Friday, January 19, 2018

The Problem with Autism Speaks: A Primer for Well-Meaning Library Staff

Note: this post is heavy with links so you get the full picture. Please read all of them.

This  post is inspired by an email I recently wrote to ALSC, which I was informed has been forwarded to their leadership. Following and making friends with quite a few members of the disability community in the past year or so has alerted me to this specifically, and I want to make sure library folks at a large are aware. Many people in our profession are in fact #actuallyautistic, and a few have written about their experiences.

Accessibility series logo by On a Roll Designs


We need to talk about the view a very large and growing percentage of autistic adults have.

They see Autism Speaks as a harmful organization. At best, as I've come to understand, Autism Speaks is seen by many, many #actuallyautistic people as exploitative (Autism Speaks is often shortened by disability activists as A$); at worst, it's seen as a hate group.

A hate group.

Has your library partnered with Autism Speaks? Do you have "Light it up Blue"* displays  or other events related to the campaign? Do you refer to articles and resources from Autism Speaks as a go-to resource for autism-related tips, especially on behavior? This post is submitted for your consideration.

I know this is not widely known information for people outside the disability community, so especially in the recent climate  want to be clear that I come to you not to shame but to provide information and make this humble request in the hope that library staff receive the most disability-centered information possible, as well as stop partnering with this organization.

You may be wondering why so many people dislike Autism Speaks. There are several reasons; here are a couple:
1. Autism Speaks has a long history of centering allistic/non-autistic voices in their resources, prioritizing the feelings of abled parents and caregivers rather than centering autistic individuals and what is best for them. This includes an uncritical support of ABA therapy, which many autistic adults have spoken out against. Accusations span from it being traumatizing to denying autistic children the allowance we've recently begun to grant children as a whole as a society: that behavior is communication. Mel Boggs illustrates this in action in a great post called "Exactly Who is Unresponsive Here?"

2. Autism Speaks sends harmful messages to autistic children. Many people in the disability community live with internalized ableism, and autistic people who have written about it cite Autism Speaks's specific place in contributing to it. The puzzle piece analogy adds to it.

3. Autism Speaks sends harmful messages to parents with autistic children. Where empowerment and community are needed, fear can be instilled under the guise of "validation". One video that has now been removed due to criticism called "I Am Autism" was filmed like a horror movie and included lines like "“If you’re happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails” and “You are scared, and you should be." Another video, that Autism Speaks has since taken down but has been uploaded elsewhere and was accepted to the Sundance Film Festival the year it came out, paints a bleak existence of living with autism including this clip of a mother considering murder-suicide right in from of her daughter. This type of messaging can lead to overworked and isolated parents feeling as though this is a righteous decision, and public opinion and courts can show sympathy for the accused.

4. Autism Speaks focuses on a "cure" for autism, rather than helping to reduce barriers for autistic people who already exist. You know, why help people exist when you can eradicate them instead?

The view that Autism Speaks is a hate group is not shared by all autistic people or autistic families, but enough people do that it's worth finding other organizations to partner with and learn from, and other displays and programming (how about an #actuallyautistic or #WalkinRed theme?) in support of autistic people to offer.

Please stop referencing Autism Speaks as a go-to resource about autism. Please advocate for this change in your library and community. A much better resource and partnering organization is the Autism Self-Advocacy Network.They do such good work and need your donations way more than Autism Speaks does.

Groups like FACT Oregon are family advocacy organizations that are in tune to the disability community and are dedicated to empowering families. While they have several resources for planning for families in the early years, you will find there is no mention of Autism Speaks on their website. They are creating a supportive community of parents who are educated about their rights in IEP meetings and rally for legislative days to demand proper funding for accessible education. It can be done.


*this campaign plays into the stereotype that more boys have autism than other genders, which leads to girls and NB people going misdiagnosed or undiagnosed

Find more in the Accessibility Series
Want to write for the series? Check submission guidelines here.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Accessibility and Conference Presentations

Accessibility series logo

NOTE: If you're new here, welcome! When I write about accessibility, you will find that I use the terms "people with disabilities", "PWD", "the disability community", and "disabled people" interchangeably. This is something I deliberately do to challenge our institutional insistence on "person-first language." If you come across more terms you're unfamiliar with here, I start this post with some definitions.

