As a librarian, I am committed to diversity. Often, one group gets left out of the diversity (and intersectionality) conversation: disabled people.
This relegates these patrons to the background, to a passive position, much like the current handicapped sign.
Fellow student Jana Brubaker in her post Students, or Patrons with Disabilities, discusses the American Libraries article from March/April 2017 that talks about inclusive environments for disabled patrons. There are a lot of good points in the article, including getting feedback from our students and patrons.
You’ll notice that I do not use “person-first” terminology, i.e. “patrons with disabilities,” “children with autism,” etc. I have been taught that this is the “correct” way to address people. However, I’ve found through my professional learning network (PLN,) which includes many disability advocates, that none of them use person-first terminology and most of them are against it. Using “disabled people” or “autistic woman” is Identity-First language, and it’s very important to understand ID-First language. My disabled PLN members identify with and by their disabilities and identifying their disability first prevents people from erasing their disability and therefore, their need for supports or accommodations. I still have difficulty using “disabled people” but that is the term my contacts prefer, so I use it. I’m not perfect, I’m still going to screw up, but I take effort to educate myself and be aware and identity-first language is a first step in that. (and, yes, I’m working on fixing my site so it’s easier to read for those with visual impairments!)
One of the most important aspects of services to any group is to know what they want and need by asking them and interacting with them. I feel that the American Libraries article referenced by Brubaker doesn’t focus enough on this fact, though it does specifically mention involving disabled persons to provide professional development for staff. Diversity education starts with ourselves and we cannot be good advocates for our patrons if we only know them from (often erroneous) representations in books or other media. Curating a PLN that specifically includes disabled educators and disabled persons is imperative for recognizing and addressing needs of all patrons. I have learned so much from the diverse PLN I’ve crafted, especially about institutionalized abelism. I look at all the programs and services for the library through this lens and my students and patrons will be the better for it. It is imperative that we, as educators educate ourselves in every way possible to ensure that we are not perpetuating outdated ideas, programs, services, and accommodations for our patrons.
ASAN. (2017). Identity-first language. Autism Self Advocacy Network. Retrieved from https://autisticadvocacy.org/about-asan/identity-first-language/
Brubaker, J. (2017). Students, or patrons with disabilities. [Weblog post]. Retrieved from https://ischoolblogs.sjsu.edu/info/liblov/2017/04/05/students-or-patrons-with-disabilities/
Kowalsky, M. & Woodruff, J. (2017, March/April). Creating inclusive environments: Plans for serving library patrons with disabilities. American Libraries, 60-63. Retrieved from https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2017/03/01/creating-inclusive-library-environments/
Leary, A. (2017, April 18). Autism on television needs more diverse representation. Teen Vogue. Retrieved from http://www.teenvogue.com/story/autism-on-television-diverse-representation?mbid=social_twitter
Liebowitz, C. (2015, March 20). I am Disabled: On identity-first versus people-first language. [Weblog post]. The Body is Not an Apology. Retrieved from https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/i-am-disabled-on-identity-first-versus-people-first-language/