Disability and library access: Who ya gonna call?
My experience of University is that anywhere that you want to study in is going to be busy and the library is one of the most difficult places to navigate and use at the best of times. There are always streams of students printing off essays, discussing group work, and eating the odd snack whilst finishing off their out-of-lectures reading! But what about when you’ve got a disability? Although every University library is different, I decided to write a little bit about mine and provide some access improvements of my own!
This is something which can be tricky, regardless of whether you have a disability or not! For me, because I am visually impaired it means that finding books is more difficult and then accessing the text in them is often very difficult too. Luckily, I have a library assistant who helps me to find the books I need and reads out the relevant parts for me or they write them down. This is really helpful as when I’m writing an essay, I have to make sure I have the information everyone else has so that I am not at a disadvantage. The support of a library assistant is often provided by the University and Disabled Students’ Allowance (part of Student Finance England).
When I take books out of the library I prefer to ask the person at the front desk to check them out for me. You can also use self-service machines that libraries often have now but I’ve always found them very confusing to use and I prefer to talk to a person rather than tap on a machine! For people with certain disabilities that may affect speech and make communication difficult, I can see that they’d be a great resource! If you’re going into the library for the first time, have a look around and see which options they offer.
The computers in the library at my University used to have different settings on so that you could change your profile to your specific needs. For example, there was a magnification setting, and a section to allow you to customise the mouse, making it easier to see. This was incredibly useful to a wide range of students with different disabilities. However, the University has recently refurbished the IT suite of the library, meaning that the computers are now different and some of the access options aren’t available.
As frustrating as this is, the computers now have bigger screens which makes it easier to read on them, but it is annoying that they don’t have all the access features that they used to. I know a lot of people that benefited from the access features. However, by using the remaining features, my Mac, and the help of library assistants I am able to use the computers well still.
My advice again would be to anyone with a disability wanting to use the computers in your library – look around and ask at reception about access facilities on your way in. If all else fails, you could always bring in your own IT equipment – many University libraries have free WiFi and charging spots available for students to use whenever they want to.
When groups meet up in the library for group work, it can be difficult for those who have a disability. However, what I always try to do is to book a study room with plenty of space and ask the group I am working with to meet me in the foyer area of the library. This arrangement seems to work very well. There are rooms in the library that is attached to my University that have disability access and this is really helpful, not so much for me but for others using the library who might be wheelchair users or have mobility impairments. Again, the golden rule here is communication – speak to your group when you’re preparing to do group work and I’m sure they will try to make it as easy as possible. If in doubt, speak to your lecturer or tutor as they will ensure that you can access the work that your group is doing.
For individual work, I rely a lot on a study facilitator to help me. This means someone who can read out parts of text, read over work with you, and generally help you find the most effective way to study your chosen subject at degree level or higher. This covers both help with exams and coursework – including help with accessing and using technology. In the library at my University there is also an Audio-Visual Room which is specially designed for those with disabilities. There is specific software on the computer in there that can be used and adapted to the disabled person’s advantage. You can also bring a support worker in with you which is handy for last-minute work on assignments.
You need to declare your disability to the University in order to access this room, so check with your University to see if your library offers anything similar. It would also be a good idea to apply for DSAs if you are not already in receipt of them, as this is what funds a lot of the support that I have mentioned in this blog.
Top Tips for Using the Library
Ask for help when you need it -from friends, lecturers, work colleagues, library staff
Bring anything that helps with your disability in with you (cane, glasses, walking frame, etc.) as these can not only be useful tools to you but help others to know that you might need some extra help
Check out the library environment before you go in to study for the first time. Give it the once-over and ask the library staff any questions you might have -they are usually very helpful and don’t bite!
I had mobility training around the library at the start of my University career. This can be very helpful to some people. If you think this is something you would be interested in, ask your University’s disability department for advice and support.
Finally, a lot of the support that I have mentioned in this blog is accessible through DSAs at Student Finance England so if you feel you need the extra support, contact them as soon as you can to arrange it.
Hopefully that’s given you an insight into how the library at University helps to make the lives of disabled people easier – and how I make it work for me.
Do you visit your local college or University library? Tell us about your experiences.
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