Having done a few presentations on accessibility, I’ve started the past few years to make way more considerations than I have in the past regarding the extent to which my presentations are accessible. Few things bug me more than a presentation about accessibility that is, itself, inaccessible.

The ALA Midwinter Meeting is right around the corner (which has some great offerings at the Symposium on the Future of Libraries!), so I though this might be a good time to share some tips on making your presentation more accessible. Remember PWD should be expected in these spaces just like abled people are.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive and complete list, and there are definitely things that should be included. Please add more suggestions in the comments and I will add them in an update!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Get to Know My New Blogging Intern!

2018 is shaping up to be a stellar year here at BDP. After my recent webinar with the Ohio Library Council, I was inspired to start a new periodic series about child management, so stay tuned! Additionally, we'll be returning to regular posts on youth services programming with the help of my new blogging intern, Jennifer!

I'm pleased to introduce Jennifer Johnson, School Age Program Coordinator at Johnson City (TN) Public Library! Of her job, Jennifer says, "I have been serving the school age population of Johnson City for about two years now and loving every minute of it!"

Brown-haired women (Jennifer) dressed in a red and gold tie, socks, and a white dress shirt
(cosplaying as Hermoine Granger) posing with a school-aged child
(Harry Potter celebration, June 2017)

Jennifer was game to answer some questions so we could all get to know her better.

What do you like best about working in a library? 
There are two things I love most about working in a library. The first is being able to help people. I love doing research and helping people find resources, especially when it’s something that’s more obscure. I love seeing their faces light up in appreciation when you are able to locate that super specific book or information that they need. It’s like a scavenger hunt and it helps people to see that they do still need the library and a librarian’s particular set of skills in today’s digital age. The second thing I love is geeking out with people about books that I love. It’s incredibly fulfilling to me to be able to share book recommendations with people and especially kids. When they come back and tell me that they loved the book and they want to talk about it and read more, there is no better feeling than that.

How do you approach library programming?
I really try to listen to what our patrons and our community express an interest in. Our library currently does not have a dedicated makerspace, but our families have expressed an interest in STEM programming, so I have begun a series of makerspace programs over the last year where we focus on a particular skill/material at each program, and have tried to incorporate it into other existing programs (coding with LEGOs, engineering challenges related to book club, etc.).

Besides patron input, I also try to pay attention to what’s relevant for the community at the time, especially when it comes to pop culture and other happenings. Right now, I am in the planning stages of a Star Wars Celebration for the release of The Last Jedi next week. This past summer, we were one of the libraries fortunate enough to receive eclipse glasses, and we had a couple of programs leading up to that. That was a huge event for our community even though we weren’t in the path of totality, but it was all everyone talked about for months.

Other than that, I just follow librarians on social media and look for ideas from them that I can adapt or tweak for my patrons. I love to see what others have successfully done and implement it for our patrons if there’s an interest.

Jennifer in a pink shirt with shooting start (cosplaying as Mabel Pines)
posing with a school-aged child. Child is giving the "thumbs up" sign.
(LibCon event, September 2017)

What is your favorite program you’ve ever done? 
Ooh, this is a really tough question. I have different programs that I love for different reasons. I guess if I had to choose it would be our annual Thrill the World events. For the past two years, starting in September, we have held practices to learn the dance moves to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and then on the last Saturday in October, we have a sort of flash mob performance of it at the front of the library. It’s part of a world record event that happens globally and everyone dresses up as zombies and has a great time!

I love this program for so many reasons, but the biggest one is the feedback I get from the patrons who participate. Our dancers’ ages have ranged from 4 to 60 in the past, and particularly, the older participants always express a sense of pride and accomplishment at the end for seeing it through. We host hour-long practices over the course of five weeks and then our culminating event is two hours long, plus all the time they put in at home practicing, and “Thriller” is not an easy dance! I am always so proud of them for taking on something so physically demanding and owning it. And our young patrons love the dress up aspect of it. One mom told me last year that her little girls and several others who were participating had a big dress-up/makeup party at their house beforehand and it was like they were getting ready for prom!

Another reason I love this program is that it tends to get the library some positive press and attention. It shows the community that we are not just stuffy shushers and peddlers of books. We have a wild side and we are not afraid to get loud and have fun!

