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An overview of special projects - June 2018


A one-page PDF summary is included at the bottom of this page.

In late July 2017, NNELS was among a number of organizations invited to apply for a grant from the Government of Canada through the Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Component (SDPP-D) to develop partnerships and produce alternate formats for Canadians with print disabilities.

In December 2017, the BC Libraries Cooperative received $1 million to carry out a series of special activities. We began work in January 2018 and made a public announcement about the project on February 15th. The work was completed in June 2018. This page summarizes our work on each of the projects. 

1. Purchasing EPUB and Audiobooks

We were thrilled to purchase and publish 19,193 EPUB books (we committed to 14,000 in the grant) and 3,539 audiobooks (we committed to 3,000). We also commissioned 35 new audiobooks upon request from readers. As with the rest of our collection, these books are available to any Canadian with a print disability through public libraries.

We purchased the audio and ebook content through partnerships with eBOUND Canada, De Marque, Recorded Books, Blackstone Audio, BiblioLabs and with help from Canadian publishing associations and independent publishers. For all these materials, we have unlimited and perpetual distribution rights, which means our users will always be able to access them.

2. E-text Production

We hired 6 people with vision impairments to help us improve both ebook quality and the NNELS workflow. This work was complete as of March 31. During the project, weekly activities related to book analysis and production were led by our team of Production Assistants in Alberta. Through email and discussion forums (, the new Production Assistants analyzed EPUB files, explored the functionality of reading and editing tools, and learned by working on books of their own choosing.

We have ideas for next steps for involving readers of accessible formats in book production and hope to work again with the outstanding people who helped us so much. We'd like to see how we can work with a team of people from our reading community to analyze EPUB files and inform publishers about what works with different reading tools and what doesn't. Eventually, we would like to work with tools that can directly improve the accessibility of EPUB files.

Our thanks to Karoline Bourdeau, Daniella Levy-Pinto, Ka Li, Richard Marion, Steve Murgaski, and Ryan Ollis. Thanks also to the production assistants in Alberta (our guiding lights): Leah Brochu, Jenn Lortie, and Rachel Osolen.

3. Accessible Publishing Workshops and Audits

Our ultimate goal is for every reader to be able to borrow and read books from public libraries.

To achieve this goal, books need to be published accessibly so that they do not require further manipulation to be read with accessible technology tools such as refreshable braille displays, text-to-speech tools, computers, and DAISY players.

At the moment, most books are not published using the EPUB accessibility requirements and so organizations like NNELS respond to reader requests to create accessible documents from inaccessible ebooks. This work is time-consuming and expensive, so the more we can support capacity for authors, editors, and publishers to make accessible ebooks, the more we can contribute to a future of accessible reading.

We organized 7 workshops with EPUB accessibility expert Laura Brady of Brady Typesetting. These workshops took place in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax, and Toronto, and a total of 73 publishers, editors, and alternate format producers attended, with about 10 more requesting access to a video recording of the workshop. Special thanks goes to all of Canada's provincial publishers’ associations who helped with promotion and organizing, and to Alternative Education Resources for Ontario (AERO) for organizing and sponsoring local arrangements for the Toronto workshop.

Laura Brady also analyzed EPUB files for 21 Canadian publishers, creating 3 to 5 page reports for each publisher, full of accessibility and coding suggestions.

There is a lot of pressure on publishers to learn and implement accessibility changes, and some are concerned about the cost and time required to implement all the changes being recommended to them. Many publishers outsource their EPUB production, and many are still producing EPUB 2 files (rather than EPUB 3) and do not know enough about HTML and CSS to fix common errors. They are also generally unfamiliar with ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) which is a set of attributes that make content more accessible to people with disabilities, and provides information about a document's structure for users of assistive technologies.

We would like to work with other alternate-format producers, authors, editors, and publishers to understand more about the gaps and supports needed to advance the accessible publishing agenda overall.

The audits and workshops helped introduce us to publishers in advance of our presentation (given by NNELS staff Farrah Little and Sabina Iseli-Otto) at the March 2018 ebookcraft conference in Toronto, organized by BookNet Canada. Laura Brady opened many doors for us: she was a conference co-organizer, she presented with us, and she initiated a number of conversations which we hope will be fruitful for years to come (e.g. this guest blog post which attracted quite a bit of attention).

4. Print-Braille Children's Books

There is a shortage of reading material for young Braille readers in Canadian public libraries. To make a dent in this shortage, we worked with a team of vision impaired people, based at the Vision Impaired Resource Network (VIRN) in Winnipeg, to produce 15 English-language print-braille children's books. One set of each of these 15 beautiful books has been sent to every province and territory in Canada. For MARC records and more information about these books, please visit our 2018 Print-Braille Collection page.

5. National Braille Study

There are many challenges for Canadians who read Braille, and we wanted to understand and determine what we could do to address some of them. Mary Ellen Gabias, President of the Canadian Federation of the Blind, volunteered to lead a team of writers including Michelle Creedy (BC), Holly Hoffmann (AB), Kerry Kijewski (ON), and Marcia Yale (ON), and one research assistant, Lilith Lee (ON), to propose a sustainable long-term strategy for making braille accessible to all Canadians in print and digital forms. This study was published in June 2018.

6. Recording Project

For years, we have been receiving requests from volunteers who want to record a book for our collection. Now we have a way for them to do just that!

Thanks to support from the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), we had the pleasure of working with Corry Stuive for several months; he and Steve Brown of H202 Media in Calgary, along with librarian Pikiora Wylie created a program for volunteers to record audiobooks in Canadian public libraries.

There are now 10 recording kits, complete with good quality headset-microphones, USB keys, quick instructions, and a bright red shipping case, which can be mailed to any library in Canada that wants to record an audio version of a children's picture book (or any other books). For more information, and to participate, please see our Recording page.

Thank you

Thank you to the organizations who made these projects possible:

Thank you to all the provincial publishers' associations and their members who helped share information, organize workshops, and facilitate purchasing.

Thank you to our provincial and territorial funding partners and to the BC Libraries Cooperative.

Finally, thank you to the Government of Canada's Social Development Partnerships Program - Disability Component.

If you have questions or comments about any of these projects, please write to NNELS: