Toward Inclusive Outreach: What Special Collections Can Learn from Disability Studies

Kevin M. O’Sullivan, Gia Alexander


Recent statistics suggest that nearly 1 in 5 undergraduate students in the United States report having a disability. Educators and special collections practitioners are thus confronted with a difficult question: What can be done to ensure that these students receive the accessible educational experience they deserve—and that is legally mandated—within our institutions? This article seeks to begin a critical discourse relating to the design of inclusive outreach in special collections for persons with disabilities. We begin by briefly outlining the emergence of the Disability Rights Movement and its relationship to institutional libraries, highlighting in particular where we see opportunities for improving outreach to populations that have special access needs. Next, we offer strategies for building a program of user-centered, accessible outreach for special collections libraries, such as locating and partnering with key stakeholders, designing flexible instruction modules, and assessing outreach activities. Finally, we conclude with reflections on the value of accessibility to the mission of special collections. Ultimately, instituting a programmatic approach, such as that which we advocate here, aligns with the professional ethics of the field and improves the quality of the special collections experience for all of our many diverse patron groups.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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