Cuts in funding for accessible books for Canadians who cannot read print

Outside of Canada, it looks like current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and by extension his government, have a reputation for being cool and progressive. Trudeau’s Liberal government often talks about equity and inclusion. Sadly and frustratingly, they continue to make decisions that are far from straightforward, such as a recent announced funding cut that will have dire consequences for print-disabled Canadians and their equitable access to books and other print materials. reading such as magazines. These budget cuts to books accessible to print-disabled Canadians will be devastating.

In early March, Canada’s National Information Network CBC reported that the current Liberal federal government, led by Prime Minister Trudeau, included in his government’s Fall Economic Statement 2020 this funding for two not-for-profit organizations, the Center for Equitable Library Access (CELA) and the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS), would be phased out. Currently, funding is only $ 4 million for both services ($ 3 million for CELA, $ ​​1 million for NNELS). Funding for both services is expected to be completely phased out by fiscal year 2024-2025, with a 25% decrease each year until then. This decision, according to NNELS and That, was made without any consultation or even warning.

I can’t describe how angry and disappointed I was to hear this news. I am a librarian in a public library, where one of the many and varied tasks that my colleagues and I do is help print-disabled Canadians register for free CELA and NNELS services. When I say Canadians unable to read print, it includes people of all ages (including young people) with various disabilities, including those who have low vision or who are blind; those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia; and people with physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, which make reading and / or keeping a physical book difficult or impossible.

For those registered with CELA and NNELS across Canada, organizations produce and to bring – free of charge – books in accessible formats such as physical braille books and audiobooks. According to CELA, less than one in ten books published in Canada is published in formats accessible to people with print disabilities. This means that without the work done by CELA and NNELS to create alternate versions, many books would forever remain out of reach for some readers. If you’ve ever searched unsuccessfully for an audiobook, large print version or even an eBook of a book – especially those by Canadian authors or on Canadian topics, for which the market is much smaller than that of their American counterparts – you are probably not surprised to find out how few books published in Canada are accessible.

In my library, as in all public libraries, we make an effort to buy many books in all kinds of accessible formats, such as CD audiobooks, digital audiobooks, large print books, MP3 audiobooks , etc. But libraries cannot buy and lend what doesn’t exist. Not all books (and other reading materials such as newspapers and magazines) exist in accessible formats. It is simply because they are not produced and made available by publishers, probably with the reasoning that it is not profitable. CELA and NNELS fill this gap by “translating” books into accessible formats so that print-disabled people have equitable access to them, like the rest of the general public through their local library.

That, for example, currently provides access to 800,000 book titles, with a focus on Canadian books and authors. They also deliver nearly 50 newspapers and 150 magazines in DAISY format (an audio substitute for print material) – the same day the newspapers and magazines are published! The wonderful work that CELA does would not be possible for a single library system; instead, by centralizing work, they are able to serve people efficiently and cost effectively across Canada. For more information on THAT and their impressive work, see the page about the CELA website. In short: CELA and NNELS ensure that print-disabled Canadians receive the same access to books and reading materials as everyone else in their community.

In addition to producing and supplying books and other reading materials in accessible formats, CELA and / or NNELS also offer interesting jobs to people unable to read print; create and share digital tutorials for users on how to use digital hardware and software to read accessible books; provide resources for elementary, secondary and post-secondary educators to use with students who cannot read print; and provide training to library workers on connecting people to their services and the troubleshooting technology used to access their collections.

The huge gap created by the gradual and complete loss of federal government funding for books accessible to print-disabled Canadians is hard to overstate. It will have economic, social, intellectual, health and educational repercussions. CELA believes that one in ten Canadians (10% of the population) cannot read print. This is explained by 3 million Canadians. I know from my experiences and those of colleagues in my library that the need for and interest in accessible book formats is only growing, especially given our aging population and the isolation and hardships that come with being current pandemic.

the Interpretation of the American Library Association of the Libraries Bill of Rights states that “All resources… should be readily and equitably accessible to all library users”. All members of the public deserve to have access to books for all kinds of equally valid reasons: education, entertainment, business, social welfare, personal development, health, etc. Budget cuts to books accessible to print-disabled Canadians are a direct violation of the Libraries Bill of Rights. Without the fully funded CELA and NNELS working at the national level, how will libraries in Canada provide equitable access to all library users?

We know that fair access to books is crucial for many reasons. We also know that people with disabilities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and that in general, people with disabilities are already underserved by ableism-infused public services. They face barriers to education, employment and more.

the The American Library Association has assessed this “[t]a correlation between literacy and income inequality, health outcomes and incarceration rates, among other social and economic justice issues, highlights how literacy intersects with equity, access and ‘inclusion. For Canadians unable to read print, the elimination of funding for accessible books and the literacy that accompanies them further excludes those who already face too many barriers to income equality, health, social inclusion, etc. It is a shame, especially when $ 4 million is a drop in the bucket of the total federal government budget (typically in the order of $ 350 billion).

I hope this article on budget cuts to accessible books for print disabled Canadians has made you as excited and crazy as I have. What can you do? Participate in advocacy both That and NNELS have set up and share information. On its advocacy page, CELA has created some awesome images with facts that you can post to social media (with alt text that you can copy and paste to make your images accessible!).

Canadians, contact your federal deputy and express your support for the full recovery of funds. On the CELA Advocacy page, there is a sample letter that you can use to email your MP; or if you are interested, give them a call. [Update as of March 16: Minster of Employment, Workforce Development, and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough has guaranteed that the funding will not be cut for the 2021–2022 budget year. This means our advocacy is working — keep it up!] Let’s show solidarity for fair access to books!

Want to learn more about more accessible books on Book Riot? Also consult the book content on the topic of disability.

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