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Advocate for NNELS Toolkit

Toolkit Contents

On September 20, 2021, Canadians will go to the polls. The federal government has an important role to play in supporting accessible reading materials which are crucial for the economic, academic and social wellbeing of people with print disabilities.  We encourage our users and member libraries to be as active as possible in the lead-up to the election to advocate for long-term sustainable funding for NNELS and CELA. This toolkit contains resources to help you connect with and educate your candidate.

Table of Contents 

  1. What You Can Do to Help
  2. Connecting with Candidates
  3. Questions to Ask
  4. What Candidates Need to Know
  5. What We are Asking
  6. Why this Election is Important to Users of NNELS and CELA
  7. Facts about Accessible Reading Materials
  8. Where the Political Parties Stand
  9. About NNELS and CELA
  10. For More Information

What You Can Do to Help

  • Familiarize yourself with the information in this toolkit.
  • Visit Elections Canada to confirm who your local candidates are.
  • Research by reading candidates’ websites.
  • Write a letter to the candidates or prepare your questions to ask candidates at the next candidate meeting.

Connecting with Candidates

For all in-person interactions, please respect all local public health restrictions. Before reaching out to a candidate, review their websites to see what priorities they highlight.

Here are some ways to engage.

  • Write a letter to your candidates letting them know how important funding for accessible reading is. You can use this letter that NNELS and CELA wrote to leaders of each of the parties to use as the basis of your letter or use our template letter.
  • Request a meeting with your candidate, either virtually or in person, and talk about how important accessible reading is to you personally or for your organization.
  • Attend all-candidate debates and bring reading services for people with print disabilities to the forefront.
  • Engage with candidates through social media to encourage them to show their support for NNELS and CELA. Please tag NNELS and CELA in any of your comments and use the #elxn44 and #cdnpoli hashtags.

Sample Letter:

Questions to Ask

Here are some questions you could ask candidates:

  • Will your party commit to supporting a sustainable funding model for accessible book production to ensure equitable access to reading materials for those with print disabilities?
  • What role do you see for the federal government in supporting accessible reading services in Canada in addition to the industry-led transition to accessible publishing?
  • How can the federal government better support organizations like NNELS and CELA to help the federal government fulfill its obligation to the Marrakesh Treaty as well as providing an equitable reading landscape for people with print disabilities in Canada?

What Candidates Need to Know

The federal government’s move towards industry-based production and distribution of accessible reading materials to people with print disabilities across Canada will not replace the important service that NNELS and CELA provides.

  1. NNELS and CELA play an essential role in providing accessible reading materials to people with print disabilities.
    • Relying on an industry-based production and distribution is NOT a sustainable and comprehensive long-term strategy for equitable access to reading for people with print disabilities in Canada.
    • NNELS and CELA provide services which publishers cannot, including providing specific formats, like braille, and ensuring equitable distribution and access across the country.
  2. Our publishing partners cannot replace NNELS and CELA:
    • Kate Edwards, the Executive Director of the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP), agrees that “the private sector cannot assume responsibility for producing accessible books in the myriad formats required to equitably serve Canadian readers with print disabilities.”
    • NNELS and CELA provide unique services including ongoing assessment, evaluation, training, and awareness among the different stakeholders, including publishers, distributors, technology vendors, libraries and others to maintain an equitable reading landscape.
    • These vital services, which promote the full participation of Canadians with print disabilities in learning, work and community life, can not be provided without federal funding support.
    • Both industry and public service components are essential to a healthy reading ecosystem in Canada and to a just and equitable society.
  3. NNELS and CELA support libraries which are essential to equitable access
    • NNELS and CELA provide a centralized service available through libraries across the country that ensures that all people with print disabilities can gain access to a wide variety of reading materials, regardless of the resources of their local libraries.
    • NNELS and CELA offer services and collections no individual library could offer on its own.

What We are Asking

We ask for a funding commitment that recognizes the following principles:

Ensure that all content can be made accessible to a diverse community of people with print disabilities.

  • It is estimated that only 7-10% of the world’s published content is available in accessible format(s). Canadian and multinational publishers can not (and will not) ensure that all titles will be commercially available in all accessible formats. Organizations like NNELS and CELA are essential to meet this need.

Recognizing that people with print disabilities face economic and social barriers that industry-based production and distribution will not be able to fully address.

  • A publicly-funded service needs to be provided to those users who do not have the economic means to gain access to accessible content.

