“Often when I enter a library, I end up standing there for ten minutes because it’s a big, open space and I don’t know how to find the service desk.” – Library customer who is blind
Ideally, physical spaces should be built with accessibility in mind. Accessibly built environments will benefit everyone who uses them – people with all ability levels, of all ages and from all backgrounds. This is also called universal design.
For any capital works (new builds, renovations), architects, builders and management should consult with the Australian Standards, Guidelines and Reports for access and mobility. A link to this resource is at the bottom of this page.
As a staff member, there are ways you can immediately seek to improve the environment, as well as advocate to management to improve spaces that require renovations.
Below are some simple ideas for what you can do today to make your library more accessible.
- Ensure all pathways are clear and uncluttered.
- Avoid excessive use of low furniture, such as coffee tables, low chairs and couches, in open areas or near pathways.
- Check spaces such as toilets regularly to ensure there are no spills or water on the floor.
- Avoid using low-hanging signs, plants or decorations that create mobility barriers, or which can be difficult to detect by people with sensory loss.
- Use movable partitions or capsules to control large open spaces, which can be hard to navigate or noisy for people with low vision and blindness, and noisy for people with hearing loss or hearing aid users.
- Create a tactile map of your library.
- Highlight steps in your library by adding strips of coloured tape to the edges.
- Place alternate-format collections (e.g., audio books, captioned DVDs, age-appropriate reading material for people with low literacy or intellectual disability) in clearly designated and accessible areas near the entrance of the library.
- Make sure your face is well lit when speaking with people in your library.
- Windows should have adjustable blinds or drapes for reducing glare.
- Adjust light levels to avoid patches of light, or sudden changes from brightly lit areas to dark areas. Adjust light levels in lobby and entrance areas to assist with transition from natural outdoor light to indoor artificial light.
Exterior signs should be:
- located near the entrance
- between the ground and eye level
- positioned where they will not cause injury
- in an accessible place to allow close inspection
- in clear, unobscured view
- uncluttered (not too many messages in one place).
Interior signs should:
- be placed at eye level near doorways or traffic areas
- be clearly defined
- use large print lettering, with good, bold text and clear contrast, such as black on white
- not be placed on glass panels or doors
- be well lit and on a static background
- include pictures, to help people with developmental disabilities and low literacy understand them.
- Floors on stairs and other public access areas should be finished with non-slip surfaces, or non-slip tape.
- Emergency and evacuation procedures should be clearly displayed on appropriate signage in both plain English words and pictures.
- Know the safe spaces where a person with mobility impairment can be left (e.g., behind a fire door in stairwell) if they are unable to evacuate, but can be safe until emergency personnel can rescue them. Immediately alert security emergency personnel to their whereabouts if you cannot stay with them during the emergency.
Avoid wall colours which are close to skin tone (for example, pale pinks, beiges, browns) where library staff are seen against a background of such a colour – this makes it difficult for lip-readers, as there is insufficient contrast between the speaker’s face and the background. Hang a colourful drape on the wall behind the service desk if the wall colour is close to a skin tone.
Try to use low shelving, or shelve more commonly circulated materials on lower shelves, and less circulated items on higher shelves. Offer to retrieve books for the person if you cannot adjust shelving height.