SAA AMRT/RMRT Joint Working Group on Accessibility in Archives and Records Management

Accessibility in Archives Survey

In July 2008, the working group distributed an online survey concerning working with people with disabilities in archives to members of the SAA Archives & Archivists Discussion List.  The results of this survey are summarized in the following article: 


Ganz, Michelle. “Survey Conducted on ‘Accessibility in Archives.” Archival Outlook (Nov/Dec 2008): 8, 24.

Best Practices Based on the Survey


In August 2009, the working group created two sets of recommendations based on this survey.  With some minor revisions, these have now been adopted by SAA as best practices:


The Best Practices for Working with Archives Employees with Physical Disabilities and Best Practices for Working with Archives Researchers with Physical Disabilities have been posted as PDF files on the main SAA site.


Because the group charge explicitly states that this group should consider “physical impairments,” the best practices in this document are limited to mobility, sight, and hearing impairments.


Several resources for general accessibility guidelines and laws are available, but two are particularly relevant for archives: 


Serene, Frank H. Making Archives Accessible for People With Disabilities. Washington, D.C. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), 2008. 


DeLatte, Monique, ed. Library Accessibility: What You Need to Know. Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA), 2009. 


In Making Archives Accessible for People with Disabilities, Serene details the relevant legal guidelines concerning buildings and grounds, barrier removal, accessible routes, entranceways, and public facilities (restrooms, telephones, water fountains, etc.). It also includes explanations of reasonable and readily achievable accommodations as well as undue hardship. In addition to these elements, there is much in this publication that is particularly relevant for archives in their dealings with researchers, employees, and job applicants. 


ASCLA’s Library Accessibility: What You Need to Know toolkit addresses physical, cognitive, mental, developmental, learning, physical, auditory, and sight disabilities and are specific to best practices for libraries. 


Our intention with these best practices was to make the information in these two publications and the laws and standards that govern accessible building and accommodations about disabilities and accommodations more relevant and applicable to archivists and archival institutions. Our aim was to create a checklist of those practices that are specific to archives.  

 Some of the tips recommended for libraries in the ASCLA toolkit are NOT recommended for use in archives. One example: The ASCLA “Tip Sheet 4: Patrons With Mobility Impairments,” suggests having on hand grabbers and tote bags. Because archives materials are often very fragile and because of the security risk involved, we recommend in place of providing these things that archives employees assist researchers with reaching and carrying materials and turning pages when needed.

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