Library Services

Library Services for Disabled Persons

Adwaitakumar Das (2017)

Definition of Disability:

Disability means ‘incapacity to perform any activities in the usual or within the range considered normal for a human being’. A disability (or lack of a given ability, as the “dis” qualifier denotes) in humans may be physical, cognitive/mental, sensory, emotional, developmental or some combination of these. Library Services for Disable People

A common man can see with eyes, hear with ears, perform tasks, speak with tongue and takes decision with the brain. Malfunction of one or more organs leads to disability or multiple disability problems. Basically, when most people think of the word “disability” they immediately picture someone in a wheelchair. But there are many different types of disability.

People with a disability may include:

a. people who are blind or partially sighted

b. people with learning or intellectual disabilities

c. people who are deaf or hearing impaired

d. people with a physical disability

e. people with long term illnesses

f. people with mental health or psychological difficulties

g. people with an acquired brain injury

The most commonly cited definition is that of the World Health Organization in 1976 which draws a three-fold distinction between impairment, disability, and handicap, defined as follows. ‘An impairment is any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function; a disability is any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being; a handicap is a disadvantage for a given individual, resulting from an impairment or a disability, that prevents the fulfillment of a role that is considered normal (depending on age, sex, and social and cultural factors) for that individual’.

According to activists in the disability movement, the World Health Organization has confused between the terms ‘disability’ and ‘impairment’. They maintain that impairment refers to physical or cognitive limitations that an individual may have, such as the inability to walk or speak. In contrast, disability refers to socially imposed restrictions, that is, the system of social constraints that are imposed on those with impairments by the discriminatory practices of society.

Thus, the Union of the Physically Impaired against Segregation defined impairment and disability in the following manner. An ‘impairment [is] lacking part of or all of a limb, or having a defective limb, organism or mechanism of the body”. ‘disability [is] the disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary organization which takes no or little account of people who have physical impairments and thus excludes them from the mainstream of social activities’

According to the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with disabilities:

• The term “disability” summarizes a great number of different functional limitations occurring in any population in any country, of the world. People may be disabled by physical, intellectual or sensory impairment, medical conditions or mental illness. Such impairments, conditions or illnesses may be permanent or transitory in nature.

• The term “handicap” means the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the life of the community on an equal level with others. It describes the encounter between the person with a disability and the environment. The purpose of this term is to emphasize the focus on the shortcomings in the environment and in many organized activities in society, for example, information, communication, and education, which prevent persons with disabilities from participating on equal terms.

• The use of the two terms “disability” and “handicap”, as defined in the two paragraphs above, should be seen in the light of modern disability history. During the 1970s there was a strong reaction among representatives of organizations of persons with disabilities and professionals in the field of disability against the terminology of the time. The terms “disability” and “handicap” were often used in an unclear and confusing way, which gave poor guidance for policy-making and for political action. The terminology reflected a medical and diagnostic approach, which ignored the imperfections and deficiencies of the surrounding society.

• In 1980, the World Health Organization brought out a manual on International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities, and Handicaps, 59 made a clear distinction among “impairment”, “disability” and “handicap”. and suggested a more precise and at the same time relativistic approach, It has been extensively used in areas such as rehabilitation, education, statistics, policy, legislation, demography, sociology, economics, and anthropology. Some users have expressed concern that the Classification, in its definition of the term “handicap”, may still be considered too medical and too centered on the individual, and may not adequately clarify the interaction between societal conditions or expectations and the abilities of the individual. Those concerns and others expressed by users during the 12 years since its publication, will be addressed in forthcoming revisions of the Classification.

• As a result of experience gained in the implementation of the World Programme of Action and of the general discussion that took place during the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons, there was a deepening of knowledge and extension of understanding concerning disability issues and the terminology used. Current terminology recognizes the necessity of addressing both the individual needs (such as rehabilitation and technical aids) and the shortcomings of the society (various obstacles for participation).

In this concern, it may be mentioned that a ‘disability’ includes those that:

• are present, or

• Once existed but do not have any more, for example, a person who has had a back injury, a heart attack or an episode of mental illness, earlier,

• may develop in the future, for example, a person with a genetic predisposition to a disease, such as Huntington’s disease or heart disease or a person who is HIV positive, or

• Someone thinks or assumes a person has.

Types of disability:

Human beings can see with their eyes, hear with ears, perform tasks, with muscles speak with tongue and take decision with brain malfunction of one or more organs lead to disability or multiple disability problems. Disabilities can be broadly classified as follows.

