Disabilities Services & Programs: a short public library survey

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On behalf of the Targeting Autism Initiative, the Illinois State Library is querying public libraries to learn about programs and services that increase engagement among residents with physical and/or developmental disabilities. We would like to share your input with the wider library community in hopes that your experiences will be valuable and instructive to other librarians.

Please complete (or forward to the appropriate person) the short survey at the link provided here.

Thanks in advance for your input.




Internationally Known Autism Advocate and Author Supports Targeting Autism Project

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Michael John Carley
Autism Consultant; Author, “Asperger’s From the Inside-Out,” “Unemployed on the Autism Spectrum,” and the column, “Autism Without Fear.”
Former Executive Director of GRASP (Founder), and Integrate


I am writing to express my appreciation and support for the fabulous work being done by the Illinois Office of the Secretary of State and State Librarian, Jesse White; and the Illinois State Library’s Targeting Autism Project.  For the past four years, the Illinois State Library has made great strides in helping librarians throughout Illinois and the nation to understand and better serve the needs of the large population of individuals with autism.

As an internationally known consultant, author, speaker and autistic self-advocate, I am passionately committed to helping improve the daily lives of people with autism.  My devotion to this cause led me to become the Founder and first Executive Director of GRASP, the largest membership organization in the world comprised of adults on the autism spectrum.  I am also a lifelong library user and I can attest to the cultural value of libraries in improving the quality of life within our communities.  Clearly, the Targeting Autism project through ongoing training, consultation and various programming initiatives is playing an important role in improving the quality of life for patrons and families impacted by autism. In a prior career as a minor-league diplomat, I heard Queen Noor of Jordan accurately describe internet access as the best measuring stick of poverty we had. I agreed, and starting then, libraries, for me, took on new meaning.

I first became aware of the Targeting Autism Project last year, when I was asked to keynote their 2017 National Forum.  I soon learned that Illinois was unique in providing a national platform for engaging community stakeholders with librarians, for the purpose of increasing the role of libraries as resource centers for individuals and families impacted by autism.  The outcomes of the annual forums and other educational initiatives coming out of the Targeting Autism project have been both plentiful and valuable.  Some of these outcomes have been evidenced by the proliferation of environmental changes made within Illinois library facilities to accommodate the sensory needs of patrons on the autism spectrum.  In addition, many libraries have learned how to collaborate with community stakeholders to add resources and programming relevant to this growing population.  Finally, many Illinois libraries are making a concerted effort to offer jobs and internships to autistic applicants.  Overall, Targeting Autism offers a valuable model for developing inclusive libraries throughout and beyond Illinois. And finally, when one considers its size, Targeting Autism’s relative achievements loom large. I’ve worked closely with the Brooklyn, NY library (and especially their heroic Inclusion Manager, Carrie Banks) and your state’s programs…more than “hold up.”

Kudos to the Illinois Secretary of State and the Illinois State Library for support of the Targeting Autism initiative.  The need to continue this effort, however, is ongoing.  Social stigma and a lack of knowledge about autism remains a pervasive challenge. The dumb-dumbs are still out there (and often vocal). The development and continuation of programs such as Targeting Autism will elevate libraries to play a leadership role in promoting acceptance and inclusion throughout our neurodiverse society.


Chicago Public Library partners with Infiniteach to offer an app for their patrons with autism

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SensoryCPL app launch!

Katie Hench, co-founder, Infiniteach

Thanks to critical initiatives like the Targeting Autism program, Illinois libraries are playing a pivotal role in developing autism inclusive communities. I’m excited to share with you the resources and supports that Chicago Public Library has developed to ensure their space is welcoming and inclusive for all on the autism spectrum.

Chicago Public Library, in partnership with autism app developer Infiniteach, recently launched SensoryCPL, an app that supports individuals with autism and their families when visiting the Thomas Hughes Children’s Library in downtown Chicago.

The app includes text and video social narratives, a customizable visual schedule, an emotions chart, and more. It can be used as a pre-visit planning tool or as a resource to help during a visit. Check it out here:

Liz McChesney, Director of Children’s Services and Family Engagement shared her thoughts on what the app means to CPL:

We are so excited to roll out the Infiniteach app for guests of the Chicago Public Library.  As a public library we strive to reduce barriers, provide a welcoming haven of learning and fun and be a beacon of joy for the people of Chicago.  Infiniteach helps us achieve all those goals and we are excited to welcome families with a child on the spectrum through the easy use of the Infiniteach app. 

Apps like this can be a great tool to welcome, engage, encourage, and support guests with disabilities within your library. But adopting a new technology initiative can feel daunting, whether you are a small system with a limited budget or a large system with many layers to the approval process.

So what was our process for getting the app launched?

