Debbie Gould is one of the librarians I work with in Parkes, New South Wales. She creates and delivers library programmes for the Currajong Disability Group. Currajong clients are people who require some degree of care. They are diverse in ability, with some who are nonverbal, some needing 24/7 care, and others who have learning disabilities. Debbie created a game for Parkes’ Fun Palace last month and was then able to share it with her clients in the group on one of their weekly visits.
Here’s Debbie talking about her work with the Currajong group, and how she brings Parkes’ philosophy of fun and open-ended learning to library users with disabilities.
At Parkes Library, we believe that libraries are about so much more than books and shelves. Our job is helping our whole community to learn, explore, and have fun on their own terms.
I started working with the Currajong Disability group at the start of 2012. I’ve been doing it for almost three years now, but the clients change and so I’m always adapting my programme to suit them.
In the early days, it was trial and error. I wasn’t concerned about not being able to relate to the clients, but I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to provide a programme that worked for everyone, all the time. I wanted all the clients to enjoy their library time. As the weeks passed, I could see that the group did enjoy themselves. Their needs were met even though I was experimenting as I went along, finding out what was going to work best. That was part of the experience!
Building a relationship with the clients took time. It was important to watch and listen as well as present to the group. Clients have different ability levels, and my sessions had to take that into consideration.
In the group, we explore books and stories as well as practical and playful activities. I have found that the world of my clients is very factual. The world of fiction relies on imagination and a sense of “let’s pretend” which can be difficult for my clients. Concepts such as animal characters in books taking on human characteristics aren’t always understood. Quite often clients don’t get the punch line at the end of a story because it isn’t a “real” experience.
Clients work better with non-fiction and real life activities, where as many of the senses can be engaged as possible. Simple science experiments and activities are often popular. Each session I try to incorporate sight, hearing, touch, smell. Taste is explored sometimes but I have to be mindful that not all clients are able to take food by mouth and some have special dietary needs.
When I designed a game for Parkes’ Fun Palace weekend, I chose to make a maze based on old sideshow games. Players had to drop a ping-pong ball into a slot and try to land on a high score. Age and ability was not a hindrance to playing the game I created. I saw the joy people had playing it at the Fun Palace, and knew that my clients would have a good time with it.
Watching the Currajong group play my game was interesting. They all interacted with it in different ways, but they were all excited to see the end result. They loved the mystery of just where the ball would land. Each of them played their own version of the game – even if it wasn’t quite what I’d intended, they still achieved the goal of landing a score with the ping pong ball.
Relationships are key to making this group work. Without a solid relationship between clients, carers, and the library, our sessions would not be successful. There is no way a programme could run and meet the goals set if the presenter was not mindful of the clients and their needs.
All relationships take time to develop; they need genuine interest, concern, and respect. A little bit of yourself has to be given in each session you present. If it isn’t, then you aren’t presenting effectively. Working with disabled adults is a privilege and it has been exciting to see each client share a bit of their personality in the sessions. The joy and reward from the sessions is priceless and being able to expand the world the clients live in is amazing.
This is a condensed version of a blog post which originally appeared at Parkes’ site, Dog Eared.