[Bryce note: Check back in January for a full write up of this program! ARE YOU PUMPED FOR THIS YET ARE YOU]

Tell us about your biggest program flop! 
This past spring I tried to put on a homeschool project fair at our library. We had had patrons asking for special programs for homeschoolers for so long and we thought that would be an easy way to see if they would actually come if we offered something just for them. We advertised it specifically to all of our homeschool families and seemed to have genuine interest, but when it came down to it, only one kid actually signed up to show his end-of-the-year project and we ended up cancelling the entire thing. I’m still not sure where I went wrong on that one. Maybe it wasn’t the type of programming our homeschooling families wanted or maybe I didn’t get the word out with enough time in advance. For whatever reason, it just did not take off. So back to the drawing board on that one.

If could have any superpower, what would you choose? Probably telekinesis because I can be super lazy sometimes and I’m short so it would help me reach things in tall places. Also it’s basically like using the Force! You want the TV remote but it’s all the way across the room? Don’t get up! Just float it over!

Describe yourself in a GIF or a meme.
Wholesome Memes are my jam. Below is one of my favorites. =)

Cat with a birthday hat and a wand, looking like a wizard
casting a spell.
Text reads "WOOSH, you have my love and support"

Join me in giving Jennifer a warm welcome!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Librarians with Disabilities: Accessibility in Action

Accessibility Series logo by Chris Frantz (On a Roll Designs)

Amanda M. Leftwich is currently a Circulation Supervisor at a small fine arts college in Philadelphia, PA. She tweets as @thelibmaven. 

As a person of color with visible and invisible disabilities, navigating librarianship has been a complex and oftentimes frustrating experience. Most conversations about equity and diversity in librarianship solely involve race or gender, but exclude people living with disabilities or chronic illness. Dealing with health concerns in a rigid environment such as libraries can seem impossible; however there are ways to thrive in the field with disability.

Understand your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1991 & ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA)! Although these protections set in place by law they are under attack due to H.R. 620. It’s still important to learn about both laws. The ADA is the original law granting people with disabilities civil rights protections. The ADAAA expanded the terms of “disability” which previously had not counted learning disabilities under civil rights protections. Your disability may be under the protected class, but you have to learn the basics of the laws first.

Reasonable accommodation exists for a reason; use it. Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) policy employees with a disability have the legal right to request accommodations to perform their job duties. For example, employers providing changes to schedules, assistive technology, an interpreter, removing job duties that are deemed harmful to one’s disability, and moving office space are all examples of reasonable accommodations. Employees may request reasonable accommodation at any time (including the interview process). One must provide written notification of outlined restrictions from a medical professional. Although most librarians shyaway from the topic of reasonable accommodation, it shouldn’t be avoided if it’s needed to complete job tasks! Most requests can be filled cheaply and without much hassle to employers.

Don’t feel the need to apologize for your disability. Most librarians are used to working with few colleagues. This can create familiarity in the workplace. However, this doesn’t mean that anyone has to give detailed information about their health issues. The only person who should be concerned about your disability is your health care professional. Others will frequently ask questions (to the point of harassment) about your illness, especially those that are invisible. Quite frankly, it’s none of their business. You don’t have to prove nor should you feel guilty about having an illness while “looking perfectly healthy”. You do not need to explain anything related to your health to your colleagues, friends, neighbors, or anyone that you aren’t comfortable with providing.

Save your Spoons. Spoonies (anyone suffering from a chronic invisible illness) understand the importance of pacing themselves. I suffer from Meniere's Disease, an invisible chronic illness that impacts balance and hearing. Some days, I have enough spoons to complete all of my duties and tasks. Others, I only have one spoon just to get out of bed. For me, saving my spoons means not completing certain balance-heavy library projects (shifting, moving heavy carts, or anything that requires lots of walking around the Library, etc.) and on my “drop attack” days; it means calling out sick. Prior to being diagnosed with Meniere’s, I had to call out frequently due to issues with vertigo. I felt like a failure until my parents reminded me that “sick days are there for a reason”. I never used sick days prior, simply because I wasn’t sick. Not even for mental health days; this was a mistake. Sick days (and personal days) are there for a reason- they aid in you allowing your body time to recover from an episode, if necessary. If you need them due to illness (or mental health), TAKE THEM. Never be afraid to put your health ahead of your job.