Support for multiple formats, including braille, is essential for an equitable reading landscape.

  • Many accessible formats, such as braille, are not viable formats in the marketplace, and publicly-funded services such as NNELS and CELA are needed to ensure equitable access to all formats.

Access to published works for people with print disabilities internationally through the Marrakesh Treaty should be facilitated by organizations that are independent from industry.

  • The federal government has a responsibility to fulfill the requirements of the Marrakesh Treaty and must be prepared to continue to fund organizations, like NNELS adn CELA, that currently perform this essential service.

Accessibility expertise and equitable reading must be supported and made available independent of market forces.

  • Organizations like NNELS and CELA have expertise in accessible reading content and can ensure that these services and issues continue to be at the forefront.

Mainstream reading systems, tools, and devices can be complicated and expensive, and support for the provision of accessible services will continue to be essential.

  • Both NNELS and CELA offer a repository of reading content for people with print disabilities that provide an essential accessible national reading service.

Why this Election is Important to Users of NNELS and CELA 

Accessible reading materials support the economic and academic success of people with print disabilities and offer opportunities for social connection and inclusion. The funding provided by the federal government is essential for the production of accessible print materials in a variety of formats for people with print disabilities but that funding is in jeopardy.

What is the status of federal funding?

The federal government’s 2020 Fall Economic Statement (FES) included an announcement that current annual funding of $4 million for NNELS ($1 million annually) and CELA ($3 million annually) to provide material to those across Canada with print disabilities would be reduced by $1 million annually beginning in 2021 before ending entirely in 2024-2025.

After concerns about the Fall Economic Statement funding cuts were raised by NNELS and CELA (as well as users of their services and representatives of the publishing industry) funding for 2021-2022 was restored. The additional one-year funding reprieve in funding for 2021-2022 was welcome, but currently, both organizations face a 50% federal funding cut for each of the next 2 years before receiving $0 by 2024-2025.

If the cuts continue as planned, it will result in a devastating impact on our organizations, and on those across Canada who have been relying on the critical service we provide. The funding cuts for each of 2022-23 and 2024-25 will result in increasingly reduced service from both NNELS and CELA, and further compound the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having a disproportionate impact on those with disabilities across Canada. Organizations like NNELS and CELA are critical for the production and delivery of equitable access to reading material and NNELS and CELA are unable to provide this vital service without federal funding support.

Facts about Accessible Reading Materials

  • Only 7-10% of the worlds reading materials are available in accessible formats.
  • An estimated 10% of the population has a print disability. Some estimates say this number could be as high as 20%
  • Access to reading materials is crucial for academic and economic success and for social inclusion.

Where the Political Parties Stand

This information is taken directly from the platforms of the various parties:

Bloc Québécois

The Bloc Québécois platform does not specifically address accessibility with respect to reading materials or technology.

Conservative Party of Canada

The Conservative Party of Canada platform states on page 69:

We will provide an additional $80 million per year through the Enabling Accessibility Fund to provide:

  • Additional incentives for small business and community projects to improve accessibility.
  • Grants and support for all types of accessibility equipment that disabled Canadians need to work.
  • Enhancements to existing programs that will get more disabled Canadians into the workforce.

The Green Party

The Green Party has not released an official platform as of September 2, 2021

Liberal Party of Canada

The Liberal Party platform states on page 86:

  • "We will also commit to making permanent funding to support services that ensure equitable access to reading and other published works for Canadians with print disabilities so that more Canadians are able to fully participate in these activities."

New Democratic Party of Canada

The NDP platform does not specifically address accessibility with respect to reading materials or technology.

About NNELS and CELA

The National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS), which is a project of the BC Libraries Cooperative, and the Center for Equitable Library Service (CELA) are national not-for-profit organizations that provide accessible reading services to the approximately 3 million people across Canada with print disabilities. NNELS and CELA provide a critical and necessary public service to ensure equitable access to reading for those with print disabilities.

Print disabilities encompass those who are blind or visually impaired, people with cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia and those with physical disabilities that make it difficult to read a physical book. The services that NNELS and CELA provide ensure that people with print disabilities across the country are more able to fully participate in learning, work and community life and contribute to the social, cultural, and economic development and success of their local communities and Canada as a whole.

For more information:

Kevin Millsip, Executive Director, BCLC (NNELS), kevin.millsip@bc.libraries.coop

Daniella Levy-Pinto, Project Coordinator, (NNELS), daniella.levy-pinto@bc.libraries.coop