Working on Inclusivity

The following was written by library director, Ryan Johnson, and was featured in a recent edition of the O’Fallon Weekly.

I am thrilled to announce that the O’Fallon Public Library has recently become Sensory Inclusive Certified.  We earned this certification through a partnership with the non-profit organization, KultureCity.  In so doing, we join over 1,000 sensory-certified venues in six countries.

This certification is designed to help everyone with sensory needs, not just those with autism.  This includes military vets with PTSD, stroke patients, adults with dementia or Parkinson’s disease, and anyone else with sensory sensitivities.  It is estimated that 1 in 6 people have some sort of sensory processing need.

One of the major barriers for these individuals is sensitivity to overstimulation and noise.  While we traditionally think of libraries as quiet places, we are a thriving public space and often host special events, which can produce a challenging environment for some patrons.  With this new certification, we are now better prepared to assist visitors with sensory sensitivities.

The certification process entailed staff being trained by leading medical professionals on how to recognize visitors with sensory needs, as well as how to handle a sensory overload situation.  Sensory bags, equipped with noise canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards, and weighted lap-pads, will be available in the library soon.  These tools can help those who may feel overwhelmed by the environment.

We sought out this certification because we want the library to truly be for everyone.  When most people think of accessibility, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) comes to mind.  It’s important to remember that ADA compliance is the bare minimum standard that public spaces should meet.  A recent article in the Library Journal expanded on this concept with an example: “[H]aving a ramp at the back of the building by the dumpsters does technically mean that an entrance into the building is ADA compliant.  However, the back of the building is often harder to actually access. In practice, this is not only an inaccessible entrance but also creates a second, and lesser, class of library users and employees: people with mobility disabilities have to enter the library through the back and everyone else can go through the front door.  Accessibility is about creating access equity for all people, regardless of their ability status, age, etc.”

We view sensory inclusivity in a similar light.  We will continue to send additional staff through the inclusivity training and look for ways to modify our space to better serve all members of the public.  That same Library Journal article referenced above closes with, “It is only when patrons with disabilities are included in these processes that libraries develop a better understanding of the needs of that patron population.”  With that in mind, I encourage you to reach out to share what accessibility issues you or your loved ones experience at the library.  You can reach me at 618-206-4242 (direct line) or ryan@ofpl.info.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!

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