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There is a common saying amongst the disability communities in many countries, and that is “Nothing about us without us”. This term is usually used to refer to the making of laws and operation of services without prior consultation with the disability community, including library services.
Employing disabled people as staff ties into some of the core philosophies of libraries: improving access, diversity, democracy, open education, lifelong learning, and social responsibility.
Disabled staff members have the benefit (for us!) of having faced accessibility issues of varying kinds in their own lives. They are often able to use this experience to point out flaws in library systems, services, and buildings. They notice things about each of these that ‘able bodied’ staff often miss. They also come with the advantage of having better understanding of many disabilities, not just their own, as well as having established contacts within the disability community. Employing staff members with a disability in Technological University Dublin Library Services has allowed us access to a wealth of knowledge that often goes untapped. It is enabling us to design successful, inclusive library services, activities and spaces. The only way to guarantee that success is to engage with the knowledge of the community, rather than designing for what we feel they need.
Representation itself is also a way to improve engagement, social standing and visibility for both ourselves and potential disabled staff or users. Visibility of disability is one of the key ways of changing attitudes towards disabled people, and employing disabled staff is a known way of improving public perceptions of a business or public service. Hiring disabled staff is mutually beneficial for the library and the staff member.