In various parts of Alberta and throughout Canada, access for patrons with disabilities to fully utilize and have access to libraries and their services is not yet available, or even expected. It should be noted how fortunate Calgarian’s are to have not only accessible and inclusive libraries, but also have civic council members, architects, planners,engineers, and advisory committees that realize that for many individuals and families, today’s modern cities and towns may be convenient and fascinating places for working, education, and living, offering a great variety of opportunities and experiences. It is also important to realize that for many individuals with disabilities, such built environments are full of uncertainties,anxieties and dangers that prevent them from moving about freely, independently and safely.

After watching and listening to the comments recently made, and touring the building myself, we have to realize that a library is more than just books and bookshelves. In defense of such a beautiful and accessible building, from its concept and design, to physically building the structure, the City of Calgary and the Calgary Public Library has been committed to providing accessible library services for people with disabilities, their families and their caregivers who wish to obtain and use library services.  As recently witnessed,the issue of accessibility and inclusion is often discussed in the context of patron complaints when the physical environments fail to support their unique needs. The lack of understanding of what accessibility and inclusion really means, or how accessibility features can be missed and/or misinterpreted between the design and build phases, can create tensions between service providers, designers,architects, engineers, and their patrons.

Whether auditing and evaluating existing buildings and services, or planning new ones, accessibility is not a separate or segregated part of the design and build process, but an integral part of design that affects all users of the library regardless of age or ability. Inclusive design does not mean designing one distinct space for a specific group of users,followed by another distinct space for a different group.  As we are all aware, change often occurs slowly, but the main thing is to focus on the most important issue(s) now; as potential barriers to accessing the new library are identified and brought forward, the Calgary Public Library has made changes and renovations and will continue to make equality of access for all persons, regardless of age or ability, their guiding principle.

In conclusion, yes for some we may not see ourselves as having options, but for those of us who do, we must play the role of advocates by ensuring that choices are provided. To effectively discuss and advocate for appropriate, accessible, affordable, equitable and inclusive library services, it must be in positive terms not negative ones.

New Central Library, images by Erin Bengert