Equal access, equal opportunities: the library raised accessibility standards in 1982
From the archives of Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
On August 31, 2021, Sault Ste. Marie Public Library proudly celebrated its 125th anniversary. Over its 125 year history, the library has evolved significantly to serve the citizens of Sault Ste. Marie.
Modern public libraries differ from other public facilities and spaces in their ability to provide free access to reading materials, technology and educational programs for all members of the public in order to break down social barriers.
Public libraries, past and present, have successfully broken down many social barriers and provide learning, recreation and leisure opportunities for users of all ages. In order to remain relevant and useful to the public over the past century, public libraries have responded to the needs of society. The Sault-St. Marie Public Library has helped reduce social barriers in Sault Ste. Marie and has also worked to improve accessibility for guests with physical disabilities.
Public libraries, like many other public spaces built in the early 20th century, were often not designed for people with physical disabilities. High-rise buildings designed without elevators served as schools and libraries and created barriers for people with physical disabilities.
In 1978, the United Nations General Assembly declared 1981 the International Year of People with Disabilities and called on communities around the world to work to improve accessibility and equal opportunities for people with physical disabilities.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs notes: “The theme of the IYDP was ‘full participation and equality’, defined as the right of people with disabilities to fully participate in the life and development of their societies and to enjoy living conditions that are equivalent to those of other citizens and have an equal share in improved conditions that result from socio-economic development. “(un.org)
Mr. Brian Ingram, Director of Sault Ste. Marie Public Library at this point responded to this call to action. In March 1982, renovation work on the accessibility was in progress.
The public library got an elevator! The elevator was supplied by Concord Elevator Co. of Brampton. George Kennedy and Sons were commissioned to build it.
The elevator had an opening 36 inches wide with an “easy to open” door that was set to close slowly. The elevator also had a wired glass viewing window. The control panel was placed in a low position with large, easily visible buttons. The elevator was scheduled to go into operation at the end of March 1982.
The total cost of the elevator construction project was $ 93,500.
Also included in these costs were six pneumatic doors, renovations to the public washrooms, ramps to the main doors, and other interior work.
In the summer of 1981 the library had planned two fundraising projects. Mr Ingram hoped the two upcoming projects would generate enough revenue to cover the amount that had to be raised in the community before Wintario was asked to make up the difference.
In 1981, Wintario provided the project with a $ 68,000 grant that covered approximately 75 percent of the total cost. Generous donations have been made by other non-profit organizations.
In December 1981 Sault Ste. Marie Lions Club donated $ 8,000 and the Sault Ste. Marie donated $ 5,000.
By February 1982, the Wintario Grant, along with gifts from Lions and Rotary clubs and other private donations, reduced the cost of the library to just $ 7,000. Mr. Ingram, who had learned to be very frugal and hardworking during his tenure, decided to sell the library’s existing entrance doors because they were short of cash!
He received $ 100 for the original doors. The library’s fifth annual book sale, held in August 1982, would raise $ 4,400, bringing the project deficit down to $ 3,500. Mr. Ingram also received donations from the kind hearted students at St. Bernadette School, who decided to donate $ 75 to help install the elevator.
During the International Year of People with Disabilities 1981 the library carried out several projects.
In June 1981, ramps were added to the front door of the East Branch Library in Churchill Plaza to make the branch more accessible to people with physical disabilities.
Another project, a brochure written by Karen Bertelsen, lists public library resources on various disabilities and services that Sault Ste. Marie Social Agencies. Free copies of this resource guide, Disabilities: A Literature and Resource Guide, were made available to the public at the lending desk in the main library.
Mr. Ingram and the Library Council had spent five to six years looking for ways to transform the library before the project became a reality.
It was so important to Mr. Ingram and the library board that all Sault citizens be able to use the library. Although Mr. Ingram and the Library Council faced budget cuts, Mr. Ingram made it clear in 1981 that “Budget cut ideas will never, and never will, be at the expense of the disabled.”
After months of planning and fundraising, the Centennial Library celebrated the grand opening of the new public elevator on Tuesday, August 10, 1982.
The new library elevator had been up and running for months, but the grand opening gave customers, employees, government officials, and other fundraising parties a chance to celebrate accessibility, inclusion, diversity, and elevator technology!
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