Dr. Amelia Gibson with the UNC School of Information and Library Science researches how people with autism and their families seek and exchange information in their local communities.

Dr. Gibson’s research also focuses on how people with autism use libraries as a resource.

“We also asked specifically about libraries because libraries are a special interest us in our department,” Dr. Gibson said. “They’re community spaces that are designed as information systems also that serve a specific purpose, but we wanted to know whether people were using the library and whether librarians who are trained as information professionals could provide support in some of the information seeking.”

One of the problems that people with autism face is that the services available for them decline as they get older.

“As I’ve talked to parents, one of the phrases I’ve heard over and over again is that there’s a cliff. It’s like a services cliff and the cliffs are different depending on what institution you’re talking about.

“If you’re talking about schools, it’s pretty much a cutoff at the end of high school. If you’re talking about spaces like public libraries or any public space where people aren’t especially well trained to understand how to serve people on the spectrum, it tends to end at around 11, 12, 13 and the services are planned for people who are older.”

Listen to part one of the interview with Dr. Gibson:

Dr. Gibson spends much of her time studying children and young adults who have autism and the technology they use in everyday life.

She said that among the apps used most frequently by people with autism, those involving transportation and communication stood out.

“Transportation is a really big deal for young adults who are semi-independent or independent who are on the spectrum. Being able to use the bus, so the NextBus app, and all those other apps that tell you when the bus is coming, and Uber were two of the biggest transportation apps that people talked about using most frequently.”

To increase awareness about autism and all disabilities and services required, Dr. Gibson launched a new class for Information and Library Science students that is also open to the public.

“The course is called Disability Informatics and Information and it addresses a range of issues having to do with disability and any kind of information system or service.

“There are very few disability studies focused courses at UNC, but this focuses on a range of topics related to providing services and planning systems where we have people come in from all over the country talking about a range of topics related to disability.”

Featured image via UNC-Chapel Hill

Listen to part two of the interview with Dr. Gibson: