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Changing Lives at the DLC

In November 2018, a unique program at Florida’s libraries, the Deaf Literacy Center (DLC), celebrates its 20th birthday.

People from around the country regularly ask DLC’s coordinator, Rosa Rodriguez, how it started.  

“Here’s the thing,” she says, “We had a problem that they don’t have, which was the people who were here.” 

Patrons having fun at DLC's Spring Picnic. Photo courtesy of DLC.

History

Back in 1998, Safety Harbor Public Library was grappling with how to meet the needs of its deaf patrons.

Many of them had moved to the area for a mental health program serving the deaf. However, they typically needed more help than that outpatient program provided.

Interactions between deaf patrons and library staff were difficult and fraught with miscommunication, often resulting in disruptive behavior requiring police intervention.

The underlying issues were:

  • Staff didn’t know American Sign Language (ASL).
  • Deaf patrons weren’t proficient in English.
  • Deaf patrons didn’t know the rules.
  • Cultural differences between the deaf and hearing led to clashes.

With 20 to 30 deaf patrons in the library every day, the library needed to find ways to serve them better. Initial changes included:

  • Special guidelines for deaf patrons to accommodate their needs.
  • Staff training in ASL and deaf culture.
  • Funding through LSTA to support deaf programming.

Improved communication and understanding between staff and deaf patrons solved the issues. Events tailored to them helped them feel welcome and gave them a much-needed social outlet.     

imls180.for.panel.jpgMany of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Florida's LSTA program is administered by the Department of State's Division of Library and Information Services.