The partnership: Chicago Public Library and Infiniteach partnered together to develop SensoryCPL. Team CPL was responsible for sharing assets, and Infiniteach provided content and technical development.

Timeline: We had a 4 month timeline, and throughout that time, we conferenced every other week to discuss progress and questions. We actually finished up development ahead of schedule – a rarity in the app development world!

Pricing: Rather than building this app as a custom app, which can easily cost 6 figures, CPL’s app joined Infiniteach’s autism accessibility platform. The annual licensing fee is $2700 and, to get started, there was a one-time set-up and development fee that varies based on the level of customization.

 The app development process: The first step to developing the app was to assess the physical space and the experience of visiting the library. While talking about the experience, we specifically focused on sensory components, such as bright lights or the maze of getting to the children’s library, as well as behavior expectations, such as using shared materials or what happens if a desired book isn’t available.

After developing the content, we focused on collecting the assets needed to visually share that content in the app. These assets included photos of the space, a floor plan, and CPL branding materials.

Once the content and assets were ready, we began testing. Both teams were able to test the app before it was launched into the app stores. After finding and squashing a few bugs (technical, not live!), the apps were ready to launch.

The launch: The apps officially launched in the App Store and Google Play on August 29. We are currently in what we call the ‘soft launch’ phase, where the app is available to be downloaded for free, but we are selectively sharing it. This allows us to get feedback from key users, check for bugs, and make any updates and improvements before embarking on an official marketing campaign.

We cannot wait to see and hear the impact this app, in conjunction with all of CPL’s accessibility efforts, will have on the families, educators, therapists, and individuals who are part of the developmental disability community.

Please feel free to share any feedback and ideas you have (email Katie at khench@infiniteach.com), and on behalf of the autism community, thank you to Targeting Autism for helping create inclusive communities.




“Autism Welcome Here: Library Programs, Services and More” Grant applications accepted starting September 1, 2018

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This grant honors the groundbreaking work ofMeg Kolaya Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected co-founder, Meg Kolaya, for her contributions in promoting inclusion, connecting libraries with the autism community, and bringing awareness of the needs of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families to the library community.


For the fourth year, this grant will award a total of $5,000.00, with all of the funds either going to one proposal or the amount divided among several applicants, depending on the applications received. All types of libraries, either in the United States or Canada, are encouraged to apply, and proposals will be eligible that fund projects and/or services directed at any age group. Applicants may propose to initiate a new, creative program or service, bring an established, successful program or service to their library for the first time, or enhance a program or service that they currently offer. All proposed projects must benefit people with autism or their families, directly or indirectly. Funds may be used to hire a trainer to present a workshop, buy program materials, pay for staff coverage, etc., so long as these expenses further the library’s ability to serve people with autism through the proposed initiative.



Applications will be accepted starting September 1, 2018.

The application deadline is December 1, 2018.

The winning applicant(s) will be notified by March 1, 2019.

The grant-funding period is from April 1, 2019 – March 31, 2020.


1. The project is clearly described and well thought out.

2. The potential impact is significant.

3. There is institutional support for the program or service.

4. People with autism, family members or other community stakeholders are involved in the development and/or implementation of the project.

5. The program is one that would be replicable in other communities.

6. The program or service is based on an understanding of the needs of people with autism and/or best practices in working with this population.

7. There is a plan for the continuation of the service or program after the grant year.

8. The project would not be possible without outside funding.


The following 2019 grant forms can be downloaded here: http://www.librariesandautism.org/grant

1. The Grant Application – All questions must be answered, unless they are marked “optional”

2. The Grant Sample Budget Sheet – All budget items must also be included in the grant narrative

3. The Grant Report Guidelines – Applications, budget sheets, institutional letters of support and other supporting documentation must be submitted as email attachment to: 






“Autism Welcome Here” Grant Makes Huge Impact on Teen & Tween Patrons of the Wisner Public Library

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The Albert Wisner Public Library received a 2017 Autism Welcome Here grant to provide a series of workshops designed to support the development of social skills for teens and tweens with ASD.  In this series, participants had the opportunity to learn about the library, form a book group, enhance their social media etiquette, express themselves through art projects, play board games, take part in a group dance, and more.  The program’s three primary goals were to (1) introduce and encourage social skills that teens and tweens can apply in the library and beyond; (2) provide those on the spectrum and their families a safe and familiar place in the community; and (3) demonstrate respect for neurodiversity and inclusion.  A description of their highly successful Game Night, implemented in the  first half of their grant project is available here.

The final half of their project included many fun and creative activities.  Below are some of the highlights.

DANCE (2 sessions):  The first session, modern dance and movement, was taught by a specialist in modern, creative and improvisational dance.  The instructor held up cards to instruct dancers to gallop, tiptoe, shake, ice skate, as well as to create their own moves to music.  Participants also did a mirror exercise with a partner.

