Guidelines on library standards for people with disabilities

The aim of these guidelines is to provide benchmarks for an acceptable minimal level of service which can be used by all libraries in analysing the current level of service, in facilitating forward-planning and in developing strategies for more-effective services. It is recommended that these standards be regarded as minimum requirements and that, given the rapid developments in technology in this area, they be reviewed every two to three years.

Background to the development of guidelines on library standards for people with disabilities

Why guidelines on library standards for people with disabilities?

In 1979, the Library Association of Australia adopted a statement of policy on library services for disabled people stating: 'The Library Association believes that everyone has the right of access to library services and materials to meet their needs for information, inspiration, education and recreation.'

Recognition of the need for guidelines for library standards for people with disabilities was first given in 1981 at the Second National Seminar on Library Services for the Handicapped in Canberra. The Working Group established at this seminar noted the importance of guidelines for the profession, the administration and financial authorities, and for the general public.

'Standards convey the essential nature of tasks through succinct statements of objectives. Standards can also provide benchmarks by which librarians, administrators or users can measure performance, and they can place quantitative values on what needs to be provided or achieved.'

At a legislative level, the Disability Services Act 1986 emphasised the principle of normalisation and integration of people with disabilities into mainstream community life. The three objectives of the Act which have particular relevance for libraries are:

Objective 2 Services should contribute to ensuring that the conditions of the everyday life of people with disabilities are the same as, or as close as possible to, norms and patterns which are valued in the general community.

Objective 3 Service should be provided as part of local co-ordinated service systems and be integrated with services generally available to the community, wherever possible.

Objective 7 Programs and services should be designed and administered so as to promote the participation of people with disabilities in the life of the local community through maximum physical and social integration into that community.

The Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 and the Equal Opportunity Act of 1995 further underlined these principles.

Guidelines in areas such as collection development, promotion and delivery of services, computer applications and adaptive technology, and staff training, are required in order to encourage a standardised, basic level of library service in libraries.

Defining disabilities

There is no single definition appropriate to all people with disabilities. Definitions are only useful in that they indicate how different disabilities affect the use of facilities such as libraries.

It is, however, important to understand the distinction between the terms impairment, disability and handicap. As defined by the World Health Organisation:

impairment refers to an abnormality of body structure, appearance, organ and system functioning.

disability is the consequence of an impairment in functional performance and activity

handicap is the consequence which is reflected in interaction with, and adaptation to, the surroundings

It is essential to be aware, at all times, that:

  • people with disabilities are individuals
  • disabilities may be temporary or permanent
  • people may have more than one disability
  • people with disabilities from ethnic backgrounds may be doubly disadvantaged by a lack of English literacy skills or familiarity with Australian library practices.
  • the needs of friends, families, professionals and self-help groups must also be considered
  • not all disabilities are obvious

It should also be recognised that there is no clearly-defined separation between people with disabilities and the non-disabled and that barrier-free architecture benefits many more persons than the minority designated as 'disabled'.

General principles

'Disabled persons have the right to respect for their human dignity. Disabled persons, whatever the origin, nature and seriousness of their handicaps and disabilities, have the same fundamental right to enjoy a decent life, as normal and full as possible.' (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, 1976.)

The following principles should be incorporated into every library policy in relation to library services for people with disabilities:

a) A person with a disability has the right to be treated with the same dignity, consistency, and consideration as any member of the general public who receives library service.

b) The onus shall be on library administrators and personnel to show why any limitation to service exists, rather than on the patron to prove his/her right to a certain service.

Every library policy should be written to include the fundamental principles outlined in the Disability Services Act 1986, the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

1. Planning and evaluation

1.1 Co-ordination

National level

The National Library of Australia
The stated role of the National Library of Australia is to advise and act as an agent for the facilitation of co-ordination and co-operation between direct providers of library service. One focus of the National Library's Education Services section is on library services for people with disabilities. The section participates as appropriate in forums addressing library services for people with disabilities; co-ordinates the TDK Australian Audio Book Awards program; and publishes in print, on-line, on disk and in audio formats Link-up, a quarterly publication providing a national forum for the discussion of issues relating to services in Australian libraries in the areas of disability, literacy and cultural diversity. The section also formulates and reviews policies relating to the National Library's commitments and advocacy roles in promoting Australian library services addressing access and equity, with particular attention to services for people with disabilities.

