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Inclusion, Accessibility, and Literacy: Expanding the National Network for Equitable Library Service

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Federal Funding for People with Print Disabilities, Digital Literacy, and Born-accessible Publishing

The National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) is excited to announce the receipt of support from the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Component (SDPP-D), a program designed to improve the participation and integration of people with disabilities in all aspects of Canadian society, with respect to social inclusion.

The funding of $1 million will enable NNELS to continue to improve equity in access and services for Canadian readers with disabilities, through partnerships with publishers, publisher associations, disability organizations, libraries, and other key stakeholders, as well as expansion of the NNELS collection. It will also allow NNELS to continue to build capacity and offer stable quality employment opportunities to people with print disabilities in the areas of accessibility testing, analysis, software development, and leadership.

Giving every Canadian the opportunity to read and learn is important in our work to create a more disability inclusive Canada. Our federal Government took an important step in that direction by signing the Marrakesh Treaty in 2016 to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. This new investment in accessible books through the Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Component will help uphold the level of available accessible materials and make them available in libraries. This builds on our Budget 2019 investments through the Canada Book Fund and our advocacy to help the publishing industry ramp up its ability to create accessible books. I want to thank NNELS for their important partnership and for being an inclusive employer of persons with disabilities.
– Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
We are so pleased that the Federal Government is continuing to fund this important work. Over the past 3 years, thanks to Federal funding, NNELS was able to triple the collection of accessible books on our repository, to teach over 100 publishers about accessible publishing, and to offer quality employment to people with print disabilities to build capacity and make contributions to the accessible reading landscape. This funding ensures that NNELS will be able to continue expanding on this work, eliminate and prevent digital accessibility barriers in digital content, and address the needs of people with print disabilities in Canada.
– Daniella Levy-Pinto, NNELS Projects Coordinator

To learn more about what NNELS has accomplished over the past three years, with the help of similar funding, check out our updates: 2017/2018; 2018/2019; 2019/2020.

For more information contact: Daniella Levy-Pinto, Project Coordinator, 1.855.383.5761 x 1007 |


Print Disabilities and Equitable Access

In Canada, 800,000 individuals have a visual impairment, and around 3,000,000 people have a print disability.[1] This number is expected to grow with an aging population, and in addition, hundreds of thousands more may suffer from undiagnosed learning or other cognitive disabilities, disabilities which could be greatly served by having access to accessible format materials. It is imperative that accessibility and digital literacy are prioritized, and we are fortunate that the government recognizes the importance of this work. With Federal support, and the support of its partners, NNELS has undertaken key initiatives to increase quality employment opportunities for Canadians with print disabilities, to advance the agenda for born accessible publishing, and to grow its digital repository of accessible books. NNELS is excited to continue to work toward a more accessible, inclusive, and equitable world.

NNELS’ Accessibility Testers

We are excited to expand our awesome team of accessibility testers (who have lived experience with a range of print disabilities, including blindness, low vision, and learning disabilities). They will work to test and analyze ebooks, tools, software, and more, in order to increase the knowledge needed to build a more accessible Canada. They will also continue to advise publishers, technology vendors, and public libraries on best practices for accessibility, and also develop resources to help improve the digital literacy of people with print disabilities!

Accessible Publishing at NNELS

We look forward to continuing our work with publishers–not only on improving ebooks, but also audiobooks, electronic braille, and even tactile graphics! Through workshops, documentation, videos, ebook audits, the Accessible Publishing Summit, and other initiatives, NNELS has been able to offer practical, actionable advice to publishers who want their books to be available to as many people as possible. For more information on NNELS’ accessible publishing initiatives, please see

Collection Development

In the past three years, NNELS has more than tripled its ebook and audiobook collection, with an emphasis on Canadian content in both English and French. NNELS is expanding its braille collections, and continues to research best practices for braille creation and distribution through Canadian public libraries. NNELS is also working on uplifting voices of individuals from underrepresented communities, by engaging and supporting new BIPOC and Queer Narrators to record audiobooks by a collection of authors with similar underrepresented identities.


NNELS gratefully acknowledges the support of libraries and readers, volunteers, and community organizations, including the AEBC (Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians), CCB (Canadian Council of the Blind), VIRN (Vision Impaired Resource Network, and CFB (Canadian Federation of the Blind).

Some of the NNELS’ work in accessible publishing and collection expansion is done in partnership with organizations such as CELA (Centre for Equitable Library Access), APMA (Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association), ABPBC (Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia), ACP (Association of Canadian Publishers), BPAA (Book Publishers Association of Alberta), the DAISY Consortium, and eBOUND Canada, among others.

[1]  Government of Canada. (2016, March 24). Government improving access to copyright material for visually impaired and print-disabled Canadians. [News Release].

About NNELS & The BC Libraries Co-op

The National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) is a digital public library of downloadable titles for Canadians with perceptual disabilities, supported and fueled by a growing network of readers, community organizations, librarians, publishers, and accessible format producers in Canada and abroad. NNELS is funded and supported by provincial and territorial governments, and is available to any public library user with a print-disability in Canada. Please visit for more information.

NNELS is a service of the BC Libraries Cooperative, a 200-member national cooperative, providing libraries and related organizations the services, cost savings, and support they need to do great work in Canadian communities. An enterprising non-profit and a technology leader, the Co-op is the proud home of NNELS. Please visit for more information.