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The Law Library of Congress Celebrates the 30th Anniversary of the ADA, Recognizing Library Staff Who Promote Accessibility

Special thanks to Willa Armstrong, Natalie Buda Smith, Karen Keninger, Katie Noethe, and Hope O’Keeffe for their assistance in putting together this post.

Thirty years ago, on July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Among its provisions, the ADA prohibits disability-based discrimination in employment; protects qualified persons from being denied access to/participation in state and local government-sponsored services, programs, and activities; and declares that activities and places of public accommodation must comply with ADA standards. The ADA also contains mandates regarding telecommunications services for individuals who are hard of hearing and/or speech-impaired. The ADA’s enactment led to the implementation of countless federal rules and regulations by many federal agencies, including the Department of Labor, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Department of Transportation, among others. A compiled legislative history of the ADA, including committee hearings transcripts, Senate and House reports, and selected floor debates, is available online through HathiTrust.

This year also marks the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which is recognized in October. NDEAM’s roots trace back to 1945 when the first week of October was recognized by federal statute as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. After various iterations over the following decades, this designation was expanded to cover the entire month of October in 1988. The Law Library provides a more detailed history of NDEAM on its page of commemorative observances.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month poster, long description in caption.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month Poster 2020. Published in 2020 by the U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/2020English.htm

The Library of Congress “is committed to being a leader and a role model of accessibility,” and “strive[s] to make every visitor feel comfortable by ensuring [their] visit is as easy as possible and free of barriers.” In addition to overseeing the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), Library staff promote accessibility to library resources in a variety of ways. The information below provides a brief introduction to people at the Library who work to improve accessibility and some of the projects and initiatives they are currently undertaking.

Screen capture of the Library's web page on accessibility.

The Library of Congress offers various services promoting accessibility.

Please provide a brief summary of your job title and background.

Hope O’Keeffe:

I am senior associate general counsel in the Office of General Counsel. My mom worked at NLS so I am long acquainted with Library accessibility. Family members, including one of my sons, are hearing impaired, though not Deaf, which has increased my sensitivity to the issue. I began work on accessibility issues at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Katie Noethe:

I am a supervisory equal employment specialist and also serve as the Library’s ADA coordinator. I started working at the Library in the Office of General Counsel in 2014 after graduating from law school. I also previously worked as legislative counsel at the Council of the District of Columbia, where I handled a legislative portfolio that included equal protection and accessibility matters, especially in the transportation industry.

Karen Keninger:

I have served as director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled since March 2012. Previously, I was the regional librarian for the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and director of the Iowa Department for the Blind.

Willa Armstrong:

I am a digital accessibility specialist in the Information Technology Design and Development Directorate-Design Group. I advocate for, support, and help scale digital accessibility practices at the Library of Congress. I’m a librarian who joined the Library of Congress this past April. I came from the New York Public Library (NYPL) where I was the digital accessibility manager and previously worked in NYPL Labs.

How do you describe the work that you do at the Library to promote accessibility under the ADA?

Hope:

I help with the legal work on accessibility requirements, focusing particularly on online issues. I rant a lot about captioning. I have been privileged to work on the Library’s implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty, increasing international exchange of books for the print-disabled.

Katie:

In my role as the Library’s ADA coordinator, I assist employees and managers on procedures for requesting and providing accommodations in the workplace, and provide guidance on potential accommodations available in specific cases for both staff and visitors. Our office also houses the Interpreting Services Program, which provides sign language interpreting (ASL) for Deaf staff and visitors, as well as live captioning of video or in-person presentations through CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation).

Karen:

NLS provides accessible books and magazines to Americans who cannot read standard print because of visual, perceptual, or physical disabilities. It is my honor to lead NLS, with the goal that “All May Read.”

Willa:

The ADA helps ensure we have an equitable and thriving nation. We need our library buildings and physical collections to be navigable and usable to all and we need that for our digital spaces as well. Digital accessibility is about removing barriers to access (which is what libraries are all about!). For example, we want the videos we produce to have captions, our text to have strong contrast, and for our websites to work for users who navigate by keyboard and other input tools. When we do this we’re specifically avoiding the barriers that are greatest to people with disabilities. In the end it benefits everybody, both by creating the kind of library we all deserve and because it’s just good design.

What ongoing and future initiatives on this topic would you like to promote to our blog readers?

Hope:

I serve on the Product Governance Board’s working group on web accessibility. I’d like to promote the idea that we need to provide accessibility to all–each one of us is only an accident or a few years away from needing accessibility services. (Speaking personally, as I age my mobility, hearing, and sight are all deteriorating!)

Katie:

At the Library, our goal is to make our buildings, our collections, our programming, and our workplace as accessible as possible. There is always more work to be done, and it is very much an interactive process between Library users, staff, and management to work toward this goal.

Karen:

NLS initiatives include expansion of services to people with reading disabilities; implementation of a braille eReader enabling access to digital braille (much as you would use a table to read a digital book); expanded content through partnerships with publishers as well as partnerships with other libraries around the world through the Marrakesh Treaty; and exploration of voice-controlled digital options for reading audio books.

We know that thousands more Americans could benefit from our program if they become aware of it. To that end, I encourage everyone to learn about the program at www.loc.gov/nls and to spread the word as widely as possible.

Willa:

Visiting our Accessibility at the Library of Congress page for information on available services, programming, and technology..

Do you have any success stories from assisting patrons/researchers with accessibility issues that you would like to share?

Katie:

I think one of our biggest success stories is the National Book Festival. We have ensured that there are sign language interpreters at every stage of the festival for many years, but this past year was the first time that we were able to have live captioning on every stage, for every author, not just the main stage. We also ensured that captioning was available on screens next to the stage, as well as on attendees’ personal devices, which allows for users to utilize the screen magnification tools and settings with which they are most familiar. We received a lot of positive feedback from attendees that this was an incredibly helpful accommodation, and even Book Festival goers who did not have disabilities were able to use this service! It really is true that universal design and great accessibility features are useful to everyone, just another reason we should strive for accessibility in everything that we do at the Library.

Karen:

We regularly receive feedback from patrons and their family members about how important the Talking Books Program and access to BARD, our Braille and Audio Reading Download service, are. This is especially true now when libraries are closed and families are separated due to COVID-19.

Willa:

Essential to an accessible and inclusive library is having library staff and members of the public with disabilities shape decisions and directions. Recently I’ve collaborated on remote usability sessions with patrons who use a variety of assistive technologies. These sessions inform design that really serves the public. I’m excited that we’ve been able to hold these remotely and look forward to continuing them.

 

One Comment

  1. Donna Scheeder
    July 26, 2020 at 11:36 am

    Thank you for reminding us about the utmost importance of this work and legislation for millions of Americans.

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