Nationwide Accessible Library Service to Print Disabled Persons

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Availability of library services in alternate formats for those who are print disabled


CNIB believes that Canadians who are print disabled should have the same level of library service as their sighted peers.


A government (federal, provincial, municipal), private sector partnership in funding (through an inter-jurisdictional agreement) a program that ensures Canadian residents who are print disabled* receive library service that is equivalent to that received by Canadians using regular print materials. Such a service is to be delivered through a national network of public libraries and private sector partners.

General Principles

Canadians who are print disabled should have the same level of library service as their sighted peers.

  • Standards for services to those who are print disabled should be adopted, based on the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Guidelines.
  • Primary responsibility for the provision of an integrated alternate format library service to those who are print disabled should shift from CNIB, a private charity, to government, and be provided through the public library systems in conjunction with private service-provider partners such as CNIB.


In Canada, while there is public library legislation in place to provide library services to all Canadians, services in alternate format for those who are print disabled are 'disconnected,' and are provided in public libraries on a discretionary, non-standard and therefore inconsistent basis.

CNIB provides a nationwide library service, which meets all international standards of service, directly to CNIB clients and through voluntary participation by individual public libraries to those who are print disabled, but not blind or living with vision loss. CNIB established the Visunet Canada Partners Program to enable the evolution of a nationwide library network for all print disabled persons including people who are blind and living with vision loss now receiving library services directly from CNIB. However, participation in the Partners Program is voluntary and limited by lack of resources both in local libraries and CNIB.

A private charity cannot, nor should it be expected to, sustain the service through charitable financing at international standards to meet the anticipated growth in demand due to unprecedented incidence of vision loss of the aging baby boomer population. From research in industrialized countries, CNIB estimates that over the next 15 years the population of Canadians who are print disabled will double. The demand for accessible information will increase. Additionally, CNIB faces the challenge of keeping its technologies up to date. CNIB has created the infrastructure for production, storage and retrieval of the electronically produced master files used to provide the alternate formats required by print disabled persons and is presently converting its collections from obsolete technologies to digital technology in order to preserve and ensure their ongoing availability. Unless governments, through the public library system, and the library community are prepared for this increased demand, there will be a crisis in serving the information needs of Canadians who have a print disability. The cost of providing an integrated equitable alternate format library service is incremental to the present collective funding of public libraries, but a Federal/Provincial/Municipal/private sector supported system would not be a significant additional burden on any one entity or region.

A nationwide network, supported by public and academic libraries and private sector partners such as the CNIB Library, is needed to effectively deliver library services to those who have a print disability. This coordination is essential as print-disabled populations, estimated to total three million persons in Canada, are relatively small compared to the general public and often isolated. Existing specialized collections are presently small and inadequate. Content in alternative format is less than 5% of all printed material.

The best library services to print-disabled populations around the world operate as a network of services in each country. In the United States, for example, the Library of Congress, through its National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, develops national strategy, provides the alternative format content, playback devices and cataloguing services, and creates the standards for the state-funded regional delivery systems. At present, CNIB provides both components of this service to its clients and the delivery portion on a voluntary basis by public libraries through the CNIB Visunet Canada Partners Program.


  • Secure government alignment with the Goal, defined herein.
  • Establish a federal government-funded task force with representation from all levels of government, public Libraries, CNIB Library, and other partners to design the most efficient national network to produce and deliver alternate format materials to print-disabled Canadians, in a manner equivalent to public library service available to Canadians who can use conventional printed materials.

*Print disability is defined as severe vision loss, a learning disability such as dyslexia or a disability that prevents the physical holding of a book and as defined as “Perceptual Disability” under the Canadian Copyright Act.

'Alternate format' refers to print material that has undergone a translation process resulting in an audio, Braille or electronic text version of the print material.

Approved: CNIB Board of Directors

Date: January 29, 2004