Today’s post was written by library student assistant Kaylee Tokumi.
Issues of inclusivity and accessibility impact everyone, regardless of their ability. By creating an inclusive learning environment, everyone can reach their highest potential and feel comfortable in their surroundings. The “Accessibility and Inclusivity on University Campuses” virtual event brought together a panel of dedicated individuals, who are working to create a more accessible academic environment for people with disabilities. The group discussed various topics ranging from universal teaching practices to the resources offered at the William H. Hannon Library.
Amanda Apgar, the host and an assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, started the event by explaining what it means to truly create an academic environment accessible for all people. Using a graphic based on “The Giving Tree,” Apgar emphasized that achieving justice for people with disabilities means elevating everyone to the same level, where they have equal opportunities to succeed. It does not simply mean giving the same resources to everyone because it would not address the inequalities that originally built the system.
In the next section, Apgar asked about accessibility and inclusivity in teaching practices. Darlene Aguilar, instructional design librarian, pointed to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a beneficial educational framework. UDL encourages faculty to use multiple formats when presenting class material, meaning students should be given the chance to absorb the same information through videos, books, or different software. Aguilar pointed out that the library supports various learning styles by providing computers with screen readers, rental laptops, and microphones within classrooms, just to name a few. The library also offers various methods to consult with librarians, including in-person and virtual meetings, as well as live chats. The library was already compiling online resources (like e-books, movies, and LibGuides) prior to the pandemic, but the switch to online learning definitely drew more attention to the digital world.
Susan Scheibler, chair and associate professor of film, television, and media, talked about her experience with teaching. Scheibler underlined that we tend to “teach to the abled.” Those teaching methods may not recognize the invisible disabilities or struggles students are facing. For instance, Scheibler noted that during the pandemic, many students (and faculty) did not have stable internet or laptops since they had borrowed essential supplies from the library. To address accessibility and inclusivity issues, in general, Scheibler said, “If you create a classroom in which the people with disabilities thrive, then everyone will thrive.” Inclusivity can take many forms: it can be professors offering students multiple ways to receive participation credit or offering others more time to take exams. Through an accessible classroom, everyone can be fully present and learn to their best capacity.
Later, Scheibler talked about her teaching experience during the pandemic as a person with autism, ADHD, and dyslexia. She explained that interacting with others through Zoom had its pros and cons. She felt it was hard to read facial expressions online, and she was overwhelmed by the noise created through conversations being held aloud and those in the chat. However, Scheibler also expressed that an online classroom allowed students to engage with the discussions in different ways. For instance, students who are uncomfortable speaking aloud or need more time to process information can participate through the chat.
Marie Kennedy, serials and electronic resources librarian, spoke a little about the process required to obtain resources for the library. Kennedy explained that she needs to negotiate with vendors to establish a license agreement that states how and who can use the library’s material. Kennedy and her colleagues try to define “authorized users” with broad terms. They consider authorized users as anyone who walks onto LMU’s campus, allowing people in the greater LMU community to access resources. Kennedy and her team also pushed for product licenses to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She asked that licensors include settings to make their resources more accessible, such as by adding alternate keyboard or pointer interfaces. Because of Kennedy’s advocacy and the voices of other librarians around the globe, licensors are adding a clause that includes more accessibility and inclusivity resources to their agreement as a default to their contracts.
In 2018, a team from Hannon Library was awarded a grant to evaluate the diversity of the library’s e-collection. They searched keywords within the library’s resources and found that only 1.67% of the results are related to disabilities. So, our librarians purchased more resources, such as Disability in the Modern World: History of a Social Movement, to supplement those gaps.
As Rhonda Rosen, programming and exhibitions librarian, mentioned, we should not take the librarians behind-the-scenes for granted. The librarians help to raise awareness of disabilities, visible and not, because every person deserves the opportunity to pursue their dreams. By working together, we can all create an accessible and inclusive space where we can all thrive.