Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa
Te Rau Herenga O Aotearoa

Creating an information accessible environment

By Lizzie Waring, Community Advocate at IHC.

There are many barriers that make it difficult (or sometimes impossible) for people with disabilities to be included.  This is related to the social model of disability – the idea that people are disabled by the world around them. 

Have a think for a moment, what do you think we mean by the word barrier?

Usually when we talk to people about barriers, the first things that are mentioned are physical barriers.  Steps, escalators, doorways, and so on.  But barriers come in different forms – they are not always physical. 

When we talk about barriers in our workshops, we usually break them down into three categories: access to information and services, social attitudes and behaviours, and the built environment.  What do you think we mean by each of these? 

Here are some examples:

Access to information

·         Signage at the bus stop – can everyone in the community access information telling them which bus is arriving next?

·         When buying a ticket at the movies, are customers encouraged to use alternative communication methods if speech is difficult for them?

·         When walking to an office, is the reception clearly signposted?

Social attitudes

·         Are staff welcoming to all customers?

·         In a shop, do staff ask all customers if they need any help?

·         Do staff give customers their full attention?

Built environment

·         If a meeting room has been booked, does it have access to accessible toilets, and easy access from the rest of the building?

·         At a training session, has the room been set up so that there is enough space between the tables for all participants to move around easily?

Access to information is just as important as the built environment for people to fully partipate in their community.  Now take a moment to think about your library and any barriers for people accessing information. 

What are some of the barriers that exist?  For example, can people find their way around easily, and easily find staff to help them?  Are staff patient and encouraging of alternative communication methods?  Is important information provided in alternative formats (easy read, braille, visuals…)?  If someone doesn’t use speech to communicate, how will they be supported by you to find the resource they are looking for?

If you are already doing all of these things, how can you be even more accessible?  You might like to talk to your customers about what would make your library even easier for them to access.   You can find lots of information about accessible information at www.peoplefirst.org.nz, as well as at www.informationaccessgroup.com

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