Libraries and the deaf

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Tips for making libraries accessible to the deaf

Summarized by Omer Zak at 28 Nov 1993.

Libraries are basically visual environments, so usually deaf persons have no special problems of accessibility to most of the material in the libraries.

The following items will need attention, however:

  1. Visual alarm devices (for fire and other emergencies).
  2. If your library has an absolute silence policy, then a device which indicates a the level of unintentional noise someone makes could (if properly designed and placed) prevent some embarrassing situations.
  3. If taped lectures are not forbidden from the library, then provide also a written transcript of their contents.
  4. If there are video tapes, then make sure that they are subtitled or at least make a written transcript available.
  5. Train some of the librarians in Sign Language.
  6. Provide written information for helping people find their way in the library, and make the information accessible to people who are not proficient in the language of your library.

Library services for deaf kids

One thing is that the person who reads books at a library typically holds the book so the children can look at the book WHILE she/he reads. This is TOO distracting for deaf children. The reader should hold the book facing away from the kids. She/he can show the pages/pictures before she reads the pages to set up the scene and give them a mental picture (helps to build comprehension) and then again after she has read those pages. This allows the children to give their full attention to the signs and what is being read.

Another thing that our downtown library provides that I LOVE is the computer- ized card catalog EVEN in the kids section. My children ALL know how to look up books on the computer by subject, title and author. Some have a bit of trouble then locating certain books but we are working on that. I think it is critical that you provide services that promote individual or independant library usage skills. The Deaf do not need to rely on a librarian to do their research or work for them. This is not really a SERVICE to them but FOR them. And many of these things they are quite capable of doing FOR themselves.

Our downtown public library also provides films and movies for our kids. Some are completely without voice. They are very interesting. They go along with books that are available.

Our library does NOT provide it. But, I do think that one service you might consider providing is a computer where there is access to the Internet. Not all deaf people are affiliated with institutions of higher learning where accounts are provided free or for a small price. Many deaf (as many hearing) can not afford commercial services such as CompuServ or Prodigy. Still they would benefit from email and the host of other Internet goodies. A local library COULD have an account or access and perhaps could make time on it available to deaf users.

(Contributed by Cathy Brandt at 17 Jan 1994.)

More tips about providing library services to the deaf

  • How do you know which patrons are deaf? Most libraries don't require any talking. The deaf person walks in, browses, checks out books, and walks out, and you never knew the person was deaf.

  • Just so long as everything is explained clearly with posted signs, and all books are accessible without asking for special assistance, there's no problem.

  • Some libraries keep some of their books out of reach and require the patron to ask a librarian for assistance. Most deaf people prefer to just do without those books unless they really need them.

  • One point you should keep in mind, if you notice that a lot of deaf people never use libraries, is that a lot of hearing people never use libraries either, so it has nothing to do with deafness, just lack of interest by the general public.

  • Some libraries show captioned movies sometimes, and some deaf people go there as a social gathering, not just to see the movie.

(Contributed by Eric Smith at 30 Aug 1994.)

Last update date: 
2005 Dec 1