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Akron-Summit County Public Library earns sensory-inclusion certification

October 12, 2018

Akron-Summit County Public Library earns sensory-inclusion certification

AKRON, Ohio – The Akron-Summit County Public Library has been certified as  sensory-inclusive, meaning it is able to serve patrons who face challenges processing lights, sounds, motion and other stimulators that can trigger stress.

Some other libraries in the U.S. are certified sensory-inclusive, but Akron-Summit County is the first library system to be certified across all 19 branches.

The library celebrated the certification Friday with a ceremony at the Goodyear branch, unveiling Quiet Zones, new signs and so-called sensory bags, which are available at all library locations.

The sensory bags contain items that can be helpful to people experiencing sensory overload, such as noise-cancelling headphones, fidget toys and a card with icons that assist with communication. Weighted lap pads are also available, which can lend a sense of security.

To earn the designation, the library has worked over the past year with KultureCity, a nonprofit pioneering inclusion for people with autism, PTSD, early dementia and other conditions in which stress is triggered by crowds, noises or lights. KultureCity awards the sensory-inclusion certification.

More than 400 Akron-Summit County library employees - from librarians to IT - have been trained to identify people with such sensitivities, and to accept them, said Deputy Director Barb White, who spearheaded the effort.

Too many individuals and families who once enjoyed the library’s programs stop participating once early dementia sets in or children are diagnosed with autism, White said. They fear they are upsetting to other patrons because of their unusual behaviors or that something will trigger a reaction, she said.

“We don’t want folks to feel like the library is not a place for them,” White said. “Everyone is welcome. In fact, we’re just opening the doors wider.”

KultureCity representative Amy Belles worked with the Akron library to earn its certification. Belles’ 13-year-old son, Carson, has autism and uses a speech device to communicate. In 2017, Belles worked with the Akron Zoo and Quicken Loans Arena to help them earn their sensory-inclusion certifications.

“The library is a cornerstone of a community,” she told those gathered at the Goodyear branch. “It’s a place where Carson and all individuals should be welcomed. With simple accommodations, acceptance and inclusion are possible.”

Also in attendance was Lawrence Williams, a library patron and Vietnam veteran who has two Purple Heart and suffers from PTSD. Williams said he avoids fireworks and sometimes dons noise-cancelling headphones to calm himself.

“I think this is awesome,” he said of the library’s certification. “If we had something like this to start with, when we first came back home, all of us veterans with PTSD, it might have been better for us.”

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