Women working in library on computers. Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Libraries all over the world have one thing in common (besides books).

If you look at the mission statement of most any library, you will likely find a sentence about equal access to information for all.

I believe most libraries truly want to provide equal access. Libraries work hard to make sure information is available to people living in disenfranchised communities. They translate brochures into native languages. They provide resources to combat economic disparity. They play a role in distributing information on mental health, addiction, and housing inequity.

But to truly live up to that mission, we need to use the same amount of energy and focus to make the library accessible to people living with disabilities.

One in five people around the globe live with a disability. Libraries will never be truly inclusive until they design services, programs, and marketing with this group in mind.

Angie Brunk changed my life, and the way I think about marketing and inclusivity. Her popular presentation at the 2019 Library Marketing and Communication Conference made me re-evaluate everything I do. I follow many of her suggestions now as I blog and post on social media.

She made me realize that many people live with hidden disabilities, and that libraries have a long way to go to be truly inclusive. For your library to be accessible, you’ll need to do more than add ramps and elevators in a building. You’ll need to make sure your digital offerings, your website, and your social media are all accessible to your patrons with disabilities.

Here are some suggestions on where to start.

Accessibility on your library website

Everything you create on the web must comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Bookmark that site because it’s your guidebook for all your online projects.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are developed with individuals and organizations around the world. The goal is to provide a single shared standard for text, images, sound, codes, and more… basically, everything that appears on the internet.  Here is the quick reference guide for the latest version of the guidelines.

Consider how easy or difficult it is for patrons with disabilities to find information about your library’s accessibility on your website. You’ll also want to create an accessibility statement, which should be as easy for people to find as your circulation policy or standards of library behavior policy.

Your statement should include information on the accessibility of your physical buildings, the accessibility of your vendor-provided services like eBooks and databases, and your library’s stance on service animals, support personnel, and assistive technology. Include contact information so community members can report a concern or ask a question about accessibility.

Some great examples of library accessibility statements include the policy of the University of Birmingham and this policy from the Toronto Public Library.

Accessibility in design and marketing

Create personas with disabilities, just as you would for other demographic groups. This will help you to imagine how those users will interact with your events, services, and promotions.

As you consider this, ask yourself these questions:

  • What does the persona have to do to find the information about your library?
  • What senses or physical tasks are involved in using your library services and how does that impact patrons with disabilities?
  • What barriers will disabled community members encounter?

Next, seek out patrons with disabilities and ask them to provide feedback on your website and social media marketing. Incorporate what you learn about accessibility from your patrons into your library marketing style guide.

Accessibility in written library marketing content

As you create content, you should check four main components to ensure accessibility.

  • Cognitive: How much time must a user spend with my content to truly interpret and understand it?
  • Dexterity: What kind of physical movement must a user perform to interact with my library’s website or with the content I’m creating on other digital platforms, like email and social media?
  • Hearing: What sound does my content produce that are required for a user to consume my content?
  • Vision: What shapes, colors, text, and graphics must a user understand to consume my content?

Once you’ve tackled those four questions, there are a few other small accommodations you can make to ensure everyone can have access to your library marketing content.

First, descriptive text is a must for all images on your website, social media, and in email. Make that text meaningful. Really describe what is happening in the image. I confess I often skipped this step before Brunk’s session. Now, I add descriptive text on all social media posts and on my blog images.

Next, check to see if your graphics are screen reader compatible. Avoid using anything that can’t be shared with the vision impaired through a screen reader. This article does a really good job of explaining screen readers and how they work.

The best way to check your graphics is to install a screen reader for yourself. Run your visual promotions through the screen reader before you release them and adjust when you find incompatibility issues.

Finally, make sure all videos on social media, YouTube, and your website are captioned. And just like with the descriptive image text, really take the time to explain what is happening in the video.

If you are posting a video on Facebook or Instagram, describe what will happen in the video in your post! This will help patrons with visual disabilities to fully understand your video content.

Additional resources for libraries

The latest version of Microsoft Office includes an accessibility checker!  Here’s the guide for how to use it.

Usability.gov has a wealth of information, templates, tools, and advice.

The American Library Association has a special section of their website dedicated to accessibility with a host of helpful tools and tips.

The Library Marketing Show: Make Your Library Website Accessible!

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