Outside of Canada, current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and with it his government, appears to have a reputation for being cool and progressive. Trudeau’s liberal government often speaks about justice and inclusion. Unfortunately and frustratingly, they keep making decisions that are far from going the way, such as a recently announced funding cut that will have dire consequences for Canadians with print disabilities and their fair access to books and other reading materials such as magazines. These funding cuts on accessible books for Canadians with print disabilities will be devastating.
In early March, Canada’s national news network, CBC, reported that the current liberal federal government, led by Prime Minister Trudeau, had included two non-profit organizations, the Center for Equitable Library Access (CELA) and The National Network for Equitable Library Services (NNELS) would be phased out. Currently funding for both services is only $ 4 million ($ 3 million for CELA, $ 1 million for NNELS). Funding for both services is expected to be fully suspended by fiscal year 2024/25, with a 25% decline each year until then. This decision was made without consultation or warning, according to NNELS and CELA.
I cannot describe how angry and disappointed I was to hear this news. I am a librarian at a public library where one of the many different jobs I and my colleagues do is help Canadians with pressure disabilities sign up for the free services of CELA and NNELS. When I say Canadians with pressure disabilities, they are people of all ages (including young people) with a variety of disabilities, including people with visual impairment or blindness. People with learning disabilities such as dyslexia; and those with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy that make reading and / or holding a physical book difficult or impossible.
For those registered with CELA and NNELS across Canada, the organizations produce and provide books in accessible formats such as physical braille books and audiobooks free of charge. Fewer than every tenth book published in Canada is published in formats accessible to people with pressure disabilities, according to CELA. This means that without the work of CELA and NNELS to create alternative versions, many books would remain forever inaccessible to some readers. If you’ve ever searched unsuccessfully for an audiobook, large print, or even an e-book version of a book – especially by Canadian authors or on Canadian topics for which the market is much smaller than American ones – you probably won’t be surprised by Learned How few books published in Canada are accessible.
In my library, as in all public libraries, we strive to buy many books in all possible accessible formats, such as: B. Audiobooks on CD, Digital Audiobooks, Large Printed Books, MP3 Audiobooks, and more. But libraries cannot buy and lend what does not exist. All books (and other reading materials such as newspapers and magazines) do not exist in accessible formats. This is simply because they are not produced and made available by the publishers, probably on the grounds that they are not profitable. CELA and NNELS are filling this void and “translating” books into accessible formats so that people with pressure disabilities have equal access to them, just as the rest of the public does through their local library.
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For example, CELA currently offers access to 800,000 book titles with a focus on Canadian books and authors. They also offer nearly 50 newspapers and 150 magazines in DAISY format (an audio substitute for printed matter) – the same day the newspapers and magazines are published! The wonderful work that CELA does would not be possible for a library system. Instead, by centralizing work, they can serve people across Canada efficiently and cheaply. More information about CELA and their great work can be found on the About page on the CELA website. In short, both CELA and NNELS guarantee that Canadians with pressure disabilities have the same access to books and reading materials as everyone else in their communities.
CELA and / or NNELS not only produce and deliver books and other reading materials in accessible formats, but also offer meaningful employment to people with pressure disabilities. Creating and sharing digital tutorials for users to use digital hardware and software to read accessible books; Providing resources for elementary, high school, and post-secondary educators for use with students with pressure disabilities; and provide training for library staff on connecting people to their services and troubleshooting technology for accessing their collections.
The huge gap created by the gradual and complete loss of federal funding for accessible books for Canadians with print disabilities is difficult to exaggerate. It will have economic, social, intellectual, health and educational implications. CELA estimates that one in ten Canadians (10% of the population) has a pressure disability. This corresponds to 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 growing, especially given our aging population and the isolation and difficulties associated with the current pandemic.
The interpretation of the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights states, “All resources … should be easily and fairly accessible to all library users.” All members of the public deserve access to books for all sorts of equally valid reasons: education, entertainment, Economy, social wellbeing, self improvement, health and more. The cut in accessible books funding for Canadians with print disabilities is a direct violation of the library’s Bill of Rights. How can libraries across Canada provide equitable access to all library users without CELA and NNELS being fully nationally funded?
We know that fair access to books is vital for many reasons. We also know that people with disabilities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and that people with disabilities in general are already underserved by public services that are characterized by skills. You face barriers to education, employment, and more.
The American Library Association found that[t]The correlation between literacy and income inequality, health outcomes and incarceration rates, and other social and economic justice issues underscores how literacy intersects with justice, access and inclusion. “For Canadians with pressure disabilities, the elimination of funding for accessible books and the literacy associated with it excludes those who already face too many barriers to income equality, health, social inclusion and more. It’s a shame, especially when $ 4 million is a drop in the ocean in terms of the total federal government budget (generally in the $ 350 billion range).
I hope this article on the cuts in accessible books funding for Canadians with print disabilities has made you as excited and crazy as I have been. What can you do? Participate in the advocacy that both CELA and NNELS have set up and exchange information. On their advocacy page, CELA created great images that have facts to post on social media (along with alt text that you can copy and paste to make your images accessible!).
Canadians, contact your member of parliament and express your support for the full restoration of funds. There is a form letter on the advocacy page for CELA 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 work together for equitable access to books!
Want to learn more about available books about Book Riot? You can also read book content on the topic of disability.