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Best practices for serving students with disabilities

Sue Samson (The University of Montana‐Missoula, Missoula, Montana, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 17 May 2011




This study aims to establish a set of best practices that reflect the spirit of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and comply with the new 2010 Department of Justice regulations.


At each of eight academic libraries in four Rocky Mountain states, the librarian most directly responsible for library services to students with disabilities was interviewed, comprehensive criteria to physical facilities, services, management practices, and investments were used, access leading to and within the library was considered, and data and observations to place each library in the framework of the diametrically opposed reactive or universal access service models were analyzed.


Self‐reporting students with disabilities were the largest minority group at three campuses and the second largest minority group at another three campuses. Five libraries based their services primarily on reaction to complaints, and three libraries incorporated most elements of universal access. No consistent approach or set of best practices to serve students with disabilities existed across the eight participating libraries.

Practical implications

The best practices identified in this research provide academic libraries the resources to meet the spirit of the ADA and comply with the new Department of Justice regulations to be implemented in 2012.


No other recent study documents the broad spectrum of service needs that can be proactively addressed by academic libraries for students and faculty with disabilities. This study underscores the value of universal access to information as a civil right of this user group while also improving services for all.



Samson, S. (2011), "Best practices for serving students with disabilities", Reference Services Review, Vol. 39 No. 2, pp. 260-277.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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