Public libraries have a long tradition, and a valued part to play, in providing a range of services for their diverse communities. However, when it comes to equal access for community members regardless of ability or disability, the conversation in Australia has frequently stagnated around providing ramps, space around collections to navigate, or the provision of different collection types or media. Australia is not characterised by a strong literature base around library services for people with disabilities which, coupled with a lack of legislation and an adage of “do more with less”, means that public expectations of access for people with disabilities is not high. Further, public libraries themselves are often faced with complicated decisions as to where to allocate funding across the whole of the community served – with the result that people with a disability may be shut out of a key structure that ironically works to build social justice, equity, and autonomy. This may especially be the case where a person has an invisible disability, meaning that they must declare their disability or themselves as ‘disabled’ or never receive assistance. Using an interpretive paradigm with qualitative interviews with people with invisible disabilities, this paper aims to broaden the Australian conversation beyond the “accessible ramp” to look at the information behaviour, needs, civic engagement, and social inclusion of people with an invisible disability.
I originally worked for the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service, working with people with multiple presenting issues including physical and invisible disabilities. Following this experience, I started my library career as a casual library officer at the Unversity of Tasmania while completing my Bachelor of Arts with Honours. After transitioning to a Liaison Librarian role and completing my Masters of Information Studies, I moved to Victoria to work as a branch librarian at a regional public library serive. I am passionate about the future of all libraries and about building a strong and inclusive library service that is shaped around the unique needs, aspirations, and requirements of their communities. I have worked in the library sector for almost nine years, and I am currently in my third year part time of a Doctor of Information Studies looking at the information needs, behaviours, civic engagement, and social inclusion of people with an invisible disability in relation to public libraries. During 2018, I served on the ALIA Policy Working Group - Library and information services for people with a disability, revising and updating the ALIA principles, statement, and guidelines on library services and standards for people with disabilities. I have recently commenced employment with Deakin University, based on the Warrnambool campus.