Have compassion for yourself. We all know that one librarian that’s been with the Library since they “graduated from Library school”. The super dedicated, always dependable person ready to answer a reference question in a jiff. Most importantly, never called out sick a day in their career! As a spoonie, this will not be your testimony. Perfection does not exist. You’ll need to accept yourself at whatever stage in life you’re in. This will mean accepting the fact you won’t be able to control your illness. You are more than your illness! Remind yourself every day that your self-worth doesn’t revolve around your profession, but life outside of work.

Acknowledge that others won’t get it. Others will question your illness. What’s wrong with you? Are you really sick? You look fine to me. Unfortunately, questions and statements like these will continue to occur. In the face of chronic illness, most people have no idea what to say. This is not your problem. Only you understand how your disability affects you. Don’t concern yourself with the thoughts of others.

Get involved in the conversations about accessibility. Unfortunately, the conversations about inclusiveness and access oftentimes exclude librarians with disabilities. Organizations like the Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and ADA Center aim to train and promote scholarship for disability justice. Although these organizations don’t fall under librarianship, we can carry the conversations had in those spaces into our field. Write about your experiences as a disabled librarian to library blogs (this one), chats, discussion boards, etc. Follow disability justice leaders such as Mia Mingus, Emily Ladua, Lydia Brown, and Haben Girma to get involved in a larger discussion about accessibility to bring these ideas into the libraries.

Compassion in libraries shouldn’t only be directed towards patrons we serve, but also the librarians and paraprofessionals working in these settings. Don’t be afraid to challenge the norm and fight for your place in the field. There’s more than enough room for all of us, including those with disabilities.

Want more on accessibility? Click here for more in the Accessibility Series.

Are you a disabled/neurodivergent/chronically ill library staff member who would like to guest post on BDP? Click here for more information on writing a post of the accessibility. Posts on accessibility by abled members of the library community are not accepted.

The Accessibility Series was made possible by a grant from Awesome Without Borders.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Be my Blogging Intern!

Icon picture of a computer on an orange background.
Text reads, "Be my Blogging Intern!"

Those of you who have been readers for awhile know that BDP has had a variety of focuses. When I was a front-line staff member, my posts focused mostly on programming, and those posts continue to be useful to many.

Some of them are really old. And I know there are people out there who are doing awesome and innovative things in these areas and sure most of my stuff is perennial but I hate to see it get stale. I will forever appreciate the bloggers I've connected with but it was always my hope that that once we all moved into management or other roles that are not so easy to write "steal this idea" posts about, that a new group would take the reigns and add their experiences and ideas to the Internet Collective.

This is not to say that this isn't happening in other ways. There are great ideas being shared in Facebook groups everyday, but those are less easy to pin, bookmark or otherwise find later, judging by the amount of times the same questions are asked.

After months of lamenting this possible loss of information (and admittedly getting a salty about the nature of consumption and use of blog posts in youth services), I decided that there is something I can possibly do about it: start an internship program.

What I'm looking for:
-Commitment of 1 post per month for 6 months, with the option of continuing for another 6 months as you build your online presence.
-Posts that are how-tos about programming, displays, outreach, tours, and/or patron relations that can be easily replicated in a variety of public libraries for little to no money
-Programs can be based on existing blogposts/something you found on Pinterest but the program should be changed enough that a new post about it is warranted
-Post should be about something that has already been executed BY YOU in or on behalf of a library
- New to the field or to youth services are welcome to apply; veterans also welcome. Established bloggers who average at least 100 views per day need not apply.
-you don't have to have a blog of your own yet, but it's okay if you do

What you'll get:
-Mentoring and assistance throughout the writing process to help turn your programs into blogposts
-Full license to co-publish your post on your own platform; you retain ownership of your content. In the event you haven't yet created a blog, you are welcome to republish the posts you share here at a later date.
-Advice along the way to create and maintain your own blog
-Exposure to an audience it took me 6 years to build
-At the end of the internship, I'll gift you a custom logo from Chris at On a Roll Designs. Valued at $52.50, a custom logo will help you on your way to creating and maintaining your own blog and putting your own custom stamp on the youth services blogging community.
-Depending on our working relationship, I may be available as a professional reference for you in the future.

