I interviewed Chelsey Barnes-Shipley from not-for-profit organisation, Plumtree, that provides support for young children with developmental delays or disabilities, and their families.

Their goal is to create a society where these children and their families can have enough assistance to have a full life in the community.

Plumtree has set up Libraries as Community Connectors with the aim of raising the number of families with children with disabilities or developmental delays, access to programs at these libraries.

Storytime and Rhymetime are just two of the programs Plumtree is developing to make libraries more accessible and inclusive. Other resources include a children’s picture book, written and illustrated by Donna Rawlins that will be distributed to every library in Australia. This book shows a diverse and inclusive communityfocused library vision, much like the one Plumtree hopes to create.

Libraries that opt into the program will complete five self-paced online education modules. Part of these will be surveys that help to shape areas where the Libraries as Community Connectors team can enhance efforts to support families.

Plumtree’s professional team includes speech and occupational therapists to assist, as it is important to have experts from both fields to advise on how best to help these children.

At the start of the program, Plumtree sent out a survey to parents of children with disabilities or developmental delays, asking about their past experiences when visiting their local library. Most parents admitted to not being comfortable going to their library. Some experienced challenges accessing programs, whilst others were made to feel uncomfortable about their child’s behaviour by other families or library staff.

Librarians and library staff were surveyed and shared that they wanted all families to feel welcome. However, many said they have not received formal inclusion training and did not feel confident in facilitating programs to children with a disability.

I have seen that this is often a problem that comes up in the disability community, as people don’t intend to exclude people with disability, they just don’t know how to safely and effectively include them.

The program will take place in libraries throughout New South Wales and eventually be rolled out nationally. Some libraries are already making space for inclusivity while others are entirely new to facilitating children with disabilities. The aim of Plumtree is to gauge where each library is at and deliver training, resources and access to professionals necessary to increase their understanding, awareness and capabilities in welcoming all families.

According to Barnes-Shipley “the program is just one way we are trying to make a positive change for these families”.  

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