The new Accessibility Services Room at Switzer Library in Cobb County, Georgia, offers patrons a place to use assistive technology like screen readers and magnifiers, listen to talking books, or find disability resources.
There is an affirmation board, where people can share messages of gratitude and encouragement. A flier on the door shares information about weekly events for special needs patrons. And both kid- and adult-sized comfortable chairs offer an opportunity for a quiet, cozy place to read.
Cobb County Public Library has made meeting the needs of the underserved in their community a priority.
“A lot of our day is spent listening to our patrons,” said Renaté Elliott, library services supervisor for Accessibility Services.
“They often seek us out to say hello, share an achievement, tell a funny story, give and receive a hug, or even just to vent. I love these moments because we learn so much about each other, and I always walk away with an idea for another service area.”
Her workday consists of assisting patrons with tasks like applying for employment, services, or housing online; answering questions about what resources are available for a specific disability, for example how to sign up for the Georgia Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled or recreational services, how to access medical equipment or find educational services; and educating herself on assistive technology devices, including ones the library doesn’t own yet.
Cobb County Public Library began its focus on special needs populations in 2014, when the Windy Hill Therapeutic Center Library opened within the Cobb County PARKS Therapeutic Center. The center provides adult day care for those 18 and over who have a disability and need recreational, social, and skill-building activities, and so the library was a natural fit there. In 2019, the library expanded its programs to also serve the general public, not just attendees of the adult day care center.
Renaté managed the library beginning in 2016, and she built a series of creative programs for patrons. In 2020, the Cobb library system formally established the disability and accessibility services department, to be led by Renaté. It would be housed in the renovated and expanded Switzer Library, the headquarters of Cobb’s 15-library system.
“We recognized that accessibility needed to become a priority for our library,” she said. “We were not taking into consideration the needs of an entire population of people. Disability doesn’t have an age limit. We needed to provide services beyond those who attend adult day care. We also needed to include kids, as well as young adults who graduated from high school but are not quite ready for college or a job. We wanted to prioritize inclusion across the board.”
Renaté relocated the programs and services to the dedicated Accessibility Services Room at Switzer, where she and other librarians provide a warm, welcoming, and safe environment for people with special needs.
They have developed local partnerships with other organizations with similar missions such as Mobile Audiology, We Care Veterans, and Georgia Relay.
The library also works with the Cobb County School District’s Special Education Department and has hosted Georgia Tech’s Center for Inclusive Design and Innovation for virtual programming.
During limited services at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the library partnered with the Behavior Analysis & Intervention Center (BAIC) to provide 100 free sensory boxes to support students pivoting to online learning.
Renaté serves as an ambassador to the Georgia Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (GLS). As an Ambassador, she promotes free services for the blind and print disabled to patrons and offers ideas and collaborative opportunities back to GLS in order to expand the population they are able to serve.
The library created an unofficial advisory board of patrons who provide feedback, suggestions, and insight, for example the need for a finance program specific to those who are newly independent but unsure how to manage money. Renaté and the advisory board work to connect the resources that are available in the community for those with a disability and to have the library be a central place for all of these resources.
“We can be a bridge for people to learn about disability services,” said Renaté.
Her favorite part of the job is finding solutions to problems for the people they serve. “I love the look on a person’s face when they realize that the library has thought about their needs, that coming here isn’t going to be a challenge,” she said.
As an example, she mentioned patrons who didn’t enjoy reading because it was a challenge due to a learning or vision disability. As a librarian, she is able to recognize and find ways to remove the barriers through the accessibility resources they offer.
“I want our libraries to be a welcoming place for all, regardless of individual circumstances,” said Helen Poyer, director of Cobb County Public Library. “Renaté and other team members are making a difference in the lives of the people they serve. They are making a difference in our communities.”
Many public libraries across Georgia offer accessible technology, services, and programming.
You can learn more about accessible library services at https://georgialibraries.org/gls-accessibility.