How to apply:
Email me at brycedontplay at gmail dot com by December 1, 2017.
Email should include the following:
-Name
-Title and library
-a short bio to appear on this blog if you are a successful candidate
-Why you're interested in becoming a BDP intern
-Description of a program you're excited to blog about. Ideally the successful candidate(s)' first blogposts will be published by the end of January, so the more you can tell me the better to jump start the process. Descriptions should be at least 100 words.
-Entries that do not follow the instructions above will not be considered.

I'm currently in search of 1-3 interns.

Decisions will be made by Friday, December 8. First cohort of interns will be announced on BDP on Tuesday, December 12 (Unless no one applies, which is a distinct possibility; then, you know, nevermind).

If you're not ready to make a commitment but would like to guest post, please also email me at brycedontplay at gmail dot com!

Recently started a blog? Leave the link in the comments and I'll link you in an upcoming post.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Autistic Perspectives on Dr. Temple Grandin at the ALSC Blog


Do you remember Justin Spectrum, the first autistic librarian to write about autism at the ALSC blog? Last week, he published a new blogpost regarding his thoughts on The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin, a new biography for children by Julia Finley Mosca (illustrated by Daniel Rieley). It's a thought provoking piece. Please take a minute to read and consider it.

Representation has been on my mind recently, since I've been writing content on evaluating books with disabled characters for my upcoming course. You may remember that I started the entire Accessibility Series  with a story about how I didn't really see my experience with disability reflected in a book character until I was 29, and how dismayed I was to find that as whole the book was not well-received, because I wanted more. Justin, similarly, praises this book for its representation and potential for mainstream appeal, while lamenting that its subject can be problematic. He does a great job summarizing much of the autistic community's criticism of Temple Grandin, and I encourage you to dive in.

Lydia Brown at Autistic Hoya additionally outlines some ways that Temple Grandin is used by abled people as a "token" autistic person and the problems with that, notably: "Because she is autistic and her statements align with those articulated from an ableist sensibility, neurotypicals advancing the views that autism presents a problem of pathology can claim authenticity or legitimacy for their position through Temple Grandin's reiteration of the same sentiments."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Youth Services in Action: Here's What We Do

Black text on a green background:
"Youth Services: Here's What We Do"

When libraries consider disbanding age-specific departments, it particularly affects youth services in a way that it might not in other sections of the library. This tweet at Librarian Problems, which right now has 700 engagements between Twitter and Tumbler, plays on this idea: Homer Simpson gasps as he's met with a room full of babies; this GIF is accompanied by the phrase, "When a reference librarian wanders into storytime". In the episode this GIF comes from, the room full of babies is silent save for their pacifiers; in storytime, as we know, this is not the case.

It's a funny concept, which is why so many liked, retweeted, and reblogged it. But those engagements and the comments it's garnered definitely tell me: it's funny because it's true. 

I have no doubt that plenty of libraries disband age-specific departments in a supportive way that values the strengths of all staff, and I've even seen it happen at libraries in my cooperative. Heck, my program is doing this when we soon on-board our new Youth Services Librarian, as the two positions were originally conceived as "Early Literacy" and "School Services" but will now work in a more collaborative, project-based way. The pearl clutcher in me, however, is ever the cynic and the skeptic.

There are lots of things to consider when thinking about the design of services to youth in your public librarian, and librarians much smarter than me have already begun to tackle them. Karen Jensen of Teen Librarian Toolbox and Melissa Depper of Mel's Desk have some awesome, required reading threads. Kendra Jones started a Facebook conversation about a recently announced PLA Conference session; the post and comments are edifying and worth a read. Tess Prendergast wrote an open letter to PLA  about it complete with a citation list, and was able to get the title changed, at least. Please follow those links. I'll be here.

I am so grateful that my cooperative has a position like mine, and that it's valued so much we are expanding our program. I do coordinating things, but I also take advocating for youth services and our youth services library staff seriously. I try my best to help our library staff break down barriers to youth access and provide the highest quality services to youth possible. It's a job that can be tough but I'm honored that the trust has been bestowed upon me to do it.