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Some further thoughts on diversity in libraries

For some reason, I’ve still been thinking about the diversity stuff and libraries. I know with the recent Taiga forum, I focused somewhat on race (and maybe gender), but today I have disability and neurodiversity in mind. Probably because I’m going to the Autonets meeting tonight (which… will be interesting, I hope!). The organizer has been struggling to get an ASL interpreter, but somewhat late notice and U of T’s unwillingness to provide an interpreter unless a U of T student attends and requests one, has meant that it won’t be possible. This also means a cool girl I’ve been wanting to meet won’t be attending.

And now I’m thinking… I don’t think a single conference (library or otherwise) has made this accommodation. Or said that it would be available if it was needed. Seeing how this all went down and knowing that ASL interpreters are costly and busy, it isn’t good enough to wait and see if a Deaf or Hard of hearing person wants to attend. Someone specifically mentioned that unless there was confirmed ASL interpretation, there was no point in advertising this (or any other, I assume) event to the Deaf community. So we create a catch 22 whose sole purpose is to render the event inaccessible to one group of people.

When we talk about systematic oppression, this is the sort of thing we are talking about. Because this situtation isn’t the result of a few bad apples or even ill-intentioned people. At best it is an oversight – but this is exactly the sort of thing we need to stop doing if we truly want diversity. Conference planners should have an accessibility budget. They should also plan on making the necessary arrangements ahead of time (ie, booking for an ASL interpreter before they know if anyone needs it – maybe if no one needs it, they could donate the interpreter’s time to someone event or organization that can’t afford it… idk, I’m sure we are creative enough to handle this). It would also be great to see accessbility notes for conferences (ie, Are there elevators? Have attendees been advised not to wear scents? Will there be any flickering or flashing lights? And so on). This shouldn’t be too hard to add, for example, to Access’s hosting guidelines.

On the microaggressive level… It would hearten me a great deal if I never heard another talk on web accessbility that didn’t automatically assume that this (and other types of accommodation) is always for them. Who is the ‘them’? Who knows? But almost every speaker I’ve heard on this topic assumes that none of ‘them’ are in the room. Listening to the talk. Because disabilities are always visible. Or so severe that disabled people couldn’t possibly ever be librarians, amirite?

It creates a culture and environment where it not only encourages those who are already librarians and disabled to not disclose any disabilities they may have, but also ensures that disabled people who might otherwise be interested in our awesome field just never bother. Because, in part, it brings us back to the diversity question.

Speakers on this topic can often get away with talking about ‘them’ because, well, often it appears none of the people who might need said acccommodatios aren’t actually in attendance. And, assuming there aren’t…. The question becomes: why. Why are there no people in the room, attending this conference/talk/whatever, who might need accommodations?

Something to think about.