Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Serving the Underserved: Children with Disabilities At Your Library

(There are slides, resource list, etc. on this page)

This was a great WebJunction webinar that I was able to listen to today led by Renee Grassi, Youth Department Director at Glen Ellyn Public Library in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.  Renee began offering programs in response to library members asking her what was available for their children who were differently abled and also based on hearing them comment that some were not comfortable bringing their kids to the library. She started with Sensory Storytimes and Read to Rover: "Read to Rover": Children ages 8 and up are invited to this storytime program for an afternoon of 'doggy tales' with trained therapy dogs and their handlers. These gentle dogs are the perfect companion for children with autism as they listen to their favorite dog-themed stories and sing songs. After storytime, consider organizing the room into three exploration stations where children can do an activity while they interact with each of the dogs. Some example exploration stations include "Bailey Buckets," where children practice tossing bean bags into Bailey's water bowl or "Kubla's Command Corner," where children learn how to give Kubla a command. If the dog understands sign language, this corner can be easily adapted for children who use ASL. You could also use assistive technology with pre-programmed commands for those children with autism who are non-verbal. (Some intriguing ideas I found with the way that Renee has done what is very similar to our Paw Pals is that they’ve had more than one dog so that there were opportunities to read and then practice commands, and also that they’ve had activity stations (which you wouldn’t necessarily have to have more dogs for, you could have the coloring pages or crafts and other movement activities like throwing bean bags or some other creative idea/s.) Also Renee talked about having her Reading to Rover program for youth 8-16 as well which I think is a great idea because there are older reluctant readers, especially young people who for various reasons may not be reading at grade level.)

Why should we serve the underserved? Our Public Service Promise says it best: Welcoming, respectful, and equitable service.  Serving the underserved helps us meet our vision and mission by making it accessible to all.

How do you get started? Renee suggests that Disability Awareness Training for all staff is a good way to start because it gives all levels of workers the tools they need to serve people of all abilities.  Her library did training through an innovative group called JJ’s List.  Here in MN, some organizations we could look to are PACER, the Minnesota State Council on Disability, Advocating Change Together, and more I’m sure. Various advocacy groups also offer training relating to the population they serve like the Autism Society of MN, for example. Renee also suggested contacting Special Education Districts and says that observing special education classrooms gave her insight on ways to structure programs that she wanted to offer. She also suggested using resources through ALA and RUSA and trainings through Webjunction.

The next step is to offer a Community Needs Assessment. Ms. Grassi came up with a survey that she gave out to various people, groups with questions like “Do you attend the library?, Why or Why Not?, What types of programs would you be interested in-Inclusive or Targeted (specific to diffability-Autism, Hard of Hearing/Deaf, etc.), what types of materials would you like to see in the collection, what types of services do you wish the library offered? Survey questions and are included on the webjunction page for the webinar.

Renee then advised people to look at partners to consult with (training, advice on program content/structure, etc.) or coordinate/offer programming/services with and to help promote programs and services. She suggested looking at schools, advocacy groups, parks and recreation groups, health agencies/institutions, volunteer groups, other libraries. She mentioned that staff at her library had used to find parent support groups that they could speak to about the library’s programs and services. I have created a LibGuide that I presented on Staff Day that is a possible starting place for locating potential partners.

Finally Renee said to get started you should look at securing funding and suggested a number of places that offer relevant grants including ALSC’s Light the Way Grant, the deadline for which is Dec 1st and Target’s Early Literacy Grant. 

She also mentioned a few inclusive customer service tips: person first language, adjust your mindset (kids who are diffabled may need more movement and might not be able to sit the whole time, they may cover their ears to block out overstimulating sounds (noise cancelling headphones could be offered in a sensory kit), be patient and flexible (give time to process), ask simple questions, offer choices, encourage comments and suggestions (to show that you are aware of needs and that you are interested in their opinion).

What type of programs should libraries offer? Should they be targeted-designed and most likely marketed with specific needs of target population in mind or inclusive which means it is an activity open to and meant for all to attend. Community Needs Assessments can help you determine to some degree local preference in type of programming. Some families may feel more comfortable with targeted programming because they may feel it may be a more judgment free zone and more likely to understand/appreciate their family member’s abilities. Some examples of targeted programs are Sensory Storytime, Sensory Films, Performances, Special Education Class visits/programs/tours, Buddy/Friendship Programs. Inclusive programs have the benefit of letting kids of all abilities meet and potentially play together which can encourage friendships and understanding. Inclusive programs may include playgroups, movies and music, gaming, social clubs, arts, and crafts, etc.  In my personal opinion, libraries may want to offer a little of both, to offer options to families, and targeted could still be inclusive and inclusive could still be targeted as long as one is flexible and welcoming, and has taken the time to look into ways to make programs/services inclusive.