The second dance session, taught by a local educator, was to introduce and practice popular party dances often seen at weddings and school dances. Dances included the Cupid Shuffle, the Charlie Brown, the Wobble, the Electric Slide, and the Hora. The participants also learned the rules of etiquette for slow dancing, such as how to ask someone to dance, how to accept or decline an invitation to dance, and where to properly place one’s hands while slow dancing with another person.

wisner dance 2

ART APPRECIATION (2 sessions):  The first session was an art appreciation presentation followed by the opportunity to create an original art piece. Taught by an experienced art teacher, the session began with a PowerPoint presentation of 10 well-known works of art, the title and the artist’s name. The instructor talked briefly about one aspect of the painting and its relation to emotions. The instructor engaged the participants by asking open ended questions about how they felt about a painting and why. It was interesting to see that the participants often spoke precisely about a color or a detail in the painting. Artwork presented included Frieda Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh, Picasso, and Georgia O’Keeffe. After the survey of art, students were free to use a wide variety of materials to create artwork of their own. Pencils, glue, fabric, found objects of different textures, and paint were all used to create original works.

The second session was billed as “Sip and Paint.” It featured “Sunflowers” by Vincent Van Gogh. Each participant received a copy of the work, a canvas with the work outlined on it, and the specific colors that matched the original. The instructor spoke about the proper way to hold the brush and brushstrokes. The participants filled in the outline of the work while copying the original. If they chose afterwards, they could then create their own artwork, while chatting with others and taking breaks for refreshments.

MOVIE & KARAOKE:  Participants sat on the floor, on chairs or beanbag chairs, or walked around and moved during the animated movie Sing.  Sometimes the audience couldn’t resist joining in with the singing and dancing in the movie. This was followed by karaoke. Participants chose classic rock and rap songs to sing along to for their audience.

GIFT MAKING:  This activity was planned to coincide with Mother’s Day and was billed as making gifts for mothers or other important people in their life. Lead by a local artist, the students made an array of gifts. They started by painting canvas and letting them dry, and returning to them later to add designs, drawings or collage. There was a huge variety of beads available for stringing bracelets and the instructor taught the participants how measure their string, and how to add a clasp and prevent beads from falling off by using a crimp bead and pliers. The participants also had the option of making a mobile from a variety of materials. Tissue paper, ribbon and tape were available for wrapping the gifts at the end.

The grant project culminated with PARTY PLANNING session & a subsequent PARTYThe planning session was led by a special education teacher. The “party planners”met and decided on a theme for the party that would end the library series (and coincided with the end of the academic year). After some discussion, they decided on a summer-party theme (“Fun in the Sun”), as well as activities, food, games, and music playlist. The committee made summer-themed decorations such as glass bowls with sand and colorful rocks, and paper umbrellas in Styrofoam swim noodles. All the party ideas were written on an easel and the participants added to it freely. Song suggestions were added to a separate list, and one of the participants made a Spotify playlist for the party.

The party was held the following week. The participants played musical chairs, had a relay race and played hot beach ball. Card games were available for anyone who needed a quiet space and activity. The refreshments selected were chips, soda, pizza, juice, water, and Italian ices. The participants did party dances from the dance session, and there was a decorated doorway and props for taking photos. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful library grant project.

Due to the success of Wisner Library’s Autism Welcome Here grant project, the library has decided to commit a portion of its budget towards continuing this program during the next fiscal year. A committee has already met and discuss and plan activities for the future.

Applications for the 2019 Autism Welcome Here grants will be accepted beginning September 1, 2018.  For more information about the Autism Welcome Here Grant Program, click here.

Resources and Training Offered by Autism Training and Technical Assistance (ATTA) and Autism Speaks

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2018 forum Colleen Shinn and Nikki Michalak

Colleen Shinn, Autism Speaks                                                Nikki Machalak, ATTA   


The Autism Training and Technical Assistance project (ATTA) seeks to create resources and training that can be used by students with ASD, their family members, secondary and postsecondary educators and staff, employers, and members of the community, to better understand the transition process, the unique barriers faced by individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and to assist them in working towards or providing equitable access in the workplace/postsecondary setting.  Nikki Michalak, Research Coordinator, ATTA, shared information about the Project at the Targeting Autism forum.

Colleen Shinn, Manager, Community Outreach, Autism Speaks, Midwest and South Central Regions on activities and resources available from Autism Speaks, including their extensive Spectrum Careers Portal.  Colleen also shared how she is collaborating with Illinois libraries to increase awareness of the wide range of resources that are freely available to support individuals with autism.

The presentation at the 2018 Targeting Autism Forum can be viewed here.