Thursday, February 18, 2010

Turning Back the Clock In Madison County

The definition of 'public' has long suggested that any event, service or facility is open to a diverse cross-section of the larger communities in which we live. Open challenges to the very definition of 'public' divided this country during the civil rights movement of the twentieth century. Jim Crow laws in the South restricted the very definition of 'public' by prohibiting blacks from using drinking fountains, eateries, and buses that were specifically labeled for white use only. Apparently, portions of Idaho have not progressed since the days of Brown v Board, the Montgomery bus boycott, and sit-ins.

According to KPVI and the Rexburg Standard Journal, the Madison Library District has launched a new policy that bans a specific demographic from using the library. The demographic--disabled children who frequent the public library with life skills trainers, developmental therapists, and other supervisors.

The letter articulating the new policy was released earlier this month and reads as follows:

It has become problematical to bring problem children to the library for non-library functions. The library is a place for the public to use for library functions. It is inappropriate as a place of business such as work with problem children, especially when that use interferes with library functions.

Our library functions are severely compromised:
• When tables for four are completely dominated by two
• When the safety of other library users cannot be assured
• When children’s difficulties that should be private are made public
• When behavioral control is lost to the degree that police must be summoned
• When common rules of not using cell phones in the library are ignored

The Board of Trustees of the Madison Library District determined at the November 18, 2009, meeting that the library should be restricted from use in the above conditions, and that if children are brought to the library, it should be for training in library use. The board determined that the library is an inappropriate place for counseling children.
For those unfamiliar with what is taking place in the Rexburg library, in many cities and towns developmental therapy programs exist for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. These programs offer a range of services to help individuals with daily life skills. Community-based therapy programs often pair a disabled individual with a therapist/trainer/coach who accompanies them out into the community where they participate in events and learn how to use the services in their community. Many of these programs incorporate libraries, public transportation, parks and recreation, and other public services into daily or weekly sessions. The children being targeted by the Madison library are using the facility as any other member of the community would--for a variety of purposes including checking out books, using the internet, and searching for information.

The letter being distributed by the library suggests a few falsehoods that need correction. First, the individuals who work in a professional capacity with the disabled are not counselors; they do not offer counseling, they are not qualified to do so, and even if they were, they would not do so in a public setting. A great deal of developmental therapy is centered on making it easier for the disabled to function in society just as seamlessly as you or I do. It is also important to understand that these disabled children being targeted are not "running wild" in the library and are never unsupervised. Taking a disabled child into a library is no more distracting or problematic than taking a toddler into a library. In fact, depending on the diagnosis of these children, they may be just as quiet and well-behaved as you or I. There is always the chance that one of these kids doesn't understand the difference between an indoor voice and an outdoor voice, but isn't that distinction the entire purpose of their community-based training/therapy? They are learning how to behave in the community and are attempting to fit in as much is possible.

As a country we have come a long way from the horrors of the system we once had in place for caring for the disabled. Long gone are the days that a young mother with a disabled child would be told to have that child locked away, protecting society from that child and doing nothing to protect that child from the challenges of a prejudiced society. Yet in the twenty-first century, the Madison Library District Board of Trustees would have those children locked away and out of society's sight rather than have a few patrons hear any personal detail about a disabled child's life.

What is taking place in the Madison library is without question discrimination. A public library should not have the right to restrict its patronage, especially if that restriction so blatantly discriminates against an entire subsection of the populace.

The Madison Library District might as well put a "whites only" sign above the main entrance.

No comments :