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RTI Research Spotlight: Research Highlights the Importance of Including Users with Disabilities When Providing Web Page Accessibility Information

While teaching a library instruction session, I mentioned the library’s accessibility information web page but was stumped when a student asked some basic clarifying questions about our facilities and resources. Curious about how other libraries were providing this information, I searched the existing literature and found very few studies that focused on libraries’ accessibility information pages and none involving any consultation with users with disabilities. Upon being accepted into MLA’s Research Training Institute (RTI) program, I decided to focus my research on the needs and perceptions of students with disabilities regarding libraries’ accessibility web pages.

I met with University of Illinois–Chicago’s Disability Resource Center and Disability Cultural Center, as well as the library’s Accessibility Committee, to discuss this project and review my proposed interview instrument. After receiving institutional review board (IRB) approval, I interviewed twelve university students with disabilities about their needs and preferences regarding navigation, language, organization, and content for libraries’ accessibility pages.

While each participant brought different experiences, needs, and preferences to the conversation, some themes and threads did emerge. These included the importance of welcoming language on the page, preferences in terms of communication options, and the need for sufficient information and detail about library facilities, including sensory aspects such as quiet spaces and furniture, so that they could successfully navigate the library space and find suitable study areas. Students also expressed interest in services such as shelf pulling and proxy borrowing, although sometimes in the context of assuming that these were not available.

These findings, published in College & Research Libraries, have informed changes that have been implemented at my university in terms of both our web page and our services, and have prompted me to more proactively promote accessibility resources and services in my instruction sessions. Since completing this work, I have also embarked on a research project with several colleagues to analyze accessibility web pages of Association of Research Libraries (ARL) member libraries in light of these findings. I hope that this research will inform how the profession chooses to present information about resources, services, and facilities to users with disabilities, and that it will also encourage libraries to engage more proactively with these users.

* Amelia Brunskill is a fellow of the 2018 MLA Research Training Institute (RTI), and this project was the focus of her research. The RTI project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (RE-95-17-0025-17).

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