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April 13, 2002
*This proposal evolved into the following project: Access to Academic Materials for Print-Disabled Post-Secondary Students: A Partnership of Users and Service Providers, NEADS
The Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians proposes to address the information and training needs of all service providers who work with the 3 million Canadians who can not use conventional print, in hardcopy or electronic form, as a result of a visual, physical or perceptual disability. The needs of these users have been made evident since the Task Force on Information for Print Disabled Canadians tabled its report: Fulfilling the Promise with the National Librarian and the President of the CNIB in October 2000. Having heard and received about 100 briefs and presentations from print disabled Canadians, parents, representatives of the Canadian Association of Educational Resource Centers (CAER), the Learning Disability Association of Canada (LDAC) and its provincial associations and local chapters, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), the Institute Nazareth et Louis Braille, the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post Secondary Education (CADSPPE), the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (NFB:AE) and others, it became clear that the needs of all individuals in the print disabled community were similar - the need to use materials in multiple formats - large print, audio, Braille, electronic text - and the need for accessible Internet design that allows the use of adaptive technologies.
While the Copyright Act has recognized these needs to some extent, there remains very little Canadian or other material available to them. It also became evident that print disabled users, advocates, families and service providers had not worked together, and had not had the opportunity to share their materials, expertise or experience in facilitating access to information.
In recognizing and filling the gap in awareness, promotion and the availability of information and training materials, the Council on Access to Information for Print Disabled Canadians has taken a lead role. It proposes to address the needs in a systematic, national, bilingual research project that will increase knowledge, materials and support for those who work with print disabled users, in order to facilitate the integration of 3 million Canadians in the new knowledge-based economy and to be full citizens, wherever they live.
The need for this study stems from the fact that only 3 percent of the world's literature, including Canadian materials, is converted to multiple format. Much of this conversion has been done in Canada for the blind and visually impaired community by the Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB), which does not itself at this time have the mandate to serve directly those with a print disability arising from a perceptual or learning disability. The CNIB has worked in Canada and in the international field for many decades to increase its collections and services through arrangements with other blindness institutions. It works through libraries to serve all print disabled Canadians, but it is a charitable, not-for-profit organization. In Canada, other producers of multiple formats and service providers are found in the provincial departments of education, in certain post secondary institutions (some with specialized research facilities) and in specialized agencies like La Magnétothèque and the British Columbia Library Services that have provided leisure reading on audiocassette. Recently, the latter service has been under threat of dissolution. Moreover, the increasing number of persons requiring large print has not been well served because the Copyright Act does not identify this format as exempt from copyright clearance.
There are private firms that convert regular materials to alternate format on behalf of institutions and users, but these do not reach the commercial market, because of the nature of the formatting needed and the specificity of the demand.
The Internet provides increased access for persons with print disabilities as long as the international standards of accessibility are followed. However, many website masters and publishers are unaware of these standards. Moreover, there will always be a need for fixed or tangible products in multiple formats; electronic publishing eases but does not eliminate the need for conversion to various formats, using recognized standards.
While the Council is currently preoccupied with the urgent issue of increasing the amount of content in accessible format, it is also addressing the need of all the groups to work together and to share their knowledge, information and training materials and expertise. To test the feasibility of an increasingly collaborative approach, the Council organized a two-day workshop in October 2001. All the groups mentioned above were present, they had come prepared to make their own work known, but also to find common ground on improving services related to access for print disabled Canadians. Their recommendations identified the need for materials to promote awareness of the issues; materials to inform users, parents and service providers of what services are available; and training in the use of these services and in adaptive technologies and electronic sources. The workshop gave 30 persons the opportunity to share information and their findings are on the Council website at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/accessinfo/index-e.html. However, there are many local and regional institutions and organizations that were not present. For instance, there are approximately 16,000 schools, 250 colleges and universities and 3.500 public library service points in Canada. Yet many users and their families do not know what services are available in these institutions; what rights the users have; what questions to ask. With an increase in the number of Canadians affected by a print disability and desirous and willing to be fully integrated in their milieus, the public, private and not-for-profit sectors must work together to build a stronger network of informed, client-centered service providers. Moreover, many service providers are not aware of the issues, their responsibilities or the sources of information and expertise. The council, in its multi-sectoral membership, is ready to take a lead in coordinating the sharing, development and dissemination of this information. It has talked to many of the service provider associations in the period since the workshop and has gained support and commitment to collaborative work, if it can get the fund to complete a research project.
Such a project will have at least four tangible benefits: it will identify the state of knowledge among service providers and allow all stakeholders to know both the strengths and weaknesses of the information sources; it will enable the sharing of materials that are current, accurate and relevant to users, their families and the service providers; it will facilitate and support increased cooperation among the different groups serving persons with disabilities and thus increase the efficiency and effectiveness of service; it will provide the basis for training programs that are needed across sectors and geographic boundaries within Canada. The Innovation Strategy for Canada calls for such collaboration in research and development; and in training and development for greater inclusion and autonomy at the local provincial and national levels. The community, representing and supporting Print-Disabled Canadians is ready to respond.
The project would unfold in three key phases:
This will be achieved through a survey of associations, educational institutions and specialized agencies to determine what materials they have; for whom they are prepared; and, if they may be made available for use in a data base of available materials or through a portal;
This will be achieved through a more refined survey and electronic and face-to-face consultations with representatives of institutions, associations, training organizations and funding agencies, that have both provided information and those who have not had such information but have shown willingness to be involved, in order to assess strengths and weakness in present systems and services for information sessions, training and leadership development. The focus will be on aligning current and planned content and training capacity to the needs of those in educational institutions (schools, colleges and universities), and specifically the professors in faculties of education and library information studies in the college and universities, and libraries and other public information services which serve persons with print disabilities.
The report would essentially combine and analyse the results of the preceding surveys and consultations; identify critical objectives and priorities in relation to the dissemination of appropriate information, materials and methods of training and development; explore options in terms of the future design and delivery of information and training programs; and propose a modular strategy for achieving the desired results. It would be developed through a combination of focus groups and electronic consultations involving all stakeholders.
The potential benefits derived from this project include:
The Council on Access to information for Print-Disabled Canadians was formed by the National Librarian of Canada. The mandate of the Council is to provide advice, identify funding requirements, monitor progress and make recommendations regarding the implementation of Fulfilling the Promise: The Report of the Task Force on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians.
Membership of the Council is by appointment of the National Librarian. Council members include consumers, not-for-profit and for-profit publishers, educators and librarians. The membership will be reviewed every three years. The Council will continue until disbanded, in writing, by the National Librarian. The Chair of the Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians is Paul Whitney, Chief Librarian of the Burnaby Public Library.
For more information on the Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians, its terms of reference and membership, please consult the Council website at: