Article Authored By: Christopher Nkiko, Jerome Idiegbeyan-Ose, Promise Ilo, Ifeakachuku Osinulu, & Goodluck Ifijeh
Reviewed by: Leslie Archuletta, Stephanie Murakami, Jessica Roesch, Meghan Soucier, and Kacy Wilson
Link to article: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libphilprac/4189/
Accessibility is an important commitment that libraries must make in order to ensure diverse and differently-abled users who can benefit from full utilization of library resources. This study examines libraries in Lagos State, Nigeria in order to understand inaccessibility of wheelchair library users. The researchers made personal observations of library buildings which were photographed. The findings of this study indicated that wheelchair users’ needs were not being met. There were no ramps and users often needed to be carried up steps. The desks and shelves were too high and the bathrooms did not have toilets which were wheelchair friendly. Recommendations were then made in order to address the severe lack of thought when designing for differently-abled patrons.
This article represents an international perspective from the standpoint of investigating wheelchair users’ needs at libraries in Lagos State, Nigeria. In addition to Nigeria, the study speaks to libraries in the United Kingdom, United States, and Singapore. The article explains that libraries in developed countries such as the ones listed above have made strides in order to ensure all patrons have access by building ramps and ensuring that circulation desks are able to accommodate wheelchair users. However, the one question which is not answered is: How can international libraries and associations in developed countries help less developed countries? While Nigeria is currently not meeting access needs for differently-abled patrons, perhaps with more developed countries paving the way and greater access to resources, more consideration will be taken when designing their libraries. The article’s recommendations to redesign, enact laws, and for the differently-abled to form groups places responsibility amid a variety of people. Ultimately having equal access to information is a right of all individuals and is important to make sure the differently-abled are included.
1. Is the library building accessible to wheelchair users?
2. Are the heights of the circulation desks accessible to them?
3. What challenges do wheelchair users face when accessing the library catalogues?
4. What challenges do they face when using the library shelves?
5. What problems do wheelchair users face when using the restrooms in the library?
The assessment was made using qualitative methods. Visits were made to 42 institutions/ facilities in both the public and private sectors. These observational visits took place over a six-month period from February to August 2017. No more than three hours maximum were spent at the institutions/facilities. Observations were recorded on a Surface Pro laptop equipped with Job Access with Speech software. In addition, data sources such as Jamaica Gleaner, Jamaica Observer and the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) were used. This research was presented through colonial and post-colonial frameworks.
Findings and Conclusions
Accessibility for differently-abled patrons within Nigerian libraries is very limited. Studies found that most library buildings are not wheelchair accessible and are poorly designed for patrons with disabilities. All of the universities located in Nigeria were found to have non-functioning lifts or ramps for their disabled students to use. Universities that had more than one floor were inaccessible for wheelchair bound patrons as well as the visually impaired. This limited the amount of information that could be accessed by their differently-abled patrons. While designing the libraries and universities, there wasn’t any consideration that included patrons with disabilities.
The studies that were done by Nkiko et al. (2020) proved how inconvenient it was for patrons in wheelchairs to navigate through the rows of the libraries. Several of the buildings contained numerous flights of stairs and/or spiral staircases that were inaccessible for wheelchair users. Among the poorly designed buildings, many of the library’s circulation desks were too high for wheelchair-bound patrons to reach. Not only was the height of circulation desks too high, but the card catalogs and the bookshelves were inaccessible as well. This forced wheelchair users to ask for help if they needed an item located on the top shelf. In addition, Nkiko et al. (2020) found that there weren’t any toilets in the bathrooms designed for wheelchair users. The toilets were not designed for people with disabilities that may struggle in using a standard toilet.
After the libraries and universities were built, Nkiko et al. (2020) discovered that several countries are faced with financial hardships. This may make it harder for countries to update and upgrade their libraries to accommodate wheelchair users. People in wheelchairs should be able to move comfortably and freely within the library and reach all parts of the library. Patrons in wheelchairs should be able to gain access to information without having to struggle through the library to get it. If Nigeria chooses to build new libraries in the future, they need to ensure that wheelchair-bound patrons are included in planning and implementing the design.
Nigeria needs to start by updating the libraries they have first by providing ramps at the entrances, moving materials that are unreachable, creating a circulation desk that can be used by all, and adding toilets that can be used by patrons with disabilities. Accessibility to information should be accessed by all individuals, creating spaces that are inclusive for everyone will increase the value of the library. In the end, the government should pass laws to help their underfunded libraries enhance their facilities to accommodate not only the wheelchair-bound patrons but the differently-abled patrons as well. Punishment should be doled out to organizations that break these laws. On the other hand, the differently-abled community should form pressure groups to influence their government in providing access to libraries for everyone.
What American Libraries Can Learn
In the United States, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Universal Access, 2020) address many of the challenges experienced by wheelchair library-users. Although the work of Nkiko et al. (2020) focuses on libraries in Nigeria, it teaches us that all libraries, even when facing financial difficulties, should at least have the following available for wheelchair library users:
• automatic entry-doors
• ground floors equipped with all the facilities and resources available to other library users
• special shelves constructed to house information materials for wheelchair users
• adjustable toilets
• catalogue cabinets that can be consulted while seated
• accessible circulation desks
On a grander scale, the work of Nkiko et al. (2020) stresses to American libraries that inequitable access of differently-abled users is an international issue. No solutions are offered in the work of Nkiko et al. (2020), but common practices put forward by the American Library Association include participating in international relationship roundtables, involving oneself in causes like the Endowment Campaign, and establishing a sister library (IRRT, 2020). In conclusion, greater collaboration is needed between countries so that everyone can utilize the many tools and resources available at the library.
International Relations Round Table (IRRT). (2020). American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/rt/irrt/irrtcommittees/irrtsisterlibrary/sisterlibrary.
Nkiko, C., Idiegbeyan-Ose, J., Ilo, P., Osinulu, I., & Ifijeh, G. (2020). Accessibility of library facilities by wheelchair users: The case of libraries in Lagos State, Nigeria. Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal). 4189. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libphilprac/4189/.
Universal access: making library resources accessible to people with disabilities. (2020). Retrieved October, from https://www.washington.edu/doit/universal-access-making-library-resources-accessible-people-disabilities.