Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ podcast.
David Watts: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. Today, we’re going to talk about Montgomery County Public Library resources and services for people with disabilities. From our monthly Talking Book Club at Rockville Memorial Library to the assistive technologies available in each branch, today we’ll discuss it all with Elizabeth Lang, Assistant Facilities and Accessibility Program Manager for MCPL. Welcome to the podcast, Elizabeth Lang.
Elizabeth Lang: I’m glad to be here.
David Watts: Take a moment and tell us a bit about yourself, what’s your background, and how did you become interested in library services for people with disabilities?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, my background is in social work, as well as in bookstores and libraries. In my past life, I was a social worker at a domestic violence shelter. And I found that to be very emotionally difficult and shifted over to working in bookstores.
When I was a manager in retail bookstores for, I want to say, about a decade, I was working in a Barnes & Noble, and saw a position posted for Talking Book & Braille Library. And I wound up working as a librarian and as the Assistant Director for Public Services at the Talking Book & Braille Library in Missouri for about a decade.
That service provided library materials to people who are blind or visually impaired or who had other print disabilities and couldn’t use standard printed materials from their local public library. I had never intended to go into the field of library services for people who have disabilities; I just kind of wound up there. And then moved to DC to take a position as a Branch Manager in 2013. And I worked for them until I came here last November. And with DC, I was both the Branch Manager and I managed their Center for Accessibility, which was one department at the Martin Luther King main branch. And the Center for Accessibility provided library services to patrons who had a wide range of disabilities.
In Missouri, I had been providing library service to people who had print disabilities, but at MLK and the Center for Accessibility was providing library service to any person who had any sort of disability that prevented them from using the standard services and materials available throughout the library. And I’ve just sort of been here ever since.
David Watts: Tell us about your new role at MCPL.
Elizabeth Lang: Okay. As you said, I am the Assistant Facilities and Accessibility Program Manager. That’s kind of a mouthful, and what it means is I spend about half of my time working on facilities issues, including our refresh projects where we’re renovating our branches, and then about half of my time is focused on providing services, library services to people who have disabilities.
So far as I know, it’s a unique position. I have not encountered any other library system or library that has a position that is really focused that uniquely on providing library services to people who have disabilities systemwide.
David Watts: Can you give us a brief description of the Americans with Disabilities Act, otherwise known as ADA, and how it impacts MCPL specifically?
Elizabeth Lang: Sure. The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. The law prohibits discrimination, and guarantees that people who have disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else has in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.
The main part of the ADA that impacts MCPL is called the Title II Regulations. So those apply to state and local governments, specially. Title II protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities that we provide. It also requires that newly constructed or altered government facilities be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.
So that means we have a responsibility to design all of our collections, our services, our programs and our facilities in a way that includes everyone. So nationally, about 12% of the population has some form of a disability, and, in Montgomery County, that number is roughly about 82,000 people.
So for those 82,000 folks, I would like to believe they all use the library. They’re the folks we’re concernin ourselves with and that I focus on making sure we’re doing a good job of serving.
David Watts: What traditional library resources and services does MCPL offer for people who have disabilities?
Elizabeth Lang: We have a pretty wide range of services and materials. So we have large print books, which most people have heard of, that can be used by folks who have visual impairments. We also have books on CD. We also do have a small selection of Braille Books at some of our libraries. We have a listing of local resources on our library services for People with Disabilities webpage. We have a Talking Book Group that meets every month that our Rockville location for people who love audiobooks. Two of our branches also have an accessibility center with work stations and resources that are dedicated to people who have disabilities.
David Watts: What are some of the new or innovative resources and services MCPL offers to residents with disabilities?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, every one of our branches now has an assistive technology workstation. One of our customers has called it the Cadillac of Assistive Technology workstations. It has screen reading software that’s called JAWS as well as enlarging software that’s called MAGic. Both of those are for use by people who have low vision and/or who are blind. It assists them in using the computer. So the workstation has a large monitor as well for somebody who has a visual impairment and needs the screen enlarged. It can get pretty big. That’s very nice.
It also, that workstation, contains something called the ClearView+ Speech desktop magnifier. Some people know this piece of equipment by the name CCTV, closed-circuit television is what it had been called in the past. But the one that we just put in is more than the sort of old-fashioned closed-circuit TV that would just show you an image of what you had laid on a tray. This when you lay your material on the tray, it can show that image on the screen. It has a very large screen. It also offers the option of reading aloud. So it will take – basically it takes a photograph of the item that you’ve placed on the tray, it will show it to you on the screen and then if you tap the screen, it will start reading the defined text areas that it has located out loud to you. It cannot be used by somebody who has no usable vision, but for someone who has a visual impairment or is legally blind, it can help them read much more easily than, you know, struggling with just using glasses, particularly for something that has very small print.
David Watts: What is the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, what resources and services does it offer that are different from what’s available in MCPL?
Elizabeth Lang: Good questions. The Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is a state resource. It’s a library for people who have print disabilities. I was talking about the library where I had worked in Missouri, the Talking Book & Braille Library there, that was Missouri’s Talking Book & Braille Library. The Maryland State Library is the same thing. So every state has one.
David Watts: Right.
Elizabeth Lang: So the one that serves Maryland is based in Baltimore. And they are supported by the National Library Service, which is a division of the Library of Congress. So they provide audio books and audio book players to people who can’t use standard print materials. They mail it all out through the post office and it’s no charge to the patrons.
So to use that library, people have to be certified as having a disability that prevents them from using print. So they serve sort of a subset of perhaps the folks that we serve. But they do serve everybody throughout the state.
We, you know, we’re focused on Montgomery County and we will serve any customer within Montgomery County who is interested. So some of our patrons are probably the same people who are being served by the library in Baltimore. They can certainly take advantage of both libraries at the same time. And there was a little bit of overlap, as I’ve said, we do have some books on CD. That’s a slightly different format than the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped provides to their customers. But they can use both of them.
David Watts: Tell us what happens of MCPL needs to make a change to be in compliance with ADA requirements but can’t make that change for some reason.
Elizabeth Lang: Sure. Well, it does happen occasionally that we will discover that some aspects of our buildings or our services are not in compliance with ADA regulations or requirements.
Sometimes it’s something that I or a staff person will discover and sometimes it’s something that’s brought to our attention by one of our customers. An example that comes to mind is I think it’s our Long Branch facility has a very steep road just outside. And the sidewalk there is very steep as well. And we’ve had the county’s ADA Compliance Office staff out there taking a look to see what can be done when we refresh that branch to bring us into compliance in all areas with ADA requirements.
Well, we can’t recut the road or redesign that sidewalk to the extent that would be required to bring it into line with the slope that is required for someone who’s using a wheelchair. It’s just a very steep street and sidewalk.
So the ADA does recognize that there are going to be instances like that where we simply can’t. We cannot cut into somebody else’s property. If something were going to be prohibitively expensive, if we had to, you know, raise a building and rebuild it completely, but we didn’t have the funding. Let’s say if the building had been built so long ago that nothing was in compliance, it recognizes that’s probably not possible.
So there’s some wording that it says that if something would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a service program or activity or in an undue financial or administrative burden, then we can’t be bunched to do whatever it is that’s been requested.
David Watts: How has MCPL incorporated ADA requirements, universal design, and the state of concerns of people with disabilities into the refresh of its branches? What are some specific examples?
Elizabeth Lang: The main focus of my position actually is to sort of pay attention to the intersection of all these things. So that’s a large question.
And I will sort of start with universal design. The idea behind universal design is that things can be designed to be usable by everyone, regardless of whether a person has a disability or not. There’s generally a way to set the built environment up to make it easy to use for everybody, including children.
So ADA requirements are sort of a piece of universal design. And the law does get pretty detailed about what you can and can’t do with regards to the size of your doorways and the width of your pathways and those sorts of things. But that’s sort of like a bare minimum expectation really of what will be done that will create an environment that is just—at its most basic level—usable by everyone.
Universal design takes that a step past that, obviously, and trying to design something that’s usable for everybody. So when we’re refreshing out branches, I pay attention to sort of all of those things. We have to make sure that we’re designing to the basic level of the ADA standards that are countertop to the right height that if we’re putting in a catalog computer for people to look books up on, that we don’t put it on a standing workstation only that’s really just usable by people who are literally standing. So if you’re using a walker or a wheelchair, then you wouldn’t reach it.
So we have whole range of things that I pay attention to with the refreshes. And how we know what the stated concerns are with regards to our customers with disabilities, I speak with folks who have disabilities almost every day about their library services and what they want.
We have several mechanisms for feedback on our website as well. And we have an advisory committee that is focused specifically on accessibility. And they meet I believe that it is quarterly, and talk with us about the existing branches, what they see, what they sort of have on their wishlist of ideally this is what this library would be like. And they have been walking the branches whose refreshes are coming up. They’ve been walking through those with us to point out very specific things like the slope on the sidewalk outside Long Branch that is too steep or a door where the pushbutton for the handicap entrance, you know, somebody using a wheelchair without that push button can’t get in. So they point those things out and make sure that we’re aware of them. We make a nice big list, and then when we go into design for that building, we incorporate as much of that as we can.
David Watts: There are a wide variety of disabilities from vision impairments to mobility challenges. How does MCPL address or accommodate them all?
Elizabeth Lang: There are a very wide variety of disabilities and we try to accommodate everyone. We want everyone to come to the library and be delighted. What we do is take a case-by-case basis, specifically when we have someone who has a concern, we will address that with the particular branch or staff person who has brought it to our attention.
There will be instances where people who have disabilities will have needs that conflict. One example that seems kind of outrageous but kind of made the rounds online as a “Did you know this actually happened?” Somebody who used seeing eye-dog, a guide dog, was attending an event, I honestly don’t remember which library, not in this area, and there was a person with a very, very, very severe asthma-related response to dogs and they both wanted to be in the same place and it became a point of great discussion whether the person with the guide dog was allowed to stay because that person is sort of impinging on another person’s ability to breath, which is no small issue, right?
