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Primary Source Acting Director's Message -- June 2010

Image Caption: 
Marsha Semmel
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Image of Marsha L. SemmelThis year, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ensures the civil rights of people with disabilities. The need to recommit to the ADA is growing. Nearly 20 percent of people aged five and older have some type of long-lasting condition or disability, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Since disability rates rise with age and the Baby Boom generation -- 78.3 million people born between 1946 and 1964 – is maturing, disability rates will inevitably climb. IMLS is working on many levels to address issues of fairness and accessibility: inside our agency, through grants to libraries and museums, and at the national and international level.

At IMLS, a staff group is actively working to stay abreast of and model best practices related to accessibility and inclusion. Plans are underway to provide regular staff training, increase and improve external communications, and initiate projects to commemorate the ADA anniversary. We also updated our accessibility language in the 2011 Guide to Programs and Opportunities and are receiving greater numbers of accessibility-oriented applications for museum and library projects. For example, IMLS just awarded the University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies in Tuscaloosa a grant to train graduate students to leverage new technologies to serve people with disabilities. In another project, the Queens Museum of Art in New York is partnering with the Queens Library and Quality Services for the Autistic Community to develop a model community-based art therapy program for Spanish-speaking families of children with autism spectrum disorders.

A StoryCorps facilitator interviews patrons of the Braille Institute Library.
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A StoryCorps facilitator interviews patrons of the Braille Institute Library.

IMLS was also proud to award the 2009 National Medal for Library Services to the Braille Institute Library in Los Angeles, which provides programming and library services to blind, visually impaired, reading disabled, and physically handicapped patrons in southern California. Through a partnership with IMLS, StoryCorps recently visited this library (and will visit our other medal winners in the coming months) to gather patrons’ stories about how the library’s outreach programs – the book-of-the-month clubs, children’s book clubs, and annual summer reading programs -- have made a positive impact on their lives. To explore other IMLS projects, please click here.

Here in Washington, I recently had the opportunity to participate in the International VSA Education Conference, part of the international VSA festival on arts and disability. The entire city was alive with exciting speakers, performers, and artists working in many media. The IMLS session, "Museums as Powerful Resources for 21st-Century Skills," drew on our 21st century skills initiative, which identifies access in all of its dimensions (affordability; universal design principle physical access; intellectual access; and technological assess) as a core principles of 21st century museums and libraries.

IMLS is also working on the international stage to promote access to published materials for the blind and visually impaired. As a member of the U.S. delegation to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, we are working to facilitate access across national borders to special format materials that can be used by people with print disabilities. This exception is sorely needed. Today, only five percent of published materials in the U.S. are made in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, or audio-formats within the first year after publication.

The conversation about access and inclusion in the global knowledge society has taken on new ramifications, created new challenges, and offers exciting new possibilities. IMLS is committed, as an agency and as a funder, to ensuring opportunities for all. In this anniversary year, we invite you to learn more about ways that you and your organization can improve your inclusive practice. One useful resource is, a comprehensive government Web site of disability-related information and resources. Together, we can make a difference.

- Marsha L. Semmel, Acting Director, IMLS

Click here to read the full June 2010 issue of the Primary Source e-newsletter.

IMLS Press Contacts

Jeannine Mjoseth,
Mamie Bittner,

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit