Pathfinders: Disability Access Committee

UPDATED 07/12/2023

Pathfinder is a series of blogs about intrepid library staff who are leading interesting programs that you may not yet know about.

The San Jose Public Library (SJPL), as a department of the City of San Jose, seeks to promote inclusivity for every member of the community and to provide equitable access to information, services, programs, and resources.

SJPL’s Disability Access Committee (DAC) is an important committee within the library and the driving force behind disability access. DAC members include (in alphabetical order): Karla Alvarez, Victoria Coverson-Baxter, Bill Bowman, Lisa Giannotti, Dawn Imada, Rosalinda Savercool, and me, Ila Langner. Senior Librarian, Rebekah Gonzales, is the staff lead of the committee and Deputy Director of Operations, Jenny Choi, provides executive leadership and oversight for DAC committee work.

Background of the Disability Access Committee

SJPL has had a presence in accessibility work for decades. SJPL’s previously known Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Committee was an all-staff committee that worked with other library systems in the Bay Area to share best practices and ideas for inclusive library programs. Former SJPL manager, Sandra Stewart, was an important advocate for people with disabilities in the late aughts until her retirement. I had independently created inclusive storytimes and Sandra worked with (retired) librarian, Ed Koetitz, and me to make Inclusive Storytimes a system-wide program. Stewart also started INSIDERS programming in 2016 to provide services to teens and adults with disabilities.

In December 2019, the Disability Access Committee was established and rebranded under the leadership of Jenny Choi and Emily Lowell, a former Senior Librarian, recognizing the significant evolution of SJPL’s services, modern advancements to equitable access, and the attrition of former committee members. Taking the reins as the committee lead in 2021, Rebekah Gonzalez has been an active voice for people with disabilities and has continued the work initiated by Sandra Stewart and Emily Lowell. Currently (and still an all-staff committee), Rebekah and DAC focus on staying up-to-date with ADA requirements and making recommendations to enhance accessibility for library services, resources, and technology. This includes strategic planning, assessing current services and community needs, piloting programs/services, and creating resources such as guidance for library staff to continue fostering disability and accessibility awareness for customers. Rebekah would like library customers to know that the Library is:

  • committed to removing barriers to access
  • and creating new pathways to learning for all community members

What the DAC has Accomplished This Past Year

Rebekah shared some of DAC’s major accomplishments:

  • SJPL’s website now features an updated Accessibility page that centralizes information about free materials, services, and programs available for people with disabilities.
  • DAC is represented on SJPL’s blog team by two prolific bloggers, Ila Langner and Bill Bowman, who post about various topics relevant to disability communities. This is part of a larger initiative to highlight and celebrate the incredible diversity in our community.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, we started an INSIDERS video series in partnership with the State Council on Developmental Disabilities and members of the Central Coast Advocates group that cover important topics such as disaster preparedness and voting. The most recent video released was about rights under the Lanterman Act.
  • Our Library-by-Mail at SJPL service provides books and other library materials to SJPL members of all ages living in the city of San José. Library-by-Mail is a free service (like all library services) for individuals who are unable to visit the library due to a temporary or permanent disability. Since its soft launch last summer, DAC has mailed over 1,700 materials and has worked to streamline and expand the service by identifying and removing barriers. Moving into the new fiscal year, we are excited to develop partnerships that will allow us to extend the reach of the service.
  • Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is now available at all library locations. VRI is a type of interpreting service that allows Deaf and hard-of-hearing customers who communicate through American Sign Language (ASL) to receive onsite interpretation services virtually, rather than with an in-person interpreter.
  • A Disability Access Survey was distributed to the public last summer. We had nearly 250 people fill it out. The survey covered topics such as preferred material formats, technology, programming, and access. The results of this survey, as well as the feedback we received from program participants and outreach event attendees, are being used to inform our committee workplan for Fiscal Year 2023/2024.

You Can Help, Too!

Rebekah and DAC are always trying to find new ways to remove barriers to access and create new pathways to learning for all community members. She suggests the following if you have any input to share with us:

  • We really like getting out into the community because it gives us an opportunity to promote our collections, programs, and services to library non-users. Our committee members attended outreach events both virtually and in-person for organizations such as Parents Helping Parent and the County of Santa Clara Social Service Agency. If you know of any disability-related community events coming up, please let us know!
  • Have an accommodation request or questions about our Disability Inclusion programs/services? Please contact or 408-808-2355. Feedback and suggestions welcome!

Books about Inclusive Library Service

Crash Course in Library Services to People With Disabilities, book cover
Creating Inclusive Library Environments, book cover
Including Families of Children With Special Needs, book cover
Accessibility for Persons With Disabilities and the Inclusive Future of Libraries, book cover
A Trauma-informed Framework for Supporting Patrons, book cover
A Trauma-informed Approach to Library Services, book cover