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Cambridge LibGuides

Find out more about our library services, facilities and resources

Accessibility and inclusivity: Cambridge libraries toolkit

Working with disabled people

The following statement is from the Cambridge University Students' Union Disabled Students' Officer, 2018 to 2019:

"As a disabled student, I was never aware of how much the libraries could help in supporting me academically - everything in Cambridge is very 'case-by-case', which means that if students aren't made aware that they can ask for help, they often struggle on without ever obtaining that help. Within a very individualised system, it's crucial that librarians feel able to take the initiative to speak to students (and staff!) about the support they can offer.

"Don't be scared to ask questions and open conversations; the most important thing is that disabled people know they can come to you, so try not to worry about saying the 'wrong thing'. Disabled people are a completely heterogeneous group, with all kinds of different needs and experiences, so don't be afraid to ask!"

Working with people with disabilities can sometimes make people feel anxious, as they are keen not to display any prejudice in their behaviour or language. This can, in turn, prevent people from engaging and working with each other in the most productive and effective way possible.

This page is designed to alleviate some of those concerns, and to help people to be confident, at ease and as inclusive as possible when working with library users, staff and others.

The Disability Resource Centre provide some useful guidance in this area, including advice on meeting and greeting disabled people, suitable language and working with personal assistants and other support workers.

Click here to access the Disability Resource Centre guidance on etiquette.

Student Support Documents (SSDs)

The following advice is from the Head of the Disability Resource Centre:

"Student Support Documents (SSDs) are designed to inform academic and support staff, including library staff of the access requirements of disabled students. They are developed in conjunction between the student and a Disability Adviser. Once issued this is an indication that the student has given permission for those with a ‘legitimate need to know’ to have access to the document in order that access arrangements (such as extended library loans) or specific adjustments (such as the provision of e-books or large print) can be planned for in advance.

"Essentially, the SSD should be sent to any member of staff who needs to be aware of the student’s access requirements. The document can also be used as an opportunity to have a conversation with the student about their support, where relevant. SSDs should be handled securely, as with any other document containing sensitive personal data, but if you have received the document there is a reason for that so it is important that the recommendations within the report are put in place."

Welcoming new library users

Students who have worked with the Disability Resource Centre to create a Student Support Document (SSD) will have, in most cases, allowed for this document to be shared with the libraries at Cambridge. This does not always reach all libraries, however, and not all disabled students have an SSD.

It is beneficial for both libraries and their users if libraries contact, for example, incoming cohorts of students, summer school groups, newly arrived research groups, new teaching academics within a department or faculty, to outline the services available from the library.

Communication sent out to these ‘new’ user groups could include and outline:

  • Disabilities and individual circumstances that the library had previously encountered and supported.
  • Options available that increase the accessibility of the library’s services and resources, that may not be visible and that users might not assume that the library can offer.
  • Encouragement to users to get in touch with the library on an individual basis, including contact details, names and photos of library staff
  • Resource permitting, outlining options for tailored library induction, orientation and guidance.

This approach would ensure that any new library users are aware of services offered by a library, as well as encouraging them to engage and get in touch with that library.


People with unseen disabilities

It is not always apparent that someone has a disability. Specific learning difficulties, long-standing health conditions and sensory impairments, for example, can remain unseen if an individual does not disclose this to you in person, which can be stressful for people to do.

It is essential that all library users are afforded the time and guidance they need to make best use of our resources, spaces and services. Keeping an open mind and remembering that each individual using the library will experience things differently is an essential part of providing an inclusive service.

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