Accessible Programming and Beautiful Symmetries in Marietta, GA

Author
PLIX Team
Published
March 6, 2024
This is a portion of a longer interview with PLIX Renaté Elliot. She was part of our first Ambassador cohort in 2021! She brings an incredible wealth of knowledge around adapting creative learning to create welcoming and fun spaces for adults with a vast spectrum of abilities.

Please introduce yourself!

I am Renaté Elliott. I'm the Accessibility Services supervisor for Cobb County Public Library System in Marietta, Georgia, a metro suburb of Atlanta. There's about 15 branches and a bookmobile in our library system. I oversee our accessibility services and programs for our patrons, and that includes resources and training for our staff.

Renaté at a sensory-friendly photoshoot and craft program.
Renaté at a sensory-friendly photoshoot and craft program.

How did you get involved with PLIX?

My younger sister is a PhD student at MIT. She heard about this opportunity and she just thought I would be a perfect fit for the PLIX Ambassador Program. I was really interested in how these creative STEAM learning projects could be adapted for people with various disabilities whether that be physical disability or neurological neurodivergent disabilities, and emotional differences.

Like, how could we take these projects and adapt them so that everyone felt comfortable, invited, welcomed? With my STEM and STEAM activities, some of my patrons tell me that they were interested in the project, program or a particular topic, but they didn't feel that they were able to participate. So I thought it would be an interesting challenge to make these projects accessible to more people.

What perspective or background do you bring to your library programs?

How we can reach a community that people often don't market to? In working with patrons who have intellectual developmental disabilities, I found that they're often categorized by people who are planning programs as children, and so they'll plan something that's on the lower end of stimulation which people in general, not just those with disabilities, but people in general have a vast spectrum of abilities.

So, some of the challenges that I try to think about is how are we letting people know that they are included, that they're welcomed and that they'll be supported in whatever it is that they're doing in the library, whether that's research or just general wanting to find, you know, materials to read or utilize the resources that are available. Just even reaching out to them and, and not marginalizing people.

Could you describe one of the PLIX activities you’ve run before?

The one that I really enjoyed the most was beautiful symmetry. After an introduction to symmetry with conversation, coffee table books, and quick videos, I invited people to walk around the library, to take their time and spread out.

We had a display of quilts at that time, but they were not just limited to the quilts. It was surprising because people found all different things. Someone was like, oh, the entry doors are symmetrical the way that they slide open and they slide back together.  We talked about symmetry in Black culture, and one of our patrons had a very intricate braid pattern in her hair.

Then for our hands-on activity, we had photocopied quilting squares and they could come up with their own designs. It was fun watching people understand like, oh wait, I really can just do whatever I wanna do. Like, I don't have to follow a specific rule.

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How did you prepare?

Material and table setup with a variety of textures and inputs.
Material and table setup with a variety of textures and inputs.

We had examples. For materials, I had different textures, various inputs, so not just paper and markers, but we had paints and chalk and oil pastels, different materials, different types of paper they could use.

We also prepared the space.  I think it was really simple, but with the tables, we are able to adjust the height. So we had some at standing height, some adjusted for our wheelchair users and created a space where people could choose where they wanted to sit. Like if they wanted to sit alone or if they wanted to sit in groups. And just made it an inviting space.

How do you do outreach or market for your particular audience?

We have the usual signage, flyers, and support from our social media manager. But one of the other things that I like to do is if we are running a book club and the topic is something that I can tie into an upcoming activity, we'll start a conversation and ask, do you know about the PLIX program that's on our calendar? Or if they have a sketchbook, we use that opportunity to talk it up based on an observation that this might be of interest to them.

My role is just so unique so I have built these different relationships with organizations. I'm very fortunate to be able to directly market to patrons with developmental disabilities, without being spammy. So they happily share our upcoming programming. Once a month, I visit a day program for adults with disabilities, and we usually do a STEM or STEAM activity, and I take that opportunity to tell them about everything that's coming up and tell them about the play cafes and things that are open to the public in hopes that they'll join and I share the links with them.

Social media has just been such a blessing and such an easy tool for us to use because a large population of our users are on social media. But just talking to people, showing up where they are is the best.

Did you make any particular adaptations to the activity itself?

I think my program was a remix in that we weren't confined to our space. You know, having them walk around the library also was kind of twofold because it invited them to explore the space, not just for the purpose of, you know, finding things that were symmetrical, but also learning the layout of the library, especially for those who have not visited this location before.

How many people showed up and how long was this workshop?

There were about 20 people, and it was supposed to be an hour.  They were chatty <laugh>, so it was about an hour and a half, and I was hungry. I mean, people still lingered even after we had, you know, put away materials and things they lingered and were taking photos together and  I like the stories that came out of it too. People were opening up about like quilts from their families. And when Black hairstyles were mentioned, they talked about the patterns in braiding and different things. That was really cool.

Beautiful symmetry in a patron’s braids.
Beautiful symmetry in a patron’s braids.

What parts did you feel were successful?

So for me, I learned to stop basing our success on numbers. If one person shows up, then one person got what they needed, or got to try something new, or share with us. And if a hundred people showed up, then that's great too. Now, I define a successful program as one where we have engagement, one where there's an opportunity to share information together.

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Curious to learn more?

Feel free to reach out to Renaté with questions!

You can find her on the PLIX Forum @Renate_Elliott or via email at renate.elliott11-at-gmail.com