  1. Loco Motor (LM)
  2. Deaf and Dumb (DD)
  3. Hearing Handicapped (HH)
  4. Visual Impairment (VI)
  5. Mentally Retarded (MR)

1. Loco-motor Disability: Loco-motor Disability is defined as a person’s inability to executive activities associated with moving both himself & objects from place to place & such inability resulting from the affection of musculoskeletal and/or nervous system.

2. Speech & Hearing Disability: A person with hearing impairment hearing difficulty of various degrees in hearing sounds is an impairment person.

3. Visually Disability: Blindness refers to a condition where a person suffers from any of the following condition:

• Total absent of sought or

• Visual acuity not exceeding 6/60 or20/200 (smells) in the better eye with best-correcting lenses or

• Limitation of the field of visual subtending on the angle of 10 degrees or worse

4. Low vision: person with low vision means a person with impairment of vision of less than 6/18 to 6/60 with best correction in the better eye or impairment of field in any one of the following:

• Reduction of the fields less than 50 degrees

• Hemianopia with macular involvement

• Altitudinal defect involving lower fields

5. Mental Retardation: Mental retardation is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of the mind which is especially characterized by impairment of skill manifested during the development periods which contributed to the overall level of intelligence i.e. cognitive, language, motor, and social abilities

There are various factors which are responsible for the loco-motor disability:

• Diseases like polio, cerebral palsy, Leprosy

• Physical defects or deformity of the body or limb (orthopedics problem ) and

• Amputation due to the accident.

On the other hand, it must be mentioned that “The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014” [clause (x) of section.2] states:-

19 conditions of disability including definitions such as: autism; low vision and blindness; cerebral palsy; deaf-blindness; hemophilia; hearing impairment; leprosy; intellectual disability; mental illness; muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; learning disability; speech and language disability; sickle cell disease; thalassemia; chronic neurological conditions; and multiple disability. Persons with benchmark disabilities are defined as those with at least 40 per cent of any of the above specified disabilities.

This bill of 2014, also categorized ‘disabled persons’ in three ways, as:

i) “Person with benchmark disability” means a person with not less than forty per cent. of a specified disability where specified disability has not been defined in measurable terms and includes a person with disability where specified disability has been defined in measurable terms, as certified by the certifying authority;

ii) “person with disability” means a person with long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which hinder his full and effective participation in society equally with others;

iii) “person with disability having high support needs” means a person with benchmark disability certified under clause (a) of sub-section (2) of section 57 who needs high support; (s) “prescribed” means prescribed by rules made under this Act; (0 “reasonable accommodation” means necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments, without imposing a disproportionate or undue burden in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise of rights equally with others.

Needs of the disabled persons in a library:

Individuals with a disability have varying degrees of needs. Their needs are just like those who are not disabled. They often strive hard for a high quality of life as other normal individuals. Unfortunately many times people fail to understand that disability in simple terms is nothing but a natural part of the human experience. Often they are shrouded by misconceptions such as, that the disabled persons are forced to lead a poor quality of life. But the fact is, a person with a disability with all limitations can carry out normal activities of living if they have easy access to community-based on long term services such as attendant care, accesses to buildings, public transportation, sidewalks, etc. Even the severely disabled persons, when provided with quality health care services and the necessary equipment are able to carry on the tasks similar to those done by the non-disabled. One cannot but feel disturbed that in spite of having the capacity they have to continue remaining disabled persons because of lack of a strong community-based support system. A disabled person who is in the prime of his youth, demands an equal opportunity and must, therefore, be offered a range of assistance such as examination support, specialized equipment, library assistance, note-taking in class, reader sign interpreters and parking provisions, etc. Only when they have strong support such as the ones mentioned above they can hope to lead normal lives.

A library should contain the following assistive devices for the disabled persons:

  • Screen Reader & Magnifier
  • Braille Printer
  • Braille Display Keyboard
  • JAWS Screen Reader
  • Kurzweil 3000
  • Cranktop Tables
  • Scanner
  • Natural Speaking
  • Supernova
  • Readit wand
  • NVDA & Braille embosser (printer)
  • Talking typing
  • Daisy book reader (for e-books)
  • Special keyboard (large font with florescent yellow keys)
  • Magnifier mouse
  • Seika Cell Braille display (stop anytime to correct spellings)
  • BAT (single hand keyboard)
  • Foot mouse (slipper mouse) with programmable paddle
  • Device to make a normal book
  • Adjustable high power optical lens
  • Photocopying Machine

Role of a library for disabled persons:

We have discussed in this chapter the prevailing situation in information support services in relation to the user community with a disability. Our Indian constitution is pledging equality irrespective of class, caste & sex, etc, we have the disability act, equal opportunity in all spheres of lives for the disabled. Our library laws which ensure the right to information irrespectively, but the actual scenarios are as follows:

As a user of library & information services to consider the disabled people, most of the public libraries are not available wheelchair and not included within the curricula as special service to the disabled. There is not a positive guideline for helping disabled people.

