For Christine Wells, the Hoover Public Library’s commitment to offering inclusive programming hits close to home.
By Christine Wells | Library Specialist, Hoover Public Library
For the first several years of my brother’s life, I was the only one who could understand what Will was trying to say. My parents called me his translator. As a child, Will lived in an elaborate world of Disney characters, Elvis songs and knock-knock jokes. But as he has aged, his needs, interests and communication abilities have changed.
My brother’s multiple diagnoses include Down Syndrome and autism, although those words do not begin to describe him as a person. His diagnoses have made finding a program or service that could support and include Will—and provide him with the basic need of community support—difficult. However, he loves to be in the community. We spent many hours at the Hoover Public Library when we were kids, and I know we checked out every available Dr. Seuss book dozens of times. My decades of experience with my brother, combined with experience as a preschool teacher and case manager at a research-based preschool for kids with autism, have made me passionate about inclusion and respect for the community of children and adults with autism, Down Syndrome and other forms of disabilities or neurodiversity. Many of my experiences in life have been molded by my relationship with my brother.
When I began working at the Hoover Public Library in 2017, we were just beginning to discuss the possibility of offering a sensory storytime. Katie Jane Morris, our Outreach Librarian, created our first iteration of Sensory Storytime in 2018. Now, in 2019, I am thrilled to be leading Sensory Storytime for kids ages 2-12 with autism or other sensory challenges, along with Polly Edwards. Sensory Storytime is smaller and quieter than our other storytimes. We cover the lights in our storytime room with blue fabric to dim the harsh light, and we provide fidget toys and manipulatives to the kids. Everything is prepared to be gentle toward sensory input, and to make storytime a welcoming environment.
The Hoover Public Library has been working to change the conversation around access and inclusion in storytimes, children’s programs and services. We expanded the age range for Sensory Storytime. We provide outreach to Special Education classrooms at many Hoover City Schools, and we are working with programs in the area to provide outreach and sensory-friendly programming here at the library. We recently partnered with Spring Valley School for a special display featuring Dyslexia Awareness month, and portions of our Parenting collection are currently being re-labeled with puzzle piece stickers to make it easier to find books that address parenting children with autism.
We focus on more than just the kids. Kids with disabilities and neurodiversity become adults with the same needs, and it is vital that adults with disabilities and neurodiversity feel welcomed and supported by public library programming. Visitors from ARC of Central Alabama, a program that serves adults with intellectual disabilities, come to the Hoover Library on a weekly basis. “The inclusive programming and welcoming atmosphere at the Hoover Library has tremendously enhanced the lives of those we serve,” says Kim Spangler, Community Experiences Coordinator for ARC of Central Alabama. “The library employees are always kind, and they go above and beyond to make our experience at the library a good one.”
Because we are consistently trying to improve inclusivity in our programming and services, we are also launching new programs for adults with disabilities in the spring of 2020. We will show sensory-friendly movies in January and March, and we are planning programs that focus on STEM activities and stories designed for our patrons with neurodiversity.
It is our goal to provide programming and services that would welcome, support and embrace patrons like my brother. Because of my experience with Will, I have a passion for inclusivity and am hyper-aware of how programming can be improved or expanded to serve patrons of all abilities. That passion is supported at the Hoover Public Library and the city of Hoover, which has been working to increase awareness of community members with differing abilities and to make programs and services more inclusive and accessible. These efforts include the universally designed EXPLORE playground with inclusive play areas and accessible bathrooms with adult changing tables, and the therapeutic programs offered at the Hoover Recreation Center serving children and adults with a variety of disabilities and neurodiversity. We want to ensure that every member of the community we serve feels that they are not only in the community, but a part of the community.