Employment of Disabled Persons in the Academic Library Environment

Article excerpt

Academic libraries are the cornerstones of universities in providing information resources for the students and staff of the university. Indirectly, they may be instrumental in the development of beliefs and attitudes regarding the employment of disabled people. In 1998, the Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted a study into the status and wellbeing of disabled people, including employment restrictions. The percentage of the population who are disabled had risen from 15 per cent to 19 per cent in 17 years and half of these are unemployed or have restrictions on their employment.


This article explores some examples of the successful inclusion of disabled people in the library workplace and explains why it is necessary to overcome attitudinal barriers so as to include disabled people on the staff of the academic library in particular. It also explains some of the myths that exist among employers and shows how disabled people can be productive and valuable employees with the possible assistance of adaptive technologies. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 was enacted to ameliorate this problem of discrimination in all areas of life. Since the legislation was brought to bear, various assistive or adaptive technologies have emerged to assist disabled people live a successful life and participate in employment. The literature has shown that the main barrier to employment for disabled people is attitude and lack of awareness of their abilities.

Academic libraries are central to tertiary institutions; the equity employment principles espoused by all Queensland academic institutions stem from Federal and Queensland legislation. It follows that the managers of academic libraries should continue to monitor and implement equal employment opportunity principles regarding disabled people, not only to comply with legislation, but to uphold the rights, engender trust and loyalty and maintain efficiency and productivity of staff within their libraries (Evans, 2000; Campbell, 1996; Smith, 2002). One aim of a library manager should be to reflect the broader demographics and culture of a society (in which disabled people form a part) in the library's staffing profile (Evans, 2000).

This article explores the issues and makes initial recommendations relating to the employment of disabled persons within the academic library environment. It reviews the legislation underpinning equal employment opportunity for people with disabilities, the current status of disabled people within Australia, misconceptions about the abilities of disabled people and suggestions on actions that may be taken to integrate this minority into the staffing profile of the academic library. It is beyond the scope of this article to suggest specific solutions to particular situations as the range of disabilities and solutions to overcome them are vast. However, examples of some current technologies that are available are touched upon.

Within the library professions, considerable emphasis has been placed on equal employment opportunity in the past 25 to 30 years (Evans, 2000). However, this has mainly been regarding gender and race inequalities within the workforce (Hogan, 2003). Consequently there is little literature, and no studies immediately apparent that have been done regarding the inclusion of disabled people in the staffing profiles of libraries in general, let alone academic libraries specifically Some literature exists regarding the inclusion of disabled people in the workforce, particularly with legislation that has arisen specifically targeting their rights (Healey, 2000; Hogan, 2003). And yet there is a proliferation of literature about satisfying the needs of the disabled patron in the library environment (Lisiecki, 1999; Hopkins, 2004).

Impairment according to the World Health Organisation is 'any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological, or anatomical structure or function' (Healey, 2000, p1). …