NUC:D (National union catalogue of library materials for people with disabilities), (previously NUC:H), is a list of alternative-format materials held in library collections and in production throughout Australia which are suitable for use by people with disabilities. NUC:D is maintained by the National Library of Australia.

Its objectives are:

  1. to improve and facilitate access to alternative-format library materials for people with disabilities by identifying and locating existing library collections
  2. to facilitate resource-sharing among libraries serving people with disabilities
  3. to establish bibliographic control over the nation's collections of alternative-format library materials for readers with disabilities, by maintaining and further developing a database of records which describes and provides an inventory of these library collections

Commenced in 1981, NUC:D is a database of almost 70 000 records describing library materials in formats alternative to print which have been produced for people with disabilities.

The Roundtable on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities

The Roundtable was formed in 1981 by producers and users of braille, large-print, and alternative-format materials. Their aim was:

  • greater co-operation, cohesion and collaboration between producers;
  • common production standards for the industry;
  • a joint voice for the industry in its dealings with other organisations;
  • best use of resources.

Library services sub-committee

This Sub-Committee comprises librarians, consumers and others interested in the provision of library services to people with print disabilities.

Its main aim is to support and encourage the provision of library services to people with print disabilities by:

  • facilitating information exchange, resource-sharing and co-operation between all libraries (e.g. supporting the National Union Catalogue of Materials for People with Disabilities, etc.);
  • exploring ways to improve library services and resources for people with print disabilities (e.g. library computer systems, new technology, etc.);
  • facilitating continuing consultation with consumers so that these library services meet their changing needs;
  • addressing any issues considered relevant to the maintenance or improvement of library services to people with print disabilities (e.g. funding, service delivery, etc.);
  • providing information and expertise to the general community and interested organisations about the provision of library services to people with print disabilities.

State level

The roles and functions of the State Libraries in each of the states differs according to their legislative framework. In spite of these differences some general statements can be made. Suggested minimal requirements at the state level include:

a) Planning - the strategic plans of each of the state library agencies should include specific plans in relation to library services for people with disabilities with short and long term objectives, strategies for their achievement and mechanisms for evaluation and review.

b) Staffing - where not already established, full time positions of co-ordinators of library services for people with disabilities should be established at the state level. Co-ordinators should have clearly-defined responsibilities including:

  • supporting libraries providing services through an advisory role and or through direct provision of resources in a manner appropriate to the stated role of each state library
  • facilitating the establishment of resource-sharing networks between libraries and other agencies
  • establishing and participating in staff training/awareness raising
  • promoting library services for people with disabilities
  • ensuring that mechanisms exist for consultation with people with disabilities within their state
  • liaising with government departments, libraries, welfare organisations, etc.

1.2 Planning

The role of a library is to serve all members of its community, providing a wide range of materials and services which may be used for education, information or recreation. These materials may be available in print or other alternative-formats.

Every publicly funded library should develop and implement an action plan which includes short and long term objectives, strategies for their achievement and mechanisms for evaluation and review. Such a plan should be designed to guide the library in providing services and programs to meet the needs of its users. This plan should include mechanisms to identify people with disabilities in the community.

1.3 Funding

Recognition of the needs of people with disabilities should be included when planning budgets and allocating funds. Every publicly-funded library should apportion some of its funding for services for people with disabilities on an ongoing basis. This allocation could be fixed at a basic minimum level expressed as a percentage of the total budget or as a per capita expenditure based on the incidence of people with disabilities in a particular service area. Libraries should be aware of any state or federal funding specific to disability programs.

