Students learn lessons in disability awareness

by Hilary Thomson
Staff writer

Getting a book out of the library is a routine activity for most UBC students and faculty.

But for persons with disabilities, navigating computer catalogues, stairs and stacks can be a daunting challenge -- especially when staff members are unsure how to help.

That's why the Disability Resource Centre (DRC) and the Library recently sponsored a series of disability awareness and information workshops.

The workshops focus on communication and service strategies to assist library users who have a disability. Designed for students who work in the library or are studying to be librarians, the workshops have been attended by nearly 120 students.

"The student assistants who work in the library want to do the best job in assisting persons with disabilities but they weren't familiar with all the services we offer," says librarian Sheryl Adam, co-organizer of the workshops.

Three teams of two students, trained as workshop facilitators by the DRC, lead the two-hour sessions. Four of the facilitators have a disability themselves; three have worked in the library. The sessions are funded by a grant from the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund.

"Students appreciate a peer facilitating the workshop. They feel comfortable asking us questions about disabilities and appreciate our openness," says Lara Brown, one of the workshop facilitators.

Participants learn first-hand about difficulties through simulation activities. These include getting a book from a high shelf while using a wheelchair or crutches, using the on-line catalogue with temporarily immobilized fingers and guided walking through the library wearing sunglasses covered with white plastic.

Communication awareness is a key part of the workshop. Facilitators encourage participants to speak directly to the blind or hard of hearing library user instead of addressing their companion. Using words that are a normal part of conversation such as see, walk and hear is important to avoid condescending or awkward communication.

"It was great to be taught by peers who have a disability, learn about their experiences and gain valuable tips on communicating," says Bethan Davies, a student in the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies. "I now feel more confident to ask people how I can help them."

Facilitators discuss service strategies related to various disabilities and a video is used to illustrate some typical enquiries. Emergency evacuation procedures are also reviewed.

A guide to the UBC Library for students, faculty and staff with disabilities is available on the Web at www.

The DRC offers customized workshops across campus and provides disability awareness and information workshops through UBC's MOST Program.

Established in 1990, the DRC helps the university community to provide a welcoming and accessible learning and working environment.

Services include disability-related advising, arranging for specialized equipment, interpreting, captioning and consultation to faculty and staff on disability resource issues. The centre currently assists about 300 students, faculty and staff.

For more information about workshops contact DRC adviser Ruth Warick at 604-822-6233.