Last Wednesday, LISSA was lucky enough to welcome Inclusion and Accessibility Librarian, Kate Deibel. She was brought into its weekly meeting to discuss the challenges and reward of her new position. Kate shared that fate, coincidence, or whatever you prefer to call it played a part in her coast to coast journey to fill this role. In fact, she got messages from twenty people telling her about the Inclusion and Accessibility Librarian job posting at Syracuse University Libraries the day it was posted. The emails included nudging things like, Kate, this is you. Isn’t it?

Kate takes a ‘one size does not fit all’ approach in her accessibility and inclusion work. She shared that making a resource ‘universally accessible’ is unattainable in many cases. An ad hoc approach is usually the way to go. Wave tool technology, Microsoft Word headings and outlines, WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0— Kate’s Q & A session came with lots of tools, tricks, and accessibility standards for LIS students to dapple with. Stay tuned for a potential workshop with Kate this spring on getting started with making accessible content!

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m originally from Kentucky but I spent the last sixteen years at the University of Washington— first as a grad student in computer science, then in various researcher roles, and then I just happened to fall into a web developer role in the library. At that point I discovered, I really like working in libraries.

My doctoral work was on accessibility issues for adults with dyslexia. Primarily, why adults with dyslexia don’t use assistive reading technology. I had this very humanities-oriented/social science-oriented approach and a strong knowledge of literacy and education. Basically, it was like, Oh yeah, Kate, libraries make complete and total sense … why didn’t you think of this before?

In terms of the accessibility work, I picked it up alongside doing the dissertation. I had no actual interest or motivation in disability issues until one day when I was looking for a thesis topic. One day, I happen to cross this random article on MSNBC (which I have never been able to find since), about engineers with dyslexia who were lacking tools to support themselves. I was actually reading that article on a first generation tablet computer, and thought, “There must be some tool!” So I started doing more research and it turns out everything I knew about dyslexia was wrong. I started attending a disability student advocacy group and realized, Hey, I actually really care about this topic.

How Kate Found Syracuse University’s MSLIS Program

I was thinking about my career path, and how I wanted to stay in libraries, so I applied for some MSLIS programs and decided on Syracuse’s online program. And then literally about a month later my current position— Inclusion and Accessibility Librarian— opened up. The day it opened up I had twenty people forward me the description and say, Kate, this is you. Isn’t it?

So that’s kind of how I got here. Other things about me: I spend a lot of time cooking and I can scare people with how spicy a food I eat. I have a cat and I’ve started drinking more herbal tea. Although, I don’t have any cardigans. I assume they issue one when you actually get your MLS?

Assuming some of us will be responsible for collection development in an academic, public, or special collections setting: what do we need to do to make sure our collections are accessible?

That’s a good question, because inherently, practically everything the library purchases is inaccessible to someone. Books are not too useful if you are blind or low vision. With eBooks, a lot of them have audio nowadays or text-to-speech, but those aren’t necessarily helpful for the deaf. And then in special collections, that’s really interesting. Because you get into things like, oh we have this letter from the 1700s. We can scan it for you but transcribing it is going to be hard.

What’s most important is how you respond when there is a request. There are a couple of ways to handle these. If it’s in your budget, and a student or professor has requested an accessible format of a material that seems like it would be valuable to others, purchase it. Or you can take the effort to scan a resource on your own time and provide it. This is more legally clear to do if you’re at, say, an academic institution. 

The biggest thing for accessibility that I keep trying to argue is that there is no such thing as a universally accessible document, book, whatever. You need to have this ad hoc approach where a person can request something, and you respond in as timely of a matter as you can. And that can be hard at times, just because some of the tools for making things accessible aren’t great.

I’ve been working in ILL with scanning and I’ve been thinking about ways to make things more accessible perhaps by collaborating with the Office of Disability Services (ODS). What would you recommend?

So this is something we’re actually starting to explore. The way that the laws are written right now, every time ODS digitizes and makes an accessible version of a document or book, they theoretically have to get rid of it after they’ve given it to that one student. It’s a single time thing because of copyright laws.

ODS is only in charge of getting documents for students that pertain to a class. So if it’s leisure reading, their reply is, in essence, oh it’s for fun? Sorrywe are already strained in our resources. We are looking to see if the library can fill this gap. The goal is to be able to try to digitize and make accessible as much of the materials that are on course reserve as possible, and look at reusing them in some way. These are things libraries are inherently good at: building collections of documents, and exploring and ensuring the proper, fair use and copyright.

There are some really cool programs out there. There’s one that’s within the U.S. called Bookshare. It’s a nonprofit company and they have negotiated with a huge number of publishers to make and collect accessible versions of many books; a lot of popular books. However, users must prove that they have a print-related disability in order for access to be granted.

I’m planning to become a school librarian. How can I think about inclusion and accessibility in a school library when I have a very large demographic of students I’m serving plus teachers, faculty, administration?

The biggest thing is to make accessible content. In Microsoft Word there are formatting options: heading 1, heading 2. Use them! When you put those in there, it automatically adds an outline structure to the document and that outline structure is one of the most critical things. Make it a habit. Same thing if you put an image in. Write a description under it. If you click on the file menu there’s this ‘check for issues’ button that appears. Click on that and you’ll find an accessibility checker tool in there. That tool is amazing. It will scan your document and it exists in PowerPoint and excel, as well. It will tell you where the errors are, why you should fix them, and how to fix them. It’s very thorough.

There also are some easy things you can test in a web page which you can bring up in conversations, like when you’re talking to a vendor. Honestly, my favorite little test is simply the keyboard navigation. You try to navigate the site using just the tab key, and you should be able to. Honestly, most websites fail that. Even some library sites still have issues with that.

Making things accessible and promoting diversity and promoting inclusion … it’s a long game. If I can give a workshop and I only change one habit of one person there, I’ve won. I usually aim for those smaller victories. The only way we are going to get things more accessible is if we involve more people in doing it.