Can Small Changes Produce Big Impacts? You Bet They Can!!!

  July 07, 2021 |    Ruth V. Small, Ph.D., Director, Project ENABLE, Syracuse University

Project ENABLE has provided training for more than 5,000 librarians and our resources have been used by thousands more. As we conclude our 5th and latest Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant from IMLS in support of our work at Project ENABLE, we have been able to add a number of new resources to our website, with more to come. Our most recent additions to our Resources database include 26 Challenge Videos in which librarians nationwide share some of their greatest challenges to inclusivity and accessibility for people with disabilities and the successful solutions they have developed to meet those challenges. We also added two dozen pathfinders, short lists of the best resources on a number of topics, in printable format for bookmarks that can be handed out to your patrons.

Soon we’ll be adding four half-day workshop packages to our site, intended for use by libraries that want to train their staff but don’t have the funds or the expertise to do so. Included in these packages are a word-for-word script that can be used as is or modified or enhanced as the trainer sees fit. They can also be combined into a series or course or shortened as presentations. The packages also contain a Powerpoint to use with the script, handouts, take aways, lists of references for both the trainer and the trainees, a set of images for workshop materials, and exercises and activities---everything needed to implement each workshop. Each script and Powerpoint has been evaluated by a Project Review Committee of six librarians, with expertise in the area of libraries and disabilities, from around the country who have carefully reviewed them and given us detailed feedback on how to revise and improve them. Our hope is that these packages will be embraced by the library community, in particular by small library systems or individual libraries, and used to train their staff and volunteers in any or all of the following four areas: (1) The Basics, (2) Universal Design, (3) Universal Design for Learning, and (4) Community Voices: Partnering with Local Organizations. All of these materials will be freely available in our newest section of Project ENABLE called “Train the Trainer,” with a link to it on the Project ENABLE home page.

Last, but definitely not least, we will be adding 20 impact stories---brief accounts, recently submitted to Project ENABLE by librarians in school, public and academic libraries nationwide and beyond. These stories share some of the changes the librarians have made to their libraries to improve accessibility and inclusion for their patrons with disabilities. They also provide some evidence thata those changes are having an impact and demonstrate that even small changes can make a difference. Below, I’m sharing just a small glimpse into many of this initial group of impact stories in order to pique your interest and curiosity. Make sure to jot down the ones you are most interested in as you’ll be able to read them in full later this summer, once they have been entered into our Resources database.

Some of our impact stories show ways in which librarians apply Universal Design principles to improve physical or digital accessibility in their libraries. These include:

Terri Cleaver, an elementary school librarian in Bowling Green KY, who sent us “before,” “during” and “after” photos of the changes she describes in her impact story. We’re calling that story “Lights, Camera, Library!”  With the support of her principal and help from her maintenance department, Terri remodeled a theatre area within the library and some of the collections were rearranged to make everything more user friendly and accessible to people with disabilities.

Claire Crawford, Library Director of a public library district in Geneseo, IL, found an easy, low-cost solution to a problem that can affect the safety of patrons with disabilities and accomplished much more, which she describes in her impact story we’re calling “Tackling Accessibility Issues Throughout the Library.”

Holly Callen, elementary school Media Specialist in Rockville, MD, shared her impact story that we call “It All Started with a Wiggle Stool.” A simple solution had an enormous impact on children who had trouble sitting for story time and other activities. Read about Holly’s adventure and how it led and spread throughout the school.

Another exciting impact story came from Jenna Meehan, Special Needs Service Coordinator at the Durham County Library in North Carolina. Jenna worked with a number of internal and external partners to create a simpler, more accessible option (particularly during the pandemic, when everything went online) for patrons who use Boardmaker to create picture and language-based supports for people with disabilities. Read about what they did and the wonderful results it had in Jenna’s impact story that we’re calling “Tutorials for All.”

Lynn Clements, librarian at the Norfolk, VA public library, found the perfect easy and low cost solution to her library’s need for specially designated and easily accessible parking spaces for their patrons with disabilities. See the outcomes in her impact story, we’re simply calling “Parking at the Library.”

And finally, a library renovation led to this impact story.

When, after 35 years, the library needed to update it public space, Director Glenna Wisniewski and staff of the Liverpool (NY) Public Library decided to make their accessible and inclusive library even more accessible and inclusive. You can find out about the changes they made, the updating they achieved, and how it all impacted their patrons with disabilities by reading her impact story, “Updating Accessibility and Inclusion in the Library.”

There were also several impact stories that demonstrate how libraries have implemented the guidelines for Universal Design for Learning (CAST, into their programs.

In her impact story, “Creating a Culture of Accessibility,” Kelsey McLane describes how her job and her library at Goshen College in Indiana changed to meet the challenge of moving quickly to a fully digital, Zoom- and video- based learning system. This included recording, closed-captioning and editing everything from lectures to full courses, from theatre productions to convocations, with plans to further expand to digital faculty meetings and student events. All of these resources now are fully inclusive for all students, faculty, administrators, and staff at the college.