Sensory Storytimes are an example of programming that may be helpful for kids of all abilities and can also be targeted to specific audiences-kids who are diffabled, etc.  There are numerous examples of how to conduct sensory storytimes. Renee, based on feedback from surveys and visits to special ed classrooms, makes a picture schedule for storytimes to help visual learners see what is going to happen when and also has smaller versions of these schedules for families to use to track what is going on and to help kids know when an activity starts and ends. A social story is another visual that can help kids know what will happen at the library and during storytime.  Renee also made the room as free as possible from distractions to help kids who may be visually overstimulated.  Renee trained teen volunteers to help at sensory storytimes and also had help from special education teachers.

Later on Renee created Sensory Storytimes by partnering with Lekotek to bring in play specialists to help them conduct inclusive programs for families. Lekotek’s National Center is located not far from Renee’s library so they were able to provide a toy lending library and to help with selecting books for storytimes.  Renee also used a survey for families to find out about children’s likes/dislikes and any barriers to participation.  Another resource is the USA Toy Library Association and there are some member libraries in MN (see their listing of locations).

Another program that Renee has had at her library is Sensory Family Films. This is based on AMC’s Sensory Friendly Films for kids with autism and it involves showing movies with increased light, lower volume, closed captioning, allowing movement and talking, having sensory items like fidgets, noise cancelling headphones.

Special Education Class Visits are another way to serve youth who are diffabled. Reaching out to a special education program, department, or school can be a way to offer services, to ask if the library can provide learning extension and help design curriculum for visits. Renee had a recent class visit where she designed a lesson plan to work on practicing manners. These visits are another time Renee uses visual schedules to provide structure and to help relieve any anxiety students might feel when they don’t understand what is going to happen.

Accommodations that can be offered during programs include visual supports, sensory exploration including offering a variety of activities those that help kids who are sensory seeking (needing tactile and other kinds of sensory input) and sensory avoiding (not wanting to touch, sensitive to noise, etc.) Movement activities can increase strength and focus. Providing activities in multiple formats can be helpful as well including using big books, flannel boards, making copies of the book that individual kids/families can hold to follow along (or providing additional copies if available), using adapted stories (abbreviated, etc.).

Other service ideas include having resources listed on library websites, special collections, parent workshops, information on apps that can be of use, Light it Up Blue Awareness Campaign, sensory storytime kit, sensory kits…
 I just found a guide that the Boston Museum put together on adapting after school programs that looks pretty good. It’s tailored towards youth on the autism spectrum.

Mary Knox and I piloted an Adapted Teen Summer Reading Program at Central this summer. I would love to see if we could try a Transition Resources Fair for teens/young adults and Adapted and/or Inclusive Createch/Gaming.  I would love to work with Upstream Arts some more. Sensory Storytimes could be great too.

Speaking of Sensory Storytimes if SPPL could offer some, which I think would be great, I would love us to use the following program description (a similarly worded statement could actually be used for other inclusive/targeted programs as well). I read this and it filled me immediately with a sense of happiness and acceptance and I think it is one of the most perfect and welcoming descriptions of a program that I have ever read:

All children ages 3-8 and their families are invited to participate in this lively and interactive monthly story time. Children with varying learning styles and abilities learn together in a safe and supportive environment where respect and appreciation for differences is encouraged.
What do you think we should try next? Maybe it would be good to start with a Community Needs Assessment Survey and getting some sensory supplies for branches and creating sensory storytime kits or making special collections or adding to our general collection? Let me know what you think. I can be reached at:, or 651-266-7000, #5.

 --Erin Z-R @Central


Andrea H. said...

As far as older kids, I went to a training about Anime Clubs that said they were good for teens on the Autism Spectrum:

These teens like to talk about their enthusiams, and they also teach them social skills like taking turns and time management.

Erin Z-R said...

cool! I know the Autism Society of MN has had a partnership with Leonardo's Basement for activities from grade school-I think about teen age youth for things like Minecraft..they do interesting classes that combine and activity and social skills. and they've provided training to these and other organizations on strategies for success in working with youth/people who are diffabled.