Leeds Library and Information service

Leeds Library and Information service

2009 Digital Access for People with a Learning Disability Winner

The Project

Leeds Library and Information service launched their Across the Board project in response to a request from the parent of a child with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), to provide Boardmaker computer software. It is the leading software tool used to create symbol-based communication aids and visual support for people with communication difficulties. It was previously only available through schools and other specialist settings.

Leeds Library has made this unique tool available in 16 of its libraries, provided autism awareness training to library staff, trained librarians to use it so that they can train families. It introduced a programme of monthly support sessions for parents of children with ADS, delivered in partnership with a team of specialist autism teachers.

In partnership with Education Leeds’ STARS team (Specialist Teachers Autism Response Service) and NHS Leeds Speech and Language Therapy Service, Leeds Library has enabled a greater understanding of ADS and associated communication and behavioural issues, and fostered a spirit of mutual support amongst families who formerly felt isolated.

Parents can now access the Boardmaker software free of charge under the guidance of library staff or on their own and can print out and laminate thousands of symbols from the programme to take away and use in their home environment.

The library service took advice from their professional partners as to which areas of the city were the most useful for the installation of the software, and also provide a collection of books on ASD to match those that the STARS team bring to the monthly advice sessions, which are available across the library service.

The project was originally financed by a UK Online Social Impact Demonstrators project grant and recently won CILIP’s Libraries Change Lives award, the £5,000 prize now being used to develop the service.

Other Activities

Leeds Library and Information Service encompass 53 libraries across the city. It provides access to computers featuring assistive technology for ease of use, big key keyboards and adjustable height desks for disabled users. It also provides large print and talking books to borrow, encourages readers groups including one for visually impaired readers and has mobile libraries and a Library at Home service for those unable to attend the libraries in person.


Children with ADS, some of them completely non-verbal, and their families were involved from the start in guiding the work and shaping the service this project provides. STARS and Speech and Language therapists trained librarians who cascaded the training to other staff and on to parents.

The monthly support sessions have been a most important aspect of this project. Parents of children with ADS have derived a great deal of help and understanding from meeting other parents. Lesley Lewis, an Advanced Skills Teacher in Autism comments;

‘..this project is not just about making visual support materials feely available to parents; more importantly it’s about coming together with other parents and supporting each other in local community groups.’

Parents have commented:

‘It was such a relief to find they experienced similar problems and hear how they tackled them. I don’t feel so isolated or overwhelmed now.’ ‘Without the symbols, he just doesn’t even make the effort to speak…For me and him, in our little world, pictures are fantastic.’


Leeds Libraries are currently negotiating with the publishers of Boardmaker software to identify affordable solutions for improving and expanding the project. They plan to make Boardmaker available to other user groups, such as adults with learning difficulties and older people who have lost some language through illness. Several library services have expressed interest in taking up the project.