Equitable Library Service in Canada—We’re Still Waiting

I recently attended the Annual General Meeting of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians in Toronto. A lively debate ensued when a  Library and Archives Canada representative updated us on the Initiative for Equitable Library Service (IELA). The IELA web site claims that their mandate is to “create the conditions for sustainable and equitable library access for Canadians with print disabilities” .  There are over three million Canadians (10%)  who can not read print because of visual, perceptual or physical disability. We require publications in alternate formats, such as Braille, Large print, audio and electronic text. IELA’s stats indicate that only 5% (five) of all  published Canadian material is available in multiple formats. We provided our opinion on what we would like to see in the Canadian public library system (again).  It seems that we are often consulted, but I have to wonder why we are still waiting for change. The endless rhetoric about ‘stakeholders’ is getting stale. Robin East, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians president, echoed my sentiments when he stated that “we are not stakeholders…we are rights holders”. The difference?:  The erroneous  mindset that blind people deserve consultation in the process of achieving equitable library service in Canada instead of the more accurate belief that blind people have the RIGHT to equitable library service. What do I personally feel I have a right to find when I walk into a public library in Canada? Here’s my list.  I suggest that the rights of the blind to equitable library service be honoured very quickly…before we become an ultra-organized force with a common judicial application forcing the change we have RIGHTS to.

  • I want books made available to me in any format I choose: audio, Braille, electronic and large print.
  • I like audio books. The publishing industry needs to realize that the audio version of ANY BOOK PUBLISHED must be released simultaneously in audio format. If that means forcing the Canadian government to amend copyright and publishing legislation, that is what we must all support. 
  • Audio books must be unabridged….I don’t like half a book.
  • Release the stranglehold you have on independent  multiple format information producers in Canada. They are the answer to filling the gap by providing multiple format information; Braille transcription, audio books, etc.
  • Provide accessible technology within the library; computers with screen-reading software, scanners, braille printers, CCTV’s, etc.
  • Someone needs to know how to use, troubleshoot, and teach the use of all of the above equipment. 
  • Make your catalogue accessible within the library. IE. I can use your website at home to search for something, but once I’m in your library, I am unfortunately forced to rely on your staff.
  • Update your large print collections. People across the country are complaining about small, outdated, and dog-eared LP books collections. Put your large print collection in an area with good lighting.
  • Your audio books must have Braille and large print labeling.  I want to  ‘browse’ the books like other patrons. As it is now, I must rely on a staff person to be available to read the titles and descriptions for me.
  • Libraries are big on displaying community information. the bulletin boards, notices, guides, pamphlets must be made available to everyone. How about an information line linked into your phone system? Tweak a grant or student placement to provide for  conversion of  information pamphlets and guides into audio, Braille and large print.
  • Sometimes, your accessible computer is nowhere near the reference materials. Ensure easier physical access to this technology.
  • Train your staff and employees to be ‘sensitive’ (I hate that term) to the needs of blind and partially sighted patrons.
  • Blind students have a hard time finding accessible  research materials in a timely manner. It is not up to the ‘charitable library’ (AKA CNIB)  to provide everything. (they do a poor job anyway). Publishers, particularly of textbooks must realize that audio/electronically-generated information often ignores describing or interpreting  graphs, scales diagrams, photographs and tables. This information is critical if education is to fair and equitable. 

I’ve just started a list. I hope to hear from others. 



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