By Karen Reilly
Did you grow up visiting one of those iconic Carnegie libraries? I’ve included a picture of my childhood library in Ames, Iowa (and no, I am not as old as this picture). Notice anything? Lots of stairs. In fact, there were even more stairs inside the entrance. Traditional library design was very unfriendly to people with limited mobility. If you were in a wheelchair or used a walker, you simply had to hope that someone else might visit the library and check out books for you.
Today’s libraries are designed to serve all members of the community, including people with disabilities. The San Diego Public Library works hard to make its services accessible at all of its 36 library locations. Here at the Mission Valley Branch Library, we have ramps and automatic doors at the entrance, as well as a computer with an adjustable-height table, equipped with assistive software, an enlarged screen and a low-vision keyboard. In addition, we have just installed a new Optalec magnifying machine, which can be used to read books, mail, newspapers, or whatever you may have difficulty reading. It is located next to our magazine and newspaper collection, on the mezzanine level. This is also where our large-print book collection is located.
The OliverMcMillan I CAN! Center at the Central Library provides a much broader range of services, programs, resources and professional assistance for persons with disabilities. Becoming a registered user of the I CAN! Center is free, and once you do so, you’ll have access to two private study rooms; 16 computers equipped with assistive software, enlarged screens and adjustable-height tables; eReaders, large print books, and Braille books; and two Video Relay Service (VRS) stations. (There is also a VRS station available at the Rancho Bernardo Branch Library.) The I CAN! Center also hosts playback of the KPBS Radio Reading Service, which allows you to listen to daily newspapers and magazines such as the San Diego Union Tribune and People Magazine read over the air.
For younger patrons, the new Binford I CAN, Too! Center at the Central Library is designed specifically for children with disabilities and learning differences. Like the I CAN! Center for adults, it provides assistive equipment and software that allows children with disabilities to more fully enjoy what the Denny Sandford Children’s Library has to offer. In addition, the I CAN, Too! Center also provides regular programming for and about children with special needs, such as sensory storytimes for children on the autism spectrum, signing storytimes, PAWS to Read (reading to animals!) and signing crafts and games.
The center offers books in both large print and Braille, and sensory integration kits for children on the autism spectrum, which are packed with various goodies to channel their energy, regulate emotions and improve concentration. To take advantage of the I CAN, Too! Center, a parent or caregiver should meet with the I CAN, Too! librarian, who will assess the child’s needs, determine the appropriateness of services and provide an orientation. The Mission Valley Branch Library also offers a quarterly Sensory Sunday Family Time for families with children on the autism spectrum. The next one is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 16 at 11 a.m.
If you would like to return your items to the library but have difficulty walking, the following branch libraries offer drive-up book returns: Carmel Valley Library, La Jolla/Riford Library, Linda Vista Library, Pacific Beach/Taylor Library and University Community Library.
Finally, if you are unable to make it to the library at all due to a disability, the library can come to you! Through our Homebound Service, library staff can deliver library materials directly to your door. We do require that your ill health or disability (whether temporary or permanent) be certified by a doctor to become eligible for this service, but the inability to use public transportation for elderly citizens is also considered a mobility impairment and a reason for eligibility.
Finally, we have a library-by-mail service. This program is specially designed for patrons who are homebound and visually impaired (those who cannot read standard size print, even with glasses). Library staff can select large print books, audio books or Braille books for you, or you can request specific titles, and then the items will be delivered to your home in the U.S. mail in a zippered bag. When finished with the materials, you can simply return them in the same bag, postage free!
Times have changed, and libraries have changed with them, reaching out to our patrons with disabilities to make sure that we are meeting their needs. And I am pleased to report that my hometown library now has a completely different entryway, with ramps and automatic doors. I don’t miss the stairs.
—Karen Reilly is managing librarian of the Mission Valley Branch Library.