Are We Meeting Your Needs? Creating an Accessibility Task Force

Written by Instructional Design Librarian, Darlene Aguilar.

At the William H. Hannon Library, we welcome a variety of users each with unique needs and it is part of our mission to support the diverse needs and preferences of users. Nataly Blas, reference & instruction librarian for business, agrees:

“Our overarching goal is to create a welcoming space for all. We try to anticipate the different needs that students may have whether they are distance students, in-person students, freshman, or seniors.”

Accessibility needs are no different. While many agree that accessibility is an important civil rights issue, the thought of making content and services accessible stops people in their tracks. It seems like a daunting task dealing with new technology, coding, and the fear of saying the wrong thing, but we have to be humble enough to educate ourselves, ask questions, and focus on our users. As Instructional Design Librarian Aisha Conner-Gaten notes:

“We need to center users in our conversations and ask not only what we should do so that we are ADA compliant, but also what we should do so that people feel that they are welcomed in this space and so they can use this space to the best of their abilities without any barriers that we have created as an institution.”

At the library, we are working on our accessibility and are taking steps to reach this goal.

Step One: Educate our staff

To increase librarian knowledge on accessibility needs, I provided presentations on screen readers, best practices for content creation, and demonstrated the use of free accessibility checker tools. I then audited the library LibGuides and provided each LibGuide owner an accessibility report detailing what needed to be fixed. This allowed librarians to implement what they learned and gain experience creating accessible content. I also provided space and time for librarians to work on their LibGuides with my support. We walked through the common issues and fixed many right away.

This initial knowledge sparked a wider conversation on whether the library as a whole was accessible. This led to the creation of the Accessibility Task Force.

Step Two: Library-wide accessibility audit

The Accessibility Task Force was created to audit the library as a whole and provide recommendations for improvements. The task force is composed of at least one member from each library department:

  • Jeff Gatten (Administration)
  • Stephanie Gritz (Systems & Digital Initiatives)
  • Jessica Guardado and Marisa Ramirez (Archives & Special Collections)
  • Marie Kennedy (Acquisitions & Collections)
  • Reggie Melonson and Zarina Noorani (Access Services)
  • Carol Raby (Outreach)
  • Peter Rolla (Cataloging)
  • Darlene Aguilar (Reference and Instruction)

We are working in phases to provide our full attention to one area at a time. The phases include:

  1. Physical Environment
  2. Customer Service
  3. Staff training / Awareness
  4. Instruction
  5. Websites
  6. Programs/Events

For the Physical Environment phase, we split into three groups to evaluate each of our three floor levels. Using the ADA Checklist for Existing Facilities and measuring tape, we evaluated the accessibility of our service counters, group study rooms, book stacks, restrooms, elevators, etc.

For the Customer Service and Staff Training/Awareness phase, I gathered questions from various sources including the Access for Libraries for Persons with Disabilities Checklist and Access for Library Users with Disabilities manual. Each task force member was responsible for asking these questions at their department meetings to gather information on our current practices.

As we complete each phase, we are writing recommendations for improvements, policy changes, and next steps. The Accessibility Task Force is a one-year project, but we will need something more permanent to continue with this mission.

Step Three: Sustainability

Although we are not at this step yet, we need to think about how we will maintain our progress and continue to improve. At the end of May, the task force will report our findings and recommendations to our library’s leadership team. From here, we hope to form an Accessibility Committee to oversee the implementation of our recommendations, to work closer with students, and to collaborate with the Disability Support Services office.

Want to make your content accessible? The following resources will guide you:

If you would like more information about our library’s Accessibility Task Force, please contact Darlene Aguilar.