Reviewed By: Julie Bachinger, Jenny Cofell, Rose Flores, Jess Maultsby, Katie Olding, & Brianna Sowinski
Link to article: https://doi.org/10.33137/ijidi.v3i4.32997
Accessibility and Inclusiveness at the National Library of Jamaica
Reviewed by: Julie Bachinger, Jenny Cofell, Rose Flores, Jess Maultsby, Katie Olding, & Brianna Sowinski
Link to the article: https://doi.org/10.33137/ijidi.v3i4.32997
The article written by Abigail Henry, Nicole Prawl, & Beverly Lashley (2019), entitled “Give Us Vision, Lest We Perish: Engaging Disability at the National Library of Jamaica” highlights a pilot project carried out by the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ) in response to the 2010 National Library of Jamaica Act, which explicitly references accessibility. The project also addresses the Jamaican 2014 Disabilities Act, which “affirms that people with disabilities have the right to education and training to ensure their ability to effectively and equally be included in all aspects of national life” (p.89). The article highlights efforts made by the NLJ to reach out to the deaf community, including a 12 week sign language training course for staff at NLJ, as well as changes to the website accessibility including: colour control, subtitles/text transcripts, and sign language interpretation for video content. The article covers challenges, such as outreach and awareness-raising to communities that have not been catered to before, and removal of environmental barriers.
This article represents an international perspective in that it explores how national and local governments, along with institutions, in this case NLJ, can work together to support diversity and inclusion. This article can serve as a springboard for other countries, and libraries within those countries, to think about how all levels of government might work together to serve diverse populations within their communities.
Core Research Questions
How did the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ) enhance the engagement of people with disabilities and improve inclusivity in the workplace?
What are the existing challenges facing the Jamaican government?
How was the NLJ’s website modified to be more accessible to persons with perceptual disabilities?
How did the NLJ address the need for accessible facilities in the design of the newly proposed facility?
Henry, Prawl, & Lashley (2019) note that their paper is reflective and therefore does not follow traditional methodology. The authors acknowledge that their aim was to feature the work NJL has done thus far and recognize possible barriers for future work. They do identify key issues for NLJ to work towards to improve accessibility and inclusivity which include future partnerships with organizations which work with the deaf community and working on a new facility with inclusive design.
Findings and Conclusions
The National Library of Jamaica sought to improve inclusivity for their patrons as well as one of their employees who worked in their Preservation and Conservation unit as a book binder. The department had always employed deaf individuals as part of their staff but most had retired shortly after Mr. Christopher Valentine was hired leaving him as the only staff member with a hearing impairment.
After the staff participated in a 12 week, rudimentary sign language course they found that their communication with Mr. Valentine shifted from writing work related questions and instructions on paper, to having conversations using basic finger spelling, simple sign language regarding work, and nonwork topics. As a result, the staff improved their relationships and workplace environment. The skills gained helped them when working with the general public and opened avenues of service for those who were deaf in their community.
Further work by the NLJ also helped make their resources accessible to those with visual impairments such as the implementation of Digital Talking Books and changes to their website such as “narration for images, link description, enlarged clickable areas for users with mobility issues, and colour control for users with perceptual disability or colour blindness”(2019, p. 95). The team concluded that consistent community outreach must be in place to ensure community awareness of these services to ensure their use by patrons who would need it the most.
What American Libraries Can Learn
There are many things that American libraries can learn from global practice about designing services for diverse populations. Henry, Prawl, and Lashley discuss how the National Library of Jamaica recognized underserved populations with disabilities and the initiatives introduced as an effort to meet their needs. Some things American libraries can learn from the efforts of the National Library of Jamaica:
When planning programs and services, consider and be sensitive to cultural traditions as to not miss underserved populations. For example, “In Jamaica, Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) face cultural marginalization and discrimination stemming from the traditional understanding of disability as either the result of witchcraft (or obeah) or divine punishment for unjust acts committed either by the person or their family member(s)” (2019, p.89). Due to this historical discrimination many people with disabilities are excluded from participating within the community, understanding this historical discrimination is necessary for successful outreach efforts to these populations.
Partnerships are necessary and essential, libraries cannot address these societal issues by themselves. It is beneficial for national, local governments and institutions to work together to successfully meet goals and objectives. To accommodate those deaf or hearing impaired, NLJ partnered with a school for the deaf and the Jamaica Association for the Deaf. The also collaborated with a professional sign language interpreter to train staff sign language.
The National Library of Jamaica makes efforts to accommodate those who are blind and with sight limitations by maintaining a “…Caribbean Digital Audio Collection (DCAC, a pilot project to test the processes and structures needed to develop, produce, and deliver accessible Digital Talking Books (DTBs) for the Blind and print-disabled” (2019, p.91).
By making changes to the NLJ website, they were able to accommodate some patrons with disabilities. “Some of the measures implemented include the enabling of alternative captions and narration for images, link description, enlarged clickable areas for users with mobility issues and colour control for users with perceptual disabilities or colour blindness” (2019, p. 95). NJL has a long term plan to make an accessibility guide for all of their sites and digital collections in the future to better serve individuals with perceptual disabilities.
Henry, A., Prawl, N., & Lashley, B. (2019). Give Us Vision, Lest We Perish: Engaging Disability at the National Library of Jamaica. The International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion (IJIDI), 3(4). doi: 10.33137/ijidi.v3i4.3299