organizational objectives.
Library services – what is important?
In order to improve service to students with impairments within the library, this section outlines what I believe would occur ideally in a library . The suggestions are divided into four categories: policies and procedures, staff development, access to facilities and equipment, and specific services.
In reality these are not stand alone categories but are interwoven. I have also provided ideas on how I believe a partnership approach, is the most effective way to provide library services to students with impairments.
Policies and procedures
It is important that policies and procedures exist to guide the interaction between library staff and students with impairments. The staffs need to understand this and to make policies and procedures easily accessible to students with impairments. Polices would include ensuring both students and staff are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the legislation and under university policies.
They would also provide students with information on: what adjustments to services and facilities are already available to students with impairments, what can be done for them on an individual basis and the procedure to access these services.
A complaint procedure for any complaints that arise directly from disability would also be included. Students need to be involved both in the development and review of relevant policies, procedures, services, and facilities available in the library. They could do so, for instance through direct feedback surveys, or focus groups.
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Induction for new staff would include information what the library and the university provide for students with impairments and would ensure staffs are aware of relevant legislation, policies, procedures, and current practices. Disability Equity Training would b ea key component of staff development to ensure staffs have the knowledge and skills to work effectively.
In the consultation with the relevant authorities, attitudes were identified as the biggest barrier for people with impairments. Without Disability Equity Training, there is no avenue to reflect in and address personal attitudes towards disability.
Training also provides an opportunity to understand the experience of people with impairments and implications of those experiences for people with different impairments on library services, discuss communication and information strategies, be clear on staff obligations, study best practice in library services, and review personal practice to ensure that it is inclusive for all people with impairments.
Designated, trained contacts at each library site, who are actively promoted to students and staff, are important. It is vital that these people have effective channels of communication to management level within the library.
Contact people require additional time for ongoing development on disability issues and library services. The role would be formally acknowledged through human resources processes. For example, it could be included in role descriptions, work plans, and performance reviews, rather than an additional thing for which a staff member volunteers.
With staff trained to meet students’ requirements, the library is more likely to provide a safe environment for students to discuss their requirements.
Students should be invited to do so, and where possible share responsibility for developing solutions and advising staff of any difficulties they face. Diversity among employees is an asset in the work place, so hiring people with experience of disability can add value to library services.
Although school librarians in a case study schools were able to attend training activities offered to the whole school teaching staff, none had received any library specific training, nor had they provided it for technical or clerical library staff.
In some schools, little or no information was provided about disabled students to the school librarian by special educators often because the special educators failed to recognize that the school librarian would be likely to deal with most students in the school and therefore should be included in briefing sessions about particular students.
The lack of ongoing disability training in some schools did not take into account the needs of newly appointed staff.
The training needs of school librarians
The survey results and discussions with librarians in a case study schools and schools visited during fieldwork in Canada and UK indicate that staff development programs are needed. School library staffs that do not have personal experience of disability would benefit from disability awareness training.
Unless they have personal experience of disability, it is quite likely that school library staff may have misconceptions about disability that need to be overcome.
Some staff may well be informed, but may need to enhance their communication skills to enable them to deal more effectively with students with particular needs. It is important that all school library staffs are given the opportunity, in a relaxed and informal atmosphere to discuss any fears or apprehensions they might have about dealing with students with particular disabilities.
School librarians need the knowledge about resources and technology to enable them to improve services. They need to be aware of the existence of disability legislation and guidelines and standards, both national and international, for library service to people with disabilities. Information is needed about available support services and the range of alternative format material published.
School librarians should also understand the need to provide quality information about disability and fiction that portrays disability in an understanding and empathetic way. The greatest need is for school librarians to receive specific information about students in their school and how to deal with them, how to teach them, and how to meet their needs.
School librarians should be included in briefing sessions on particular students and in meetings of students’ individual learning support groups when information resourcing is an issue to be discussed. This includes being given the opportunity to work with special educators in modifying materials used in information with skills teaching to suit individual students.
However, school librarians need to ensure they always attend general staff meetings and other forums where information about disabled students may be disseminated.
Training in working with others is not such an issue for school librarians, as they are experienced in this are through their area through their endeavors to integrate information skills teaching into the curriculum and by working alongside other library staff, although some do work in isolation.
But as classroom teachers and special educators receive much needed training, as many of them have worked independently in the past, information flow and cooperation between them and the school librarian should improve.
School librarians would benefit from gaining knowledge about special education, the purpose and processes of integration and inclusion of disabled students into main schools, and particularly the legislation governing this area. Beyond the staff development needs identified, school librarians need training in the library specific areas of policy formulation, collection management, and technology requirements.
Staff development programs on services to disabled students are rarely provided for school librarians or other school library staff. University departments offing courses in librarianship and information management should be encouraged to address library services to people with disabilities in mainstream curricula, so that newly trained professional would be sensitized to the needs of this client group.
The inclusion of alternative format materials in collection management subjects produced and published by major disability agencies. The most obvious example is materials for blind people. Most national libraries, such as the National Library of Australia and the Library of Congress, include alternative format materials in their catalogs and databases.
The program should provide a basic level of knowledge to enable staff to conduct reference interviews with individuals with disabilities.
Some of the specific areas of staff develop would include assisting staff in the development of appropriate communication skills dispelling misconceptions and negative attitudes towards individuals with disabilities, providing staff with necessary collection development skills, and assisting staff in the assessment of current and future accommodation and facilities.
Essentially, the function of this training program should include attitudes, relevant government legislation, commonly used adaptive technology, and communication strategies. The program should be evaluated on a regular basis and changed and updated as necessary. Input should be encouraged from staff members regarding training needs and approaches.
Conclusion Encouragement of staff development activities at personal level and lobbying of professional associations, tertiary institutions, and education authorities to provide more programs in this area seem to be the most viable solutions to the lack of staff development activities for this specialized area.
A short course run by any organization of these groups should include disability awareness, information about disability legislation, and information about specific services and publications that could be accessed by school librarians.
There are several training kits available that provide videos and other resources that can be used to raise awareness of disability. If a library deals specifically with clients with a specific disability, staff might pursue training agencies that facilitates their dealings with particular group. Staffs from disability agencies are available to talk to groups about specific disabilities.
In a school, there are many visiting professionals, such as physiotherapists, speech therapists, and visiting specialist teachers, who may be available to talk to library staff. Library staff from the larger agencies that provide specialist library services can provide information about alternative format materials, where they can be purchased or borrowed, and criteria for their selection.
As mentioned above, school libraries need to be proactive in both gaining information about students with disabilities enrolled in their school and ensuring that any staff development activities offered in the school are made available to all library staff at professional, paraprofessional, and technical clerical levels.
In addition to this, there are three other options to ensure the library is accessible to any students with disabilities who are enrolled in the school. First libraries could be audited for physical disability, possibly by a staff member from an agency for physical disability.
Second, disability awareness training for all staff could be provided. Again tools are available that could be used by school librarian to provide this training for the staff, possibly with some assistance from special education staff in the school.
It is advisable to seek advice from local disability agencies about suitable training kits. Finally, school librarians can find out which adaptive technology is currently being used by disabled students in the school and ensure that the necessary equipment is available so that it can be used in the library.
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