Lisa Cleveland, Young Adult Generalist at the Charleston (SC) Public Library looked around and didn’t see much programming for young adults of differing abilities. So, she decided to do something about it. She partnered with a local life skills organization and created a book club for those with differing abilities, which became an outdoor program during Covid. All the books used were donated so that every participant was allowed to keep their copy after that particular session was concluded. Read the details of Lisa’s program in her impact story, that we named “Literacy Fun for All Abilities."

For Sarah Kaufman, staff member at the Port Washington (NY) Public library, her impact story was personal. Read how this library not only seeks ways to provide accommodations and modifications for its patrons with disabilities, but also for its employees with disabilities. Sarah provides three examples of accessibility and inclusion changes that have already had an impact on library patrons and employees (including herself) in her story we call “Access and Inclusion for Both Library Patrons and Employees.”

Andrea Boothby Rice, Public Services Librarian at The Queen Anne’s County Library in Centreville, Maryland, discovered that the strong services and programs provided to children and teens with disabilities can sometimes evaporate once they become adults. This can have a devastating effect on progress made and increasing feelings of loneliness and isolation of these adults with disabilities who continue to be in need of special and modified services and programs, particularly those provided by public institutions. Read “Restarting Our Lives,” to see how this pro-active librarian took the reins to create a program that helps these new adults restart their lives through their local library.

Sarah Rustman’s impact story (we’re calling it “A Night at the Movies”) describes how this School and Special Services Librarian from Northbrook Public Library in Illinois created an experience that allowed young people with special needs and their families to enjoy a night out at the movies. Now Sarah has extended this to other types of family events. Read how just a relatively simple addition in programming can make a huge impact on its target audience.

The ”We Are CapABLE” Programs at the Volusia County (FL) Public Library were created to provide socializing and learning opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Initiated by Sarah Capps, Branch Head, and her staff, Sarah’s impact story explains how they reached out to serve the needs of this group, even during Covid, and describes the many facets of this program. Get ready to be inspired as you read Sarah’s story, aptly named “We are CapABLE.”

When a caregiver of a special needs adult approached Vidhya Jagannathan, Senior Library Assistant at the North Cobb Regional Library in Georgia and told her about the desperate need for programs for adults with disabilities, she sprang into action. She and her colleagues decided to create a special storytime designed just for this group and provide an opportunity for these adults to experience the same benefits of storytime, crafts, music and dance that other populations already have available. Read Vidhya’s impressive and inspiring story, we’re calling “Leveling the Field,” demonstrating how librarians can make a major difference in the lives of the library’s patrons with disabilities.

Some impact stories describe how librarians partner with individuals and organizations in other libraries or in their communities to ensure that their patrons with disabilities are adequately served.

Sarah Edwards Ferguson, Sarah Fretz, Emilie Hancock, and Nancy Nelson, a team of public librarians from Charleston, SC, with great support from their branch manager, regularly bring special programs and lots of joy to seniors who cannot physically come to the library. Please be sure to read their heartwarming impact story, “Reaching Out and Drawing In.”

Steve Ching, Special Advisor for the City University of Hong Kong Library, recognized that the exhibits produced for the Lighthouse Heritage Research Connections (LHRC) project are overwhelmingly ocular-centric, and do not offer much for visually impaired visitors. Read his impact story, he has entitled “Let Them Shine,” to learn how his library brought people and organizations in the community together to create more accessible and inclusive programs for people with visual disabilities.

An impact story of partnership between a library and a local non-profit organization that we called “Pushing the Restart Button,” comes from Lisa Powell Williams, Adult and Young Adult Services Coordinator at the Moline (IL) Public Library. Lisa collaborated with The ARCS of the Quad Cities to restart their literacy programs just as her library was emerging from Covid lockdown and her library was limited to phone and curbside service. Now, as their state fully reopens, they are planning additional programs and services to meet the needs of people with disabilities.]

Savannah Gignac, Assistant Regional Branch Manager at Hurd/St. Andrew’s Regional Library in Charleston, SC, partnered with Emilie Hancock, Technology Librarian, to accomplish the challenging task of creating the library’s first Accessiblility Team to educate their library staff and community in a number of areas, such as equitable access and emerging assistive technology. Read about what they did, how they did it and its impact on the library community in their story, named “Creating a Library Accessibility Team.”

Remember…watch for our announcement about the availability of our impact stories on the home page of the Project ENABLE website a bit later this summer.

And if YOU have an impact story to share with librarians worldwide, just send it to me at to be considered for inclusion in our PE database of resources. Your story should be 300-400 words and include a title, your name and position, the name of your library and location (city, state), a description of your change idea, why it was important, what you did to create the change, any supports and/or barriers you faced, and how its successful implementation has impacted your patrons with disabilities.

We hope to see your story in the PE database!


Project Enable Blog

Partners of Project Enable