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Special Needs Clearinghouse

Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Innovation Summary

Developed a “Special Needs Clearinghouse” of tools designed to support staff at all locations in integrating special needs young people into Library events.

Problem Statement

Families with special needs children are interested in attending all Library programs. The Library must ensure that events provide ample opportunities for participation and engagement by all attendees, including those with special needs.


In the past, the Library’s Outreach Services staff designed programs specifically geared for young people with special needs. Now the focus has changed to include leading others in the provision of these services and programs. The Outreach Services department, in consultation with community experts, developed a list of easily-transported resources needed to enhance service to special needs children. Approximately $5500 in trust fund money was utilized to purchase these items. Items include wooden chairs offering support for sitting through a program, chairs with arms to help children push themselves from a sitting to standing position, sensory rolls with textures to add sensory stimulation to a program, portable weighted shapes to aid in concentration, and “Big Mack Switches” which allow staff to record a message that can be triggered by touching a button, allowing nonverbal children to participate in verbal activities. In order to facilitate the use of these items throughout the Library’s 41 locations a “Special Needs Clearinghouse” was implemented. The Outreach Services Department acts as a clearinghouse for these assistive items by maintaining the items and an inventory list. Access for staff system-wide is provided to this inventory through a wiki. When staff at any library location recognizes a potential opportunity to engage a child with special needs in using their branch and attending Library programs, Outreach Services is contacted and arrangements are made to borrow the assistive equipment. As part of this effort each location is provided with a “Special Needs Starter Kit” which includes adaptive scissors, paint brushes, crayons, and pencil grips. Outreach Services replenishes the Kits when supplies run low.


Approximately twelve locations have borrowed the seating and equipment to help special needs children in program participation, up from six locations last Spring. Two branches host regularly-scheduled programs and school visits from special needs children and have served more than 100 young people in the last two years. The Technology Center at our Main Library has added several “track balls” to facilitate use of their technology by special needs individuals. The Special Needs Clearinghouse model allows the experts in Outreach Services to spread their knowledge and resources to serve more children and families by prioritizing reaching special needs children “where they are”, rather than forcing the children and their families and caregivers to accept service on the Library’s terms.