Using funds from the Illinois State Library’s Live and Learn Accessibility Grant, the Park Ridge Public Library has renovated two restrooms in its Children’s department, turning one of the rooms into a low-sensory space, with new furniture, a sink and a collection of sensory toys. The space can also be used as a mother’s room.
The other space will continue to be a restroom but has been completely renovated with new tile and fixtures. Both rooms have ADA-compliant entrances.
“We are constantly looking for ways to do more to help the patrons – of all ages – get the most out of the library,” said Library Director Joanna Bertucci. “We are always learning and exploring new ways of doing things better, and this new space will help us meet the needs of many of our patrons.”
“As we learn more about neurodivergence and the prevalance of autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorder and other ways people experience the world, it is our responsibility to take steps to make our spaces accessible to everyone,” said Youth Services Manager Staci Greenwald. “The Calming Space is just one way that the Library is able to accomplish this goal, by giving anyone who needs one a place to reset. Additionally, while nursing mothers are always welcome to breastfeed anywhere in the Library, some may benefit from a separate room where they can keep their other children close to them.”
According to Have Dreams, a Chicago-area nonprofit offering resources for individuals and their families living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), an estimated 1 in 36 children have autism. Low sensory rooms provide a private, quiet space for parents and caregivers to bring a child who may need a break from their surroundings.
Caroline McCarthy, director of Training and Consulting at Have Dreams adds, "Neurodiverse individuals, such as those with autism, ADHD, or sensory processing disorders, more often than not have heightened sensitivities to sensory stimuli like noise, lights, and textures. Calming spaces provide a peaceful, predictable, sensory-friendly environment that can help to reduce overstimulation and promote self-regulation. These spaces enable individuals to concentrate or use library resources, promoting a productive and positive library experience. Libraries are public spaces, and it's important to provide equal access to all. Calming spaces help level the playing field for neurodiverse patrons."
Early in 2023, the Park Ridge Library added a Sensory-Friendly Hour on the first Sunday of each month, where sensory-sensitive and neurodivergent patrons can come experience the library in an adapted and welcoming environment during this early open time. The Children's Department is adjusted to be more sensory-friendly with supports and activities available.
About the Illinois State Library Grant
The Live and Learn Construction Grant program, funded by an annual state legislative appropriation, assists public libraries with construction costs in their facilities. Grants are awarded based on recommendations from a statewide committee following a review process.