Learning, even under the best of conditions, can be tough. In a world that is still reeling from financial meltdown of 2008, it often seems that it is education – and all the resources it needs to thrive – that is the first public service to get taken away from a society that badly needs it.
More often than not, the first arm of education that is taken away is funding for libraries.
Libraries are the easiest targets when those in charge need to save some pennies. In the eyes of those who don’t know their true value, libraries are luxuries, a free bookstore that would be nice to have if the funding was there, but money has to be saved, and while books get two thumbs up, they’re not important to save. Of course, that view is completely wrong, and doesn’t factor in the social and educational benefits a library brings to a community.
While we can lament the loss of a library, there is one particular sector of society who feels the affects more than most: the disabled, some of whom need as much help as possible to ensure they can achieve their potential.
We Learn in Different Ways
Everyone learns in different ways. Some people prefer to read, some prefer to learn by doing. Some can listen to a lecture and absorb all the information. Disabled people may be just as mentally agile as everybody else, but the ways in which they can receive information is severely reduced.
A severely handicapped person can’t always use a computer to learn, or instantly understand from a lecture. Many disabled people need one-on-one tuition, tailored to their specific capabilities. Libraries provide the framework for these students to be taught in their own way, whether it’s using a computer, being taught by a tutor using books, or learning the skills to locate books.
Restricting access to libraries, either through reduced hours or complete closure, gives that student one less way in which they can learn.
Respite from Home
Take a minute to understand how difficult it might be for a disabled child who can’t join in the regular children activities with their friends. The world, though it might be trying not to, excludes disabled people enough.
Libraries provide a moment of complete normality; in a library, everyone is studying, learning, trying to improve themselves. There is a great, uncompetitive social spirit that brings the whole community together, a place where everyone is equal.
This allows a disabled person to not only feel like an individual pursuing their own dreams, but also a part of the world. That feeling is hard to replicate anywhere else in a society that so clearly distinguishes between disabled and non-disabled.
Society has made a lot of progress in the opportunities it provides disabled persons. There is funding in place so that disabled people can go to university without accruing massive debt, and there is social support – both monetary and in the form of organizations – that support the disabled and their family to live a fulfilling role.
However, it’s not all good news, and there is still a lot we as a society could do. Beginning with ensuring libraries stay accessible is a top priority, and here’s why: a disabled person is more than twice as likely to live in a low-income household as a non-disabled person.
There are a number of social factors for this, such as expensive medical bills and lack of additional income. Whatever the reason, this information means that they’re less likely to have the resources to meet regular milestones (computer to write college application, internet to search for jobs, etc.).
At a library, they’re given the opportunity to further themselves; they can read up about their conditions, explore treatment options, apply for jobs and colleges, and learn of any government benefits they’re entitled to, all for free.
What happens to the people – disabled or non-disabled – who depend on the resources a library provides just to keep their head above water, just to have a chance of maintaining a normal life?
All across America, public libraries are either closing or having their funding reduced to such a level that their futures remain uncertain. The effect these closings will have on the wider public remains unclear, though it’s guaranteed not to be good.
And for the disabled people who depend on libraries to provide a slice of normality in a life that already faces enough uphill battles, where will they turn?
For further reading:
Employment of People with Disabilities / Aaron Gottlieb, William N. Myhill, and Peter Blanck (International Encyclopedia of Rehabilitation)
Severe and Multiple Disabilities In and Out of the Classroom / Megan N. Howard (Exceptional Children)
Disabilities / Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Library for handicapped poster. NC Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Service dog in library. Rocky Mountain ADA Center