1.4 Evaluation

Every publicly-funded library should establish mechanisms for evaluating their services to people with disabilities. Evaluation measures should be designed to assess the effectiveness of services in meeting current user and non-user needs and to determine what services might be instituted to make the program more responsive to user and non-user needs.

User feedback can be sought in the following ways:

  • periodic surveys of active and potential users
  • records of communications from users
  • regularly scheduled meetings with organised advisory groups / individuals
  • reviews and comments from staff

Non-user feedback can be sought through interaction with community agencies, professionals and individuals in the community.

Any evaluation of services should also be measured against appropriate disability and equal opportunity legislation.

Useful documents include:

  1. Bell, Margaret, Libraries are for everyone: library accessibility checklist; is your library accessible and usable by disabled people? [Rev ed.] [Adelaide]: Libraries Board of South Australia, 1992.
  2. Guidelines for library services to deaf people/edited by John Michael Day. The Hague: IFLA, c1991.
  3. New York Library Association. Roundtable for Libraries Serving Special Populations. Guidelines for Libraries serving persons with a hearing impairment or a visual impairment (New York): The Roundtable, 1987.

2. Access provisions

Every library should provide a service which caters to every one of its users. Libraries strive to provide the best service possible to their clientele. It is imperative that the same level of service available to the general clientele be equally available to the clientele who have a disability.

What is looked on as a disability can be diminished by an 'enabling' environment. It is often the environment which magnifies, even creates the disability.

Special services, specially trained staff and arrangements may be required to cater to users with disabilities. However, the ideal, as far as possible, should be to make such arrangements part of the general facilities available to all users. Services, areas, equipment which are separate maintain the feeling of difference and exclusion often experienced by people with disabilities and may deter them from using the service.

Alterations made with people with disabilities in mind, e.g. large-print OPAC screens, ramps, sound amplification, will often benefit a wide range of people not classified as people with disabilities: the elderly, parents with small children, people temporarily ill or injured and people with common vision impairments. The need for such facilities will become more and more pressing, given the ageing of the population.

2.1 Physical access

2.1.1 Planning new buildings

The Australian building standards provide minimum standards for access for people with disabilities. However, these standards are minimal and, at times, inadequate. Consultation with local disability organisations is imperative in order to provide facilities which genuinely cater to community members with disabilities. Inappropriate facilities waste public resources and cause frustration to users with disabilities.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act (1992), new standards for access will be developed over the next few years. Information on the new standards can be sought from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in Sydney.

Useful sources include:

  • Australian Building Standards
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
  • The State Equal Opportunity Office in your state

2.1.2 Improving access in existing buildings

In established buildings, alterations can be difficult and expensive. Small and inexpensive alterations can be undertaken to good purpose: ramps, two toilet cubicles can be converted into one large one for wheelchair access, a suitably-painted handrail.

When funds become available, access should be a priority. Under the Disability Discrimination Act people with disabilities or their families can bring complaints against service providers to oblige them to provide access. Libraries should be aware that complaints can lead to conciliation and if not resolved to court action.

When renovations are planned current building standards apply. Again, there should be consultation with local disability groups.

2.2 Attitudes

In order to provide successful library services to people with disabilities, it is essential that all staff have appropriate attitudes towards people with disabilities. Attitudes based on ignorance or misconceptions create barriers and they are most-frequent cause of inadequate or non-existent services.

It is recommended that an ongoing staff training and awareness-raising program be developed. This program should examine our attitudes in terms of how we see people with disabilities. For instance, staff need to be aware of current terminology relating to disabilities and understand that the person comes before their disability. Staff need to be educated about the abilities and realistic limitations of people with disabilities.

Training should be addressed in a way which educates and dispels attitudinal barriers and common misconceptions about disabilities. This should be an ongoing process and not limited to one training session.

3. Provision of appropriate resource/materials

Every library should have written selection/acquisition and collection development policies including standards for:

  • Types and levels of provision of resources appropriate to the needs of people with disabilities.
  • Resource-sharing and inter-library loan arrangements.
  • Repair and maintenance of resources with particular attention being paid to adaptive equipment and audio-visual materials.
  • Provision of independent access to resources

In developing such policies it should be recognised that people with disabilities have the same information needs as the general public. However information may be required in another format.

3.1 Types and levels of provision of resources appropriate to the needs of people with disabilities

The major areas of suggested resource material are:

  • 3.1.1 Reference materials on disabilities.
  • 3.1.2 Special format materials
  • 3.1.3 Resources already in library collections, but not previously-identified as being useful to people with disabilities
  • 3.1.4 Resource-sharing
  • 3.1.5 Technical aids and adaptive technology
  • 3.1.6 Internet resources

It is preferable that materials and aids are readily-accessible and clearly-visible.

3.1.1 Reference material on disabilities

Apart from the general information needs of people with disabilities (which are as diverse as the needs of non-disabled people), it is essential to provide current and up-to-date information about the various disabilities. When selecting materials, it is important to take into account the needs of individuals, families (including siblings), carers, and professionals. Every library should collect and display:

  • Current information on various disabilities including medical, educational, and legal information.
  • Information to support independent living.
  • Information/publications on government services.
  • Information/directories about local service providers.
  • Information/directories of local and national self-help groups.
  • Information on equipment which can be used to assist people with disabilities.

Where possible such information should be provided in a format which is suitable to the needs of the reader.

3.1.2 Special format materials Resources for people who are deaf or hearing-impaired

It is a widely-held assumption that people who are deaf or hearing-impaired do not have any special difficulties in using traditional library services and facilities. While this is certainly true for some people who are deaf or hearing-impaired it cannot be assumed that it is true for all.

A collection on deafness and hearing impairment is the most-essential area of collection development for deaf and hearing-impaired people. Such a collection should take into account the diversity of deaf and hearing-impaired people.

It is preferable that information on deafness and hearing impairment be regarded as an integral part of the library collection and is available for all, rather than as a special collection. However it is the responsibility of the library to ensure that people who can most benefit from such a collection are aware of its existence. Collections on deafness and hearing impairment should include:

  • Current information on deafness and hearing impairment.
  • Materials on all aspects of deafness, including legal rights, deaf culture and heritage.
  • Information about organisations, institutions and individuals providing services for deaf and hearing-impaired people.
  • Books and pamphlets on sign language, dictionaries of signs, etc.

Other resources which can benefit deaf and hearing-impaired people (as well as others) include:

  • High-interest/low-vocabulary reading materials
  • Well-illustrated materials.
  • Films/videos including captioned and non-captioned materials. Resources for people with print disabilities

The library needs of people with print disabilities are generally the same as those of sighted people. However, by definition, people with print disabilities cannot use conventional print materials. They must depend upon large type, audio (spoken word), tactile devices (such as braille) and/or mechanical or optical aids - or a combination of these.

One of the difficulties in providing a broad range of special-format materials for blind and visually-impaired people is the relatively low density of the blind population. Resource-sharing should be regarded as a fundamental aspect of providing services for blind and visually-impaired people. Libraries should participate in the National Union Catalogue of Materials for People with Disabilities (NUC:D). Libraries should facilitate access to the resources held by other libraries/agencies and be willing to make their own resources available to other agencies/individuals.

Collections for people with print disabilities should include:

  • Large-print books - for both adult and junior readers.
  • Talking books, audio magazines and newspapers (see also discussion on equipment).
  • Large-print magazines and newspapers.
  • Computer files of text.
  • Braille and other tactile materials.
  • Audio-descriptive videos.

It is recognised that, at this time, these resources are not always available or that it is not always reasonable to expect all libraries to collect all of these formats, however it is suggested that access to these resources should be provided as required, through the specialist library services available in each state. Resources for developmentally-disabled people

The provision of resources for people with a developmental disability (the term preferred to describe people who have an intellectual impairment) is a relatively new area of collection development for libraries. The development of such collections (and services for this group of people) reflect the changes which are occurring in the social and educational environment of this group.

