Today I am pondering what to do when customers self-disclose that they have or their children the same disability that we do. Of course, we can NOT give medical advice or directly ask a customer why s\he wants a certain type of information. I would never advocate that we do either. Are there ever circumstances when it is appropriate to respond to a customer's disclosure with self-disclosure of our own? When a customer comes in, desperate for information, and confides that they are concerned because she\he or his\her child just received a diagnosis? When customers ask for information about support groups and other activities in the community, explaining their own frustrations in managing a disability that we share? How do we balance our professionalism as librarians with our desire to share and reassure based on our personal experience? What do my colleagues with disabilities think? Has anyone had positive or negative experiences with this type of self-disclosure?
I'm nervous starting this blog, because it is only recently that I have started speaking openly about my disabilities to colleagues. After all, a professional context is hardly the place to discuss personal problems and, until recently, that's what my disabilities felt like: personal problems. One day I realized that by treating my disabilities as personal problems that can't be talked about openly, I am adding to the distress that many children, teens, and young adults as they attempt to figure out how to balance living a full life with the often difficult reality of having one or more disabilities. As a librarian, I am naturally concerned that libraries be welcoming places--and feeling welcome is not the same as knowing that, legally, one is entitled to library services. I am both reassured and pleased by the fact that most of my colleagues have not only accepted my viewpoint as valid, but have been willing to allow what I say and write to inform their own practice. What experiences have others had in talking openly about disabilities in a professional context?
The content on this website mostly comes from my perspective as a youth services librarian with disabilities. The further I travel along life's road, the more entwined these two parts of my identity become. Librarian: I have an MLS from Rutgers University and have working in public libraries for nearly 20 years. The focus on my career has always been youth services. Disabled: I've been disabled more than twice as long as I've been a librarian. My experience started at birth when I was immediately diagnosed with cleft palate. Also present was a non-verbal learning disability (NLD) for short. This was not formally diagnosed until I was 19, leading to years of frustration. My Tourette Syndrome was not present at birth, but surely started young as I don't ever remember living without it. The Tourette was also not diagnosed until adulthood, further compounding my frustration. Coincidentally, I was also diagnosed with IBD (more commonly known as Chron's\Ulcerative Colitis) at the age of 19. That was another easy diagnosis--as with cleft palate, they look and they see it.