Public libraries, academic libraries and Institute libraries must stress on the need for equality to access for the disabled person in general & disabled student in particular. The librarian must liaise with the coordinator of the organization working for the person with a disability for necessary information.

• The Librarian has a special responsibility to address to service to a person with disability & not regulated to the disabled user.

• Information Technology is used for the disabled user.

• Popular guide line accessible disabled user.

• Public libraries can act as a referral center by developing a collection as a disabled issue.

• To prepare a list of the relevant website for reference for disabled people.

• Ensure that every child with disabilities has access to free education.

• Endeavor to promote the integration of student with a disability in the normal school.

• Promote setting up a special school in Govt. & private sector for those in need of special education.

• Endeavor to equip the special school for persons with disabilities with vocational training facilities.

All through the new act with help to develop positive action programme. There is no positive guideline for helping the disabled to have access to an effective library & information services programme. If the low offer them equal opportunities they must also ensure that people serving the disabled such as the Govt. & NGOs find a new way of serving the disabled. However the library & information professional can play their part to hasten the process of full & total integration of the disabled in the society.

A disabled persons who is in the prime of his youth demands an equal opportunity and must therefore be offered a range of assistance such as examination support, specialized equipment, library assistance, note-taking in class, reader sign interpreters and parking provision etc only when they have a strong support such as the ones mentioned above they can hope to lead normal lives.

Creating a model library programme for disabled persons:

In order to create an efficient and effective library programme for the differently-able persons, libraries need managers who are up to date and are aware of the latest developments that are likely to have profound effect on their services. It is their collective responsibility to promote quality services by gaining a good insight into the problems faced by the disabled persons. Library-staff must recognize that some of the disabled persons have no control over their behavior and therefore they have to be competent enough to handle difficult situations. They should be prepared to give individual attention so as to understand their strongest communication mode. Therefore the following aspects are essential to develop a model library programme for them by way of:

a) Training the Library staff,

b) Developing User Assistance Schemes,

c) Offering Special Services.

A model library can perform its duty by providing some assistive devices to the disabled people, such as-

1. Provide primary introduction and help to the disabled persons with using assistive technology software like Read &Write, SuperNova (SuperNova is a screen reader and magnifier to aid those with visual impairments to use Windows applications) etc. which can assist visually challenged students by magnifying and reading back text.

2. Provide assistance with using equipment like Braille embosser, CCTV reader (25″ Color CCTV), Scanner, Kurzweil 3000 which is used in conjunction with a scanner to read out scanned text. Zoom OPAC facility must be available.

3. Photocopying services for articles or chapters from books, including enlarged version (within permissible copyright restrictions) with computer print outs.

4. Assistance with locating materials by the trained library staffs.

5. Flexible & longer loan periods.

6. Allow the disabled students to authorize their supporting or helping workers to borrow books, collect holds or photocopying receipts and pay fines on their behalf.

7. Provide assistance with the use of library computers, catalogs, literature indexes, microform readers, or other library equipment.

8. Meet their reference questions in a kind manner.

9. Provide assistance with printing from library computers with emailing search results.

10. Help in filling out an interlibrary loan, document delivery, reserve, or search requests.

11. In the absence of Reference Desk staff, Circulation Services staff will help as per their limit. Reference assistance is available by calling a reference desk or by email.

12. The Librarians can provide advice on print and electronic resources for specific subject areas.

Training for Library and Information Staff:

Library profession always needs cordial assistance for serving the users in a better way. So, professional library services depend largely on the continuous upgrading of staff through methodical training on a regular basis. It could be fortnightly, monthly, or seasonal training. Special training requirements can be determined by the Library management and training Officers depending upon the skills and training needs of the individuals. Once the need has been assessed the method of training can be planned. Here is a simple and effective training plan that can be implemented:


To familiarize with important aspects of disability and disabled users in a Library environment.


A five-day course of lectures, discussions and practical work. The practical training could be held in small groups giving each group an opportunity to work with all types of disabled users.


A resource package of the training manual.


• Concepts on disability: (visits to hospitals, centers for the blind and other kinds of handicapped persons).

• Developing communication and counseling skills.

• Professional library services, a single line of command, the concentration of effort, time-bound work, field orientation and linkage with research.

• Case studies.

In training and work review, session’s staff of all levels can report and discuss their successes from which lessons may be drawn.

For citing this article use:



Declaration: Articles shared in this blog are collected from different sources available on the internet to help students of Library and Information Science. Sources are mentioned in the reference section of the article. If you have any objections about the content of this blog, feel free to contact the site admin at

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *