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Report on the May 18, 2008 meeting between the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians and Mary Frances Laughton, Co-Manager, Initiative for Equitable Library Access

1. Participants

The following people were present:

Robin East, Saskatoon, National President

John Rae Toronto, National First Vice President

Anthony Tibbs, Montreal, National Treasurer,

Marc Workman, Edmonton, National Secretary,

Brenda Cook, Saskatoon, National Director at Large

Denise Sanders, Kelowna, National Director at Large

Marcia Cummings, Toronto

Ross Robertson, Toronto

Brian Moore, Toronto

John Ogilvie, Toronto

Phil Wiseman, Toronto

Joyce M, Toronto

Melanie Marsden, Toronto

Carole Robertson, Toronto

Richard Campbell, Winnipeg

Henk Pauelsen, NOVI Nanaimo, Chapter President

Donna Tessier, Ottawa

Sharlyn Ayotte Ottawa

Shelley Ann Morris, Ottawa

Rajesh Malik, Montreal

Charles Bailey, Fraser Valley, Chapter President

Richard Marion, Lower Mainland, Chapter President

Paul Thiele Vancouver

Leslie Ball, Halifax

Helen McFadyen, Halifax, Chapter President

Lisa Neufeld, Kelowna, Chapter President

Helena Short, South Georgian Bay

Devon Wilkins, South Georgian Bay, Chapter President

David Swiderski, Toronto

Barry Pacter, Toronto

Mike Yale, Toronto

2. Discussion Questions

What format do you prefer for your reading material?

Do you currently use a public library? If not, why not? If yes what for?

Where do you obtain your reading material?

What assistive technology do you use for reading?

What assistive technology would be useful in a public library?


The AEBC would like to stress a distinction between consumers as rights holders and other stakeholders. Blind Canadians are not simply affected by the accessibility of public libraries, our rights as citizens are what is at issue for us.

Some users expressed concern that while a 'separate' library system for the blind may have its disadvantages, for some (for example, those who may not have sufficient access to orientation and mobility training), the home delivery model for books is actually the only practical way for them to access such information. Access to library services such as the Ottawa Public Library's "homebound delivery service" may be essential in some communities. This illustrates the complexity of the issue of accessibility to public libraries. The public library is part of a larger community that may itself present barriers to library access.

Comments showed that the type of reading material desired heavily influenced the chosen format. Where details are more important, as in the case of a textbook or a legal document, Braille and e-text are preferred. For casual reading, or entertainment, audio books are preferable. However, this generalization does not apply to every potential print disabled library user, so the goal should be to offer as much material as possible in as many formats as possible.

A common reason given for not using a public library was that the books people want are simply not available. Much of the available material tends to be out dated. What is available is often abridged or otherwise missing information available in the print copy. A reason given for the use of public libraries is that they are an important and frequently used forum for holding community events, such as lectures, film screenings, etc.

Participants said that reading material was acquired from a variety of sources. These included: libraries, the CNIB, commercial sites like, and RFB&D, Issues of concern were inaccessible websites that make it harder or impossible to acquire the desired content and the restricted access to books produced by the RFB&D and Book Share.

There is no significant difference between the assistive technology participants use to read and the assistive technology that would be useful in a public library. This includes, but is not limited to, up-to-date screen reading software, scanners with up-to-date accessible software, Braille displays, closed circuit televisions (CCTV), and Braille printers,

4. Recommendations

The following are some of the recommendations that came out of the meeting:

Public libraries need to be in a position to lend out equipment so that people can read the borrowed books. For example, not all users will have their own personal DAISY-compatible player, and if the library is only able to carry its material in DAISY format, some provision needs to be made to ensure that this material is accessible.

Public libraries need to develop an accessible catalogue of all the available material, and putting Braille labels on audio books would supplement such a catalogue.

Training for the public library staff should involve persons with disabilities. Whether the training concerns assistive technology or interacting with print-disabled patrons, disabled people are in the best position to provide such training.

The staff needs to have some working knowledge of the assistive technology. They should know what the function of the equipment is and have a general idea of how to operate it.

There have to be enough staff that librarians or other staff have time to assist with finding and looking through materials.

It is important to offer complete translations into alternative formats (as opposed to abridged copies and books that are missing indexes or diagrams).

Reference materials need to be made available. True access might require flexibility with the amount of the time given to use reference materials because of the time needed to convert the material.

Blind people need to be informed about events that are taking place at the public library, so this information needs to be available in an accessible format (perhaps a calendar of events on the website or in a newsletter).

Public libraries must lead the way by encouraging publishers to provide alternative format materials for items they wish to add to their collection. For example, if a publisher were to solicit a library for the addition of an item to the collection, that library might agree to do so subject to the condition that the publisher ensure alternative format versions were also available.

The requirement that some public libraries have for clients to possess a CNIB identification card (or registration with the CNIB library) in order to access audio books should be removed. Registration with another non-profit entity should not be a requirement for access to information.

Face-to-face meetings are important when moving forward with IELA. The AEBC strongly believes in the value of articulating and clarifying our thoughts and suggestions on this initiative through face-to-face consultations.

Report prepared by:

Marc Workman
National Secretary
Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians
June 15, 2008