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Morris library puts focus on accessibility

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 06/30/2018 9:00 AM

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Valley Regional Library head librarian Diane Ali and secretary-treasurer Claudia Schmidt display a small collection of Braille books, one of several ways the library is improving the accessibility of its building and catalogue ahead of new provincial regulations that take effect in November.

JORDAN ROSS | THE CARILLON Enlarge Image

Valley Regional Library head librarian Diane Ali and secretary-treasurer Claudia Schmidt display a small collection of Braille books, one of several ways the library is improving the accessibility of its building and catalogue ahead of new provincial regulations that take effect in November.

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Valley Regional Library in Morris is making a concerted effort to increase the user-friendliness of its building and catalogue ahead of the full implementation of new provincial accessibility legislation later this fall.

The public library, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, receives a per capita operating grant from the provincial government, and support from the Town of Morris and RM of Morris, but secretary-treasurer Claudia Schmidt said it’s still been a challenge to fund the necessary upgrades, which include a $9,000 automatic door.

An engineering assessment recommended other smaller improvements, including larger, more legible interior signage, yellow trim on steps and risers, lever handles for all doors, and a wheelchair-accessible service counter and bathroom.

Thanks to community donations and the TD Summer Reading Club, the library has also added five Braille children’s books to its collection.

Head librarian Diane Ali said the books augment the library’s large-print selections, which have increased in popularity.

"We’re finding we’re having more and more people who are reading large print."

Ali and Schmidt hope the Braille books make the library’s services more relevant to the visually impaired, and serve as an educational resource for sighted children wanting to learn more about the skills and adaptations used to overcome disabilities.

With today’s public libraries competing with a myriad of other entertainment options, increasing accessibility is one way to ensure the public always feels welcome, Ali noted.

The library building, located at the corner of Main Street and Ottawa Avenue, was formerly a Masonic lodge. When membership dwindled, the property was sold to the newly formed Valley Library Foundation for a loonie.

"And I do not think I ever paid them the dollar. I forgot," Schmidt quipped.

The building was gutted and insulated, and reinforced beams were added to support the weight of bookshelves.

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act, proclaimed in 2013, creates mandatory accessibility standards that all businesses and non-profits with at least one employee are required to meet by Nov. 1, 2018.

The province has estimated one in six Manitobans faces accessibility challenges, a figure that’s expected to rise as the province’s population ages.

While Schmidt said she supports the legislation, she acknowledged it has created a tall order for a small rural organization that partially relies on volunteers. Still, the board is determined to do all it can by November, and chip away at further improvements after that, she said.

Schmidt also held out hope the province will provide some grant funding for small organizations with the willpower, but not the funds, to complete larger accessibility improvements.

"The government should always put some money with things like this," she said.

For more information on the Accessibility for Manitobans Act, visit accessibilitymb.ca.

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