Libraries offer a wide range of services for individuals with special needs. This article details some of the services that may be available for children and adults with learning or intellectual disabilities, who are blind or deaf, and gifted and talented children. If you aren't sure what your library offers, ask the librarian for assistance.
Services for Children with Disabilities
If your child has a disability, don't let this discourage you from introducing him to the world of books in your community library. The Americans With Disabilities Act, which took effect in early 1992, requires facilities and services regularly used by the public to be accessible to the more than 43 million Americans who are physically or mentally disabled. Even before this act, most public libraries eliminated barriers to physically disabled individuals and many offered programs specially designed to serve people who are developmentally disabled, hearing-impaired, blind, or physically disabled.
Services for Children with Learning or Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities
The kinds of library services vary greatly for children who have learning disabilities or intellectual/developmental disabilities. To find out what's available in your area, the best starting point is your local public library. If its programs do not address the special needs of your children, perhaps the librarian can refer you to other area libraries that do. Or, perhaps you can work with library staff to help meet your children's needs. Ask your librarian if they have collaborated with the Association for Library Services to Children in order to offer more complete services to children with learning or developmental difficulties.
In some places there are successful programs, such as book talks and storytelling, carefully designed to suit the interests and developmental levels of children with learning or intellectual/developmental disabilities, as well as bibliographies of related books. If such services do not exist in your community, check with the local chapter of the Arc, a group home director, special education teacher, or your state library. While learning-, intellectually-, and developmentally-disabled youngsters may need special help, they have much to gain through reading and using library resources. So, it's well worth your extra effort to let library personnel know about your children's special needs and abilities.
Services for Hearing-Impaired Children
Helping your hearing-impaired child to read and use the library can be very beneficial and challenging at the same time. Check with your local library or state library to find out which special services for hearing-impaired children are available in your area. Many libraries have staff members who use sign language or who are trained to work with individuals who are hearing-impaired. Some libraries may provide information and referral services called Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDDs), as well as TDDs and Television Telecaption Decoders.
Services for Blind or Physically Disabled Children
There is a variety of free library services available for children and adults who are blind or physically disabled. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress provides the majority of such services. Working through a nationwide network of cooperating regional libraries, NLS offers Braille and talking book services free of charge to any person who is unable to read because of limited vision, who is physically unable to hold a book or turn a page, or who has been certified by a physician as having a reading disability due to an organic dysfunction.
You can apply to the regional library on behalf of your child. If you have any difficulty locating a participating library near you, ask for help at your local public library or write to the NLS.
Although NLS has a larger collection for adults, its offerings for children are extensive. There are hundreds of children's books in Braille, print/Braille, and cassette or disc formats. Included are picture books and popular fiction and nonfiction at varying levels of interest and difficulty for children from preschool through junior high. There are also children's magazines and even music instruction materials available. The philosophy behind NLS' efforts is that blind and physically handicapped children are entitled to the same range of reading materials as other children.
The same philosophy extends to their adult services, which are available to teenagers who read at the high school level and beyond. NLS is charged by Congress to provide popular types of literature, so if you want textbooks or reference materials, check with NLS for other sources of assistance.
Services for Gifted and Talented Children
If your children are gifted and talented, you may find that helping them to use the library offers special benefits and challenges. Gifted children often are able to learn independently and advance to higher level materials at an earlier age. Access to a wide range of sophisticated sources of information may help meet their desire to learn about a variety of subjects. The public library can be a "learning laboratory" for these children, and very often they can make good use of its resources with relatively little assistance. However, if you want specific guidance for your gifted children, do not hesitate to ask the librarian for suggestions. Also, be sure to check with their school librarian, who may be able to recommend supplemental library materials based on the school's curriculum.