Information about developmental disabilities is an essential area of collection development. Every library should provide a basic collection covering a broad range of information as an integral part of the library collection. In addition people with a developmental disability will benefit from access to:

  • High-interest/low-vocabulary materials
  • Tape-and-text kits
  • Well-illustrated materials
  • Music collections
  • Audio materials

3.1.3 Resources already in library collections, but not previously identified as being useful to people with disabilities

It is important to note that materials which are useful for people with disabilities are already in libraries although their value to different groups may not be recognised. Such materials would include:

  • High-interest/low-vocabulary materials including English as Second Language materials (ESL).
  • Music collections
  • Spoken-word collections
  • Picture books
  • Books in enlarged print (particularly junior books)

3.1.4 Resource-sharing

As noted previously, resource-sharing should be regarded as a fundamental aspect of providing services to people with disabilities - particularly for people requiring special-format materials.

Every library with holdings of alternative-format materials should participate in the National Union Catalogue of Materials for People with Disabilities (NUC:D).

Every library should actively participate in inter-library lending both for materials and technical aids.

Contacting colleagues and networking with people and organisations working with people with disabilities is a means of further identifying resources and information.

Access to specialist collections overseas is now available through the internet.

3.1.5 Technical aids and adaptive technology

Technical aids may be purchased for several reasons including:

  • To facilitate physical access.
  • To facilitate access to resources.
  • For demonstration.

As noted in 2. Access provisions, the provision of a range of equipment is recommended to improve physical access to library facilities and services. Budgetary restrictions will often dictate the level of provision, but it is important to be aware of the extent of available aids, ranging from the simple, eg. magnifying glass, to the more complex, eg. closed-circuit television.

It is important that all technical aids receive regular maintenance. Technical aids to facilitate use of resource collections by people with print disabilities

People with print disabilities will benefit most from provision of equipment to facilitate the use of both 'special-format' and standard-print materials. Libraries should consider acquiring or facilitating access to the following:

Devices to provide access to audio materials such as:

  • Talking-book players (machines on which to play books and magazines recorded on four-track cassettes), as well as standard two-track cassettes.
  • Cassette players (machines on which to play books and magazines recorded on two-track cassettes), that is, a standard commercial cassette player.

Devices to enlarge print or microfiche such as:

  • Magnifiers: Hand-held
  • Illuminated CCTVs ( magnifiers using a television screen to display print of varying sizes and contrasts).
  • Microfiche enlargers (magnifiers using a television screen to display enlarged microfiche).

Other equipment which could be considered for inclusion in libraries includes:

  • Voice-output devices - software for use with computers.
  • Optical Character Recognition devices such as the Kurzweil Reading Machine, and the Robotron.
  • Braille-output devices: Braille printers.
  • Versabrailles (a device which produces paperless Braille).
  • Typewriters.
  • OPACs in large-print, with voice output. Technical aids to facilitate use of resources by people who are deaf or hearing-impaired

  • Typewriter with printer.
  • Good lighting is essential for lip-readers, i.e. lighting onto the speakers/staff.
  • Good signage encourages independence.
  • Audio loop (note: a minority of deaf people can use audio loops, not all hearing-aids work with the loops).
  • TTY telephones are useful - however library hours are not always convenient.
  • Advertising if a person on staff knows AUSLAN (signing) is also useful.
  • Audio loop.
  • TTY telephone. Other technical aids which will facilitate access to resources

Equipment of use to other groups includes:

  • Page-turners
  • Reading stands
  • Shopping trolleys
  • Carry-bags

3.1.6 Internet resources

The internet is a very useful as a source of information and contacts for people with disabilities. The internet enables people with rarer conditions and disabilities to be put in touch with each other, without the difficulties involved in face-to-face contact. It is also a way of getting up-to-date information about research and other issues of interest. Many libraries already provide access to the internet and special arrangements can be made, where necessary, to enable people with disabilities to have access.

3.2 Arrangement of collections

Open-access collections are desirable.

Each library should arrange collections to allow maximum access to people with disabilities.



3.3 Lending/circulation policies

Consideration of the needs of people with disabilities should be taken into account when formulating lending/circulation policies.

Lending and extension policies should be flexible.

Alternative methods of delivering service should be considered (see discussion under Section 4. Provision of appropriate services.).

Policies relating to charges for loss or damage of material should not discriminate on the basis of format, ie. expensive items such as braille books or multiple-cassette sets.

4. Provision of appropriate services

4.1.1 Core services

The following services can be regarded as core library services:

  • Appropriate collections
  • Information provision with the assistance of appropriately-trained staff
  • Access to collections through a catalogue

4.1.2 Physical access to collections

Public libraries should serve all persons living in their area, whether adult or children, who, because of illness or disability (either permanent or temporary), are unable to visit the library. However well-designed library buildings may be, there will be some people with disabilities who need a service in their own home or institution.

It is essential that libraries provide home delivery (housebound) services and services to people resident in institutions. The main requirement of these services is that housebound people should have the same access to materials and information services as those who are able to visit the library themselves.

Other services which libraries should also consider providing for people who have difficulty, or are unable, to visit the library include:

  • Facilitating access to other resources not held by the library.
  • Access to catalogues via a modem, including access to catalogues of other resource providers such as the State Library.
  • Services provided through the mail for people with print disabilities.


4.1.3 Expansion services

Libraries should be aware of other services which will benefit people with disabilities:

  • Personal reader services
  • Photo-enlarging facilities
  • Production of materials in alternative formats
  • Staff proficient in sign language
  • Sign interpreters
  • Signed storytelling programs
  • Toy collections

4.2 Staffing

4.2.1 Affirmative action

Every library should operate under a written affirmative action (Equal Opportunity) policy which indicates a commitment to equal access and employment opportunity for all employees and applicants. Refer to the Equal Opportunity Act, Disability Discrimination Act.

4.2.2 Staffing

State level

There should be at least one full-time staff member appointed at state level with specific responsibilities for supporting and cooperatively developing library services for people with disabilities within the State Library and through public libraries.

Local level

Within all libraries the allocation of specific staff positions with responsibility for provision of service for people with disabilities will be dependent upon factors such as:

  • the size and characteristics of the population served
  • whether services are centralised, regionalised or independent
  • the geographic characteristics of the population served
  • the accessibility and configuration of the population served
  • funding



4.3 Staff training/awareness programs

Staff should be given the opportunity to develop an awareness of the differing needs of this diverse user group. This could be achieved via a structured training program. The training should reflect the unbiased nature of libraries in their approach to the delivery of information services. This program should attempt to address the following issues:

  • Communication
  • Communication techniques
  • Attitudes
  • Belief systems and cultural differences
  • Barriers, both physical and attitudinal
  • Relevant government legislation
  • Adaptive technology

The program should reflect the need for diversity and change and continue to refocus and re-evaluate staff training programs in line with the users changing needs and experience. At all times, other specialist organisations should be consulted and staff should be encouraged to attend seminars and workshops facilitated by these expert groups. Input into the development of the program from members of the target group is essential and support from these users should be canvassed. Staff should be aware of relevant sections of the Disability Discrimination Act, Disability Services Act and the Equal Opportunity Act as they relate to the provision of an equitable library service.

The program should aim to provide a reasonable level of knowledge which will enable staff to conduct reference interviews and provide an adequate level of service with confidence by:

  • assisting staff in the development of appropriate communication skills
  • dispelling misconceptions and cultural biases through an educated understanding of the users needs
  • provide staff with the necessary collection development skills
  • assisting staff in the assessment of current and future accommodations and facilities to enable recommendations for improvement.

Adopted 1998