Spring 2008

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Helping Libraries Serve Persons with Disabilities

By State Senator Hugh T. Farley and Member of Assembly Amy Paulin

Spring 2008 issue of Trustee

Governor David Paterson, New York State’s first legally blind Governor, has never let his disability define him or hold him back. The new Governor is well known as an intelligent, hard-working, and dedicated public servant who just happens to use certain coping techniques to overcome his sensory impairment.

Nonetheless, with the visibility of his leadership roles, the Governor has become something of a de facto spokesperson for persons with disabilities. It is in this capacity that he has cited an extraordinary statistic: “71% of blind people and 90% of deaf people in this country are unemployed.” What a waste of talent! As the Governor continued, “Maybe one of them could figure out a cure for cancer, but we can’t get them into the workplace. The educational proficiency of the disabled surpasses the national education average, and yet we have these horrible unemployment rates in those communities.”

Libraries, as “the people’s university,” have long served persons with disabilities. We are promoting legislation which will help to expand libraries’ resources for these services.The omnibus New York Library Initiative Act (State Education Department Program Bill #26), which we will be introducing on behalf of the Board of Regents, provides explicit State aid increases for regional programs serving the blind and physically handicapped. A total of $800,000 in added aid would be allocated among programs in New York City, Long Island, and the State Talking Book and Braille Library in Albany, which serves upstate.

The Library Initiative Act also includes $10 million to maintain a permanent Statewide internet library, building on the existing NOVELNY program. Adaptive technologies can often assist persons with disabilities to access information resources.

Assembly member Paulin has introduced legislation (S.7020/A.6303A) which clarifies laws prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities. This bill would require that public entities not only provide access to their facilities, but, unless it would create an undue hardship, affirmatively ensure equal opportunities for all persons to receive services and participate in public programs and activities. It also offers consistency for libraries and other public entities who are attempting to serve persons with disabilities by placing existing federal definitions in State law.
Senator Farley is proposing another potential resource to enhance services for persons with disabilities by enabling small library construction projects to receive low-cost loans from the State Dormitory Authority (S.1684A/A.6256A). Small projects, such as adding an access ramp to an older library building, can provide large returns in expanded services.

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