We Took A Field Trip to One of the Happiest (& Most Accessible) Places on Earth

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No, we didn’t go to Disney World.

Libraries are pretty terrific! And instead of a day pass of $50 or more, all you need is a library card, and everything is always free. Libraries provide books and resources for everyone. It would only make sense that they’re one of the most accessible places for people with disabilities.

Four books stacked with the top book open and pages fanned out

Navigating Your Local Library

For the longest time, the library was the hub for the community. Considering Braille Works is located in the Tampa Bay area, we went to Hillsborough County’s central branch, the John F. Germany Public Library. Sarah Watts-Catsinger, Librarian, treated us to an Accessibility Tour and more. She helped us navigate library resources, bestsellers in large print and audio, music, videos, computer labs, screen magnifiers, screen readers, meeting spaces, and more. Sarah was informative and we learned that there is very little that will surprise or catch her off guard.

Ask A Librarian

The library staff is compassionate and considerate. They also do their utmost to serve the community. At the Hillsborough Public Library, there’s a person on staff who helps people find resources in braille, large print, and audio. Furthermore, the libraries’ website is fully accessible and they, “make a concerted effort to make sure the website stays accessible. If someone were to identify a need, we would do what we could.” (Sarah, Watts-Catsinger)

The Hillsborough County Downtown Library Branch offers workspaces and makerspaces that include a lightbox video room, skype studios, a recording studio, 3-D Printers. They also have a qualified staff to assist with the technical aspects, and much more.

Accessibility Equipment

You can find accessibility equipment at each of the branches. It is, however, important to note that each library branch has different resources and equipment. You can call ahead or look online to find out what’s available at each location. The library we visited was supplied with multiple ADA compliant computers with JAWS software installed. We checked and it was the latest version of JAWS; impressive. Open Book, Dragon dictation, screen magnifiers, and more were available for anyone to utilize. We also learned that there is a complete Law Library just minutes away from the central branch.

VideoEye magnifying the text of a book on a computer screen at the library

So Many Books

The library system in a county like Hillsborough is large enough that you can find most items in the network. Therefore, if your library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, there is a consortium of libraries and they will do their best to get what you need. Here’s what we learned about the other libraries that the John F. Germany Public Library has access to:

  • The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, newspapers, and more in its collections. The Library of Congress ships accessible magazines, books, and materials directly to the person’s home. They will also pick the materials up when you’re finished, free of charge. The Library of Congress has a world-class staff ready to assist you online and in person, if you’re in Washington D.C.
  • The Interlibrary Loan is a worldwide locator system used to get materials into the hands of the person who needs them. This could be accessible formats like braille and audio, or materials in large print or even another language. Typically, materials can be located within the state of Florida but it is not uncommon to expand the search.
  • WorldCat is a resource where you can type in the title of the book and see if it’s cataloged at your library or the 10,000 other libraries that they have access to worldwide. Once you find the book title, you can see if it’s available in the format you need.
  • In the state of Florida, Florida Bureau of Braille and Talking Books Library offers services to people with blindness and visual impairments. People can have items and assistive technology sent to their homes. If you live in Florida and have trouble reading print due to disabilities, you may apply.

The staff at Hillsborough libraries highly recommend the following resources:

  • Hoopla (limited to the number of titles you can check out in a month)
  • Overdrive (You should think of these as physical book whereas if it’s not checked in, you have to wait your turn. But they do buy ample copies of things, so the turnaround time is good.)

Large Print

Sarah shared, “…we do have a huge large print collection across the Hillsborough County Library. We really excel in that area… And it’s not just restricted to fiction, there’s non-fiction, all kinds of stuff, and we have a few different collections. We also have an online magazine collection through RBdigital (best selling and popular content for mobile, desktop, and streaming) that can be adjusted for large print readers. They stay up to date on the magazines out in circulation. We love this tool because it gets out to temporary and permanent disabilities that are homebound.” She also shared that the computer screens and programs can be adjusted to meet the needs of people who have dyslexia.

Update: Since the initial publishing of this blog, Flipster replaced RBditigal.

The audiobooks section of a library


Audiobooks are an excellent way to access information for people with visual impairments, blindness, neurological impairments, and learning disabilities. With audiobooks, the user has a variety of ways to access the material through devices like a smartphone, tablet, MP3 device, computer, or Bluetooth speakers, to name a handful.

Tactile Offerings

Some children need hands-on learning and the library is meeting their needs by creating skits, visual models, building blocks, art materials, and more. One of our favorite finds at the Hillsborough library is the traveling “Sensory Storytime.” Kids of all ages mix and mash things that are typically too messy for their parent’s dining room table– hence, making it a favorite of tactile learners and kids with disabilities. It gives children an opportunity to touch and feel items that appear in the story.

The librarian also integrates movement into the process to help the children store information. It’s a fun and creative way to hear and retain stories. But, hands-on learning doesn’t end there. Just like the makerspace for adults, kids can also dive into the latest STEaM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) activities in a safe and well-equipped area.

Tactile area of the library

Many thanks to Sarah Watts-Catsinger and the staff at John F. Germany Public Library. Who knew the library was such a handy and well-equipped resource?!

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This post was written by Clerise Phillip Samuel

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