Accessibility in the library context

The Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) understands that library users have diverse needs and that it is the role of libraries as service providers to ensure that these needs are met. Through its collaborative strength, OCUL is committed to ensuring maximum accessibility to world-class library resources and services regardless of locations, references, and individual abilities. The value of building a collaborative service model that offers sustainable services to diverse user groups by virtue of being flexible and adaptable to change is an integral part of the ongoing discussions about the future of academic libraries in Ontario. Establishing an understanding on what “accessibility” means in the context of OCUL libraries, we can foster a community of natural curiosity and inclusivity, within our ever-diversifyingcommunities. Jutta Treviranus, Director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) encapsulates future-forward understanding of what disability and accessibility mean in the context of the individual and their environment:

“… disability can be framed as a mismatch between the needs of the individual and the service, product or environment offered. It is therefore not a personal trait but a relative condition.

Keeping this framework in mind, accessibility can be defined as the ability of the system to match the needs of the individual. Whether a system is accessible is relative to the requirements, goal and context of each individual user. As an example, if all information in a class is delivered in audio form, a student who is blind may not be experiencing a disability, while the student who has difficulty understanding the language may be experiencing a disabling barrier.

This framing recognizes that disability is not one side of a binary but a multifaceted spectrum. Accessibility is also not a separate or segregated part of the design process but an integral part of design that affects all users.”

As libraries explore the concept of consumers taking on the role of producers, it is important to reconsider the role of these producer-consumers in the context of changing learning environments. Inviting library users to participate in the design of library spaces allows them to have a more meaningful learning experience. It also provides library staff with insights on emerging user needs, keeping on top of trends and the ever-changing behaviours of information seekers. Universal design allows for this adaptability and customization by enabling library users to convert, adapt and repurpose various tools to help them interact with spaces, physical and virtual, in a more sophisticated way.