I had the privilege to attend this workshop at the PACER Center where we talked with three advocates about PACER, its resources, why it was important to assist customers with disabilities, civil rights issues, etiquette, and the experiences of the three advocates during past and recent library visits. We also toured PACER’s Technology Center.
Founded in 1977, PACER Center was created by parents of children and youth with disabilities to help other parents and families facing similar challenges. Today, PACER Center expands opportunities and enhances the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families. One of the resources they offer are the PACER puppets. This program brings puppet shows or allows other groups to purchase puppets and scripts to present their own shows on awareness and acceptance of differences and also on awareness and prevention of or reporting of abuse.
We discussed how libraries should learn how serve customers with disabilities, not only because it is the law, but because everyone has the right to be in the library and staff need to feel comfortable helping people with varying needs. One advocate stated that we can all learn from each other and “Universal access helps everyone”. We also talked about how accommodations were not meant to provide “special” treatment, but equal access.
We also discussed the disability civil rights movement. (See the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities for a good history of disability in Western Civilization: Parallels in Time and Parallels in Time II). The advocates discussed etiquette and gave us several useful handouts which I will put in the FYI basket. They are in a green PACER folder. Included in there is information on how to do use the “sighted guide” method which is a way of guiding someone who is blind or visually impaired (this is after asking him/her if he/she wants assistance). An advocate who is deaf discussed that there are three different groups that people with hearing loss generally fall into: Those who are born deaf and usually sign and may lip read, those who became deaf later in life and may or may not sign or lip read, and seniors with varying levels of hearing loss who may never learn to sign and probably don’t lip read. Seniors may not realize they have hearing loss or may not be ready or willing to talk about it.
The advocates were all residents of Minneapolis or its suburbs and had only visited the Minneapolis Libraries. They discussed difficulties in receiving service and accessing parts of the library as well as helpful features and services. I will note these comments on a separate sheet of paper and include them in the green folder.
Lastly we toured the Simon Technology Center . This Center is set up to offer the benefits of assistive technology to adults and youth with disabilities. They have a lending library and people can set up consultations to test different technologies at the Center. One interesting piece of software we saw is called "I Communicator''. This software can translate text into video sign language and speech to text and/or video sign language.
In closing I would like to share a few thoughts that were discussed during the workshop. When you see or suspect someone to have a disability do not assume “inability”. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, just ask to see if someone wants assistance before assuming you know what he/she wants. Be sure to treat people as you would want to be treated; everyone is “disabled” by something at some point in his/her life.