Inclusion is a driving force behind my library work

By Shelley Harris, Children’s Services Librarian

October brings us the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and textures of fall, and has been chosen to highlight awareness of many disability communities. It’s a time to call for acceptance of and advocacy for people who process the world in diverse ways, including those who use communication aids to speak, have Down Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and more.

In Oak Park, the library strives all year long to empower every voice in our community, and to create welcoming spaces for everyone who visits. Inclusion is a driving force behind our library’s work, and we practice it in several ways so people can find what they need.

The library listens and responds to community feedback about what we can do to continue to improve access to resources, services, and spaces. For example, we see kids in our community use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices to speak, so we have a tablet loaded with communication app Proloquo2Go that we can use to talk, too.

We consider all readers when selecting new books to add to the collection, striving to find titles written and/or illustrated by disabled creators that don’t promote ableist (discrimination in favor of able-bodied and neurotypical people) stereotypes. I encourage the use of this evaluation tool when selecting new books:

Check out more suggestions for kids by topic »

The library offers multiple ways to access materials, including two desktop computers at the Main Library with large-print keyboards and adaptive software (JAWS, OpenBook, and MAGIC) that magnify and read images and text aloud, and two enlarger machines with contrast and size controls.

The library also believes patrons should see and hear their language in their community. That’s why the collection offers titles in multiple languages, including braille and books that have been adapted with Boardmaker symbols. Available for check out from the Main Library are adapted Boardmaker books, braille books, braille readers, and scanner pens, to scan text, hear the words read aloud, and look up any words you don’t know.

At all three ADA-accessible library buildings, patrons can borrow and use supports while at the library. Supports include tools such as noise-canceling headphones, wiggle seats, fidget toys, DIY schedules, pinwheels, sunglasses, weighted lap blankets, and more. 

Supported classes, including weekly storytimes, begin at age 3. The library also offers AAC and sign language in some storytimes, just as we include Spanish and other non-English languages. 

Because we believe everyone deserves opportunities to participate in and give back to their community, we host an outdoor accessibility garden at Maze Branch. Here, disabled kids and teens have ownership and a leadership role in a community space.

Finally, we strive to follow identity-first language, which may acknowledge a disability as a core aspect of who someone is, and we always work hard to respect a person’s preference in conversation. We listen to self-advocates in the disability community to amplify and share the beliefs and language preferences of this rich culture, and this article explains more about why that’s important today.

Interested in learning more? Reach out for talks and trainings. The library welcomes group visits. We also bring our story to children in the community through classroom and daycare visits.

Early Literacy Librarian Shelley Harris holds a Bachelor of Science in Speech and Hearing Science and a Masters in Library and Information Science. She is the older sister of a young man with a rare genetic disorder who has used AAC for nearly 30 years. Harris has worked in western suburban Chicago schools as a para-educator for deaf and autistic children. She is available for talks and training.