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Restoring Funding for Accessible Books: We Need Your Help!

Posted in Accessibility News

Sustained funding that we can rely on is crucial to our ability to plan and maintain the services we provide to our users. In its Fall Economic Statement, the federal government has indicated that its funding for CELA and NNELS will be reduced by 25% per year in the coming 4 years, down to no federal funding by the year 2024-25.

This plan assumes that publishers will pick up the heavy lifting of providing accessible materials within the next five years. NNELS is in support of the five-year planned transition towards industry-based production and distribution of accessible reading materials to Canadians with print disabilities. However, there will still be the need for the ongoing services provided by NNELS well beyond the five-year mark. At this point, only 7-10% of the world’s published content is available in accessible format. Although Canadian publishers will increasingly make their new titles and some backlist titles available in accessible formats, there will still be many titles that will never be made commercially available in accessible formats, including some backlist titles and new titles from international or multinational publishers.

Moreover, constant work is required to ensure platforms, software, and devices to read accessible material are tested, improved, and standardized. It is imperative that the federal government commits to ongoing sustained funding for alternate format producing organizations to support an equitable reading landscape in Canada for people with print disabilities, and to ensure that inclusive reading options exist beyond just the marketplace.

NNELS is seeking a sustained budget of $1 million per year. In a budget of hundreds of billions of dollars, the effect that one million has on our ability to serve our users is enormous. For NNELS, this decision would mean the end of childrenâs print-braille books that foster inclusion for all readers, human transcribed electronic braille books, braille simultaneous releases, and human narrated audiobooks, which would have a significant impact for equitable reading.

In 2020, NNELS made over 2,500 alternate format versions of titles available to those with print disabilities. Of these, 45 were commissioned audiobooks and 26 were braille books that did not exist in any other accessible format and NNELS produced from start to finish. These titles were made available to NNELS users through their local libraries. NNELS provides a level of reading access for people with print disabilities that would be unattainable if each individual library were responsible for providing the service within their existing capacity. Equally important, the implementation and nurturing of NNELS’ services in Canada’s public libraries has elevated awareness among public library staff of the needs of people with print disabilities in Canada, inspiring an overall improvement in inclusive service and measurable steps towards reducing barriers and enabling our users to have greater participation in their communities.

In an ideal world, every title would be born accessible, creating a fully equitable reading landscape. Even in this ideal environment though, reading systems and tools will still be complicated, expensive, and require training to be used by people with print disabilities. Backlisted titles will still not be available in accessible formats. People with print disabilities will continue to face economic and social barriers that industry-based production and distribution will not be able to fully address.

The current pandemic only underlies the importance of ongoing sustained funding for accessible library services in Canada. We have heard from our users, their families, and other supporters, that our service is more important to them than ever during the pandemic. Parents of children with learning disabilities are using our services to provide reading material to educate and entertain their children at home, seniors who are isolated find a sense of connection and engagement through reading, and users of all ages appreciate the escape to be found in a book when the stress and anxiety of our current situation becomes too much.

NNELS is continuing to advocate directly with our contacts within the federal government. But we need your help. Find the contact information for your local MP at the link below and tell them what accessible books mean to you. Let them know that alternate format producing organizations are essential for creating an equitable reading landscape in Canada. Add your voice to the conversation on social media using the hashtag #RestoreAccessibleBookFunding You can learn more about the cuts and what you can do to help by visiting our website.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

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