David Watts: That’s a pretty severe disability.
Elizabeth Lang: It is.
David Watts: Yeah.
Elizabeth Lang: It is. So that’s an extreme example, but I have had people asked me, “What happens if person A wants something and that interferes with what person B needs?” So it does happen. Thankfully I’ve not encountered anything in our system yet. But again, we just take our customer’s needs on a case-by-case basis where we’re made aware that there’s something needed.
David Watts: How do you get input about what Montgomery County residents who have disabilities want and need from MCPL?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, I touched on this a little earlier. We, in addition to our online feedback and the feedback that we get from our branches directly from customers, again, we have our advisory committee. And in addition to the feedback that I get from them at our meetings, our formal meetings, I am in touch with them regularly to just bounce things off of them to ask their opinions, to get their guidance and their feedback on the things that we’re thinking about implementing or changing. And then we also – I have fairly close relationship with the ADA Compliance Office, the Montgomery County ADA Compliance Office. And they hear a lot more than we do directly from Montgomery County residents who have disabilities and specifically what they need. And that’s sort of a two-way feedback street with them as well.
David Watts: How does ADA influence architectural design in public spaces? How do you believe it will impact libraries of the future?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, as I’ve said, the ADA regulations do have sort of a basic set of kind of bare-bones guidelines as I think of them with regards to how physical spaces have to be designed to be accessible. Things like designs you’ve probably seen that have the wording and then the Braille underneath them perhaps next to a meeting room door, those kinds of guidelines.
They specify things like if you have something that protrudes from the wall, say a monitor, maybe a computer monitor or a display screen that if it’s more than four inches up from the wall, it has to be either over a certain height, I believe 70 inches or below 28, so that if I’m using a cane, I’m not caught unawares by something that’s sticking out from the wall. I might run into that with my shoulder or my head if that’s the only thing there. So ADA requires that if something is sticking out more than four inches and it’s within those 28 to 70 inches, I have to have something permanent underneath it, like a bench or a cabinet that someone who’s using a cane would be able to feel with the cane before they hit the protruding object.
So there are a lot of very small detailed requirements like that that influence the architecture of a building.
In the future, again, I think we’re going to move toward a more universal design as people become more and more aware of what is good for everyone. It’s really relatively easy to build to those things when you’re building a new facility. Older facilities are harder to sometimes sort of bring up to speed. But we haven’t encountered anything yet where there wasn’t something that we could do to make it better.
David Watts: How does the increase in the number of older Americans impact ADA services and resources?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, as you might guess, as our population ages, our ADA related services and resources will be in greater demand. I was looking at some information from the Pew Research Center this morning that was talking about this very thing. And it was seeing that as people age, they do become disabled. And that our largest group of people with disabilities nationwide are those who I believe it was 75 and older.
So of folks who have disabilities, about 25% of them never go online. You know, we talked a lot about how everybody is connected 24/7, but there are very large group of people who are not connected in that way. People with disabilities are also 20% less likely than somebody without disabilities to own a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone.
So again, we’re maybe looking at the need to increase more basic resources, print books, print magazines, print newspapers, or providing the technology for our customers to use because they don’t own it themselves. You know, helping them learn what those things are and connecting them in that way will be ever more important.
David Watts: How can we find out more about MCPL’s resources for people with disabilities?
Elizabeth Lang: Well, we have some good information on our website. We do have what’s called a LibGuide that is specifically filled with information about our services for people who have disabilities, and not only our services at the library but some countywide, I believe there are also statewide resources there for people to use on a variety of topics. They can always contact one of our branches and the librarians there can help them with any information needs that they have. It’s kind of what we specialize in or they can contact me directly. I’m at 240-777-0039. I’m happy to talk to anyone about their concerns, their needs, or any topic related to library services about people with disabilities.
David Watts: Elizabeth, we have this habit of asking our guest to tell us what they’re currently reading and is on their nightstand or what your favorite book is.
Elizabeth Lang: I could never pick a favorite book. So I’ll tell you what I’m reading right now. On my mother’s recommendation, I’m reading the A is for Alibi series which I had always been sort of aware of. A lot of people really love Sue Grafton’s writing. I had just never picked it up. But I just finished F is for Fugitive. And tonight, yeah, I will be starting G is for Gumshoe. It’s really great series, mystery, kind of –.
David Watts: It draws you.
Elizabeth Lang: It does. It does. They character is a great character. The main character Kinsey Millhone is the investigator. She is a private investigator who started as a policy officer and she is very quirky and kind of lovable in the end. I’m loving it. It’s fantastic. My mom made a great recommendation.
David Watts: Well, we want to thank you for being our guest today on Library Matters.
Elizabeth Lang: Thank you for having me.
David Watts: And for our audience, we want to keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast.
Also, please review and rate us on iTunes; we’d love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today, and we’ll see you next time.
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