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NNELS Updates - July, 2019 – August, 2020

Over the past few years, the amazing team of people at the National Network of Equitable Library Service have been working hard at supporting their top three objectives, which are:

  • advancing the agenda for accessible publishing;
  • offering quality employment opportunities for people with print disabilities; and
  • building and maintaining a repository of digital books in accessible formats for people with print disabilities in Canada, distributed through the Canadian public library network.

Many of these projects have been funded in part by a grant from the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Component (SDPP-D). In addition to work funded by this grant, NNELS also had the pleasure of partnering with other organizations on a few additional projects. We worked with eBOUND, the Association of Canadian Publishers, l’Association nationale des éditeurs de livres (ANEL), and the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA), and had our most collaborative year yet!

The maintenance and development of the repository, which is part of NNELS’ core, ongoing work, is funded by the provincial governments of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon. 

Summaries of the projects of the past year follow. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out! Please write to, or call us at 1-888-848-9250.

Accessible Publishing

Accessible Publishing Summit 

The second Accessible Publishing Summit, a working event all about accessible publishing, was held in Toronto on January 26th and 27th, 2020. Stakeholders in the ebook production, distribution, and reading chain were in attendance, and the future of accessible publishing in Canada was worked on and discussed. View a summary of the summit.

Working with Publishers

In partnership with eBOUND Canada and l’Association nationale des éditeurs de livres, and funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnership Program (Disability Component), we worked closely with 18 publishers, learning about their workflows, the accessibility of their books, and what can be done to make improvements in their production processes. This project resulted in the creation of a number of awesome resources for publishers! Read more about this in an article by project co-managers, Leah Brochu and Daniella Levy-Pinto: Best Practices for Accessible Workflows.

Crash Course in Ebook Accessibility – Video Series

In this video series, two of NNELS’ Accessibility Testers, Danny Faris and Kaden Faris, take the viewer through a number of common issues in ebook accessibility. The series is aimed at ebook developers and designers, but can be useful for others working in publishing as it gives a great overview of accessible ebooks in general.

The videos are fully accessible: captions, audio descriptions, and transcripts are all available. 


We have worked closely with The DAISY Consortium to enhance the DAISY Pipeline tool, adding additional functionality so that it can convert EPUB books to DAISY format. The tool can now convert EPUB to DAISY 2.02 and DAISY 3, and EPUB 2 to EPUB 3! We also worked to help refine tools such as the Ace Accessibility Checker. Publishers can now add accessibility metadata directly into their EPUBs using the Ace desktop application!

User Study and Library Training

NNELS made two major contributions to the Accessible Publishing Research Project, which was sponsored by the Association of Canadian Publishers and eBOUND Canada.

The first was the exciting “How do You Read Study”. In this study, we surveyed the reading needs and preferences of people with print disabilities. We got to hear from over 600 people, who took part in the study by either filling out an extensive online survey, or attending and participating in focus groups. Check out the Key Findings, or the full report: “Accessible Publishing: Research Project” (in Part I: Section A: “How do You Read?” The Reader Perspective.”)

The second portion of the report that NNELS contributed to, in partnership with the Centre for Equitable Library Access, was on “An Awareness and Training Strategy for Public Libraries in Canada.” This study drew on interviews with 17 different librarians or library staff working in public libraries or public library organizations from across Canada, and presents a 4-year plan to advance services for people with print disabilities. This can also be found in the full report: “Accessible Publishing: Research Project” (in Part III, Section B: Public Libraries in Canada).

Accessibility Testers

NNELS’ team of accessibility testers is formed by individuals with lived experience of disability, who consume print content in non-traditional ways. The accessibility testers have expertise in assessing and evaluating the accessibility and usability of ebooks, reading applications, digital library platforms, and much more. They work to  identify accessibility barriers so that improvements can be made. Some of the projects they have been working on are discussed below. For space reasons, we cannot include all the initiatives they have been a part of, so we have chosen a few highlights to share.

Creation of Accessible Version of Executive Summary & Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Final Report

NNELS was honoured to have the opportunity to create an accessible version of the Executive Summary & Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Final Report. The NNELS accessibility testers spent hours editing documents, writing image descriptions, and troubleshooting errors; in the process, the team created digital tools to help identify those images that required descriptions, wrote and added alternative text to images to make their content accessible, created macros and scripts to assist with editing and remediation, and proofread and reworked the format. Their efforts not only resulted in fully accessible versions of the document, but also produced tools that NNELS will be able to use for future work.

Read the full announcement.

COVID-19 Accessible Information

As the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold in Canada and around the world, news sites, public health agencies, universities and other organizations are publishing charts and graphs to explain data in easy to understand ways such as the flattening the curve model and the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, people with print disabilities or individuals with slower internet connections are generally left out of the loop since these images are inaccessible to assistive technologies or cannot load properly due to a lack of bandwidth. NNELS believes that this information should be accessible to everyone. In order to fill this gap, we are providing this information in alternative accessible formats such as text descriptions and sonifications (audio versions of graphs) by producing some key charts/graphs and linking to other resources with accessible information. The work of our accessibility testers has been instrumental for this important resource.

COVID-19 – Accessible Information

Testing: Library and Commercial Reading Applications and Reading Systems

In addition to working with publishers and assessing the accessibility of digital books, the Accessibility Testers have also been testing and evaluating reading apps and platforms used to access digital content (like ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, etc.) through public libraries. They have tested and written updated reports on Libby, OverDrive, and RBdigital. They have also synthesized information about multiple commercial apps, including accessibility features, and created an online resource which will help readers find the reading system that is right for them!

Assistive technology demonstrations

Demonstrations about how assistive technology works in practice at NNELS’ Accessible Publishing Summit and other conferences, have been instrumental for publishers to make a connection between well formed publications and how people with print disabilities engage with their content.

Creation of Digital Tools

Our team created several internal tools that will aid in the production of digital files. One tool is able to add DAISY functionality to MP3 files, resulting in the creation of more accessible audiobooks; the other tool scans all images in an EPUB or HTML file and classifies them in two broad image types: those that require description (i.e., non-decorative images), and those that do not (i.e., decorative images).


Print Braille Children’s Books

We continued to work together with the Vision Impaired Resource Network to produce print braille versions of children’s books. These beautiful books have both embossed braille and printed text, alongside the original illustrations of the book, and have been distributed to each of the provinces and territories for circulation in public libraries. 

Simultaneous Releases

NNELS also embarked on a project which oversaw the coordination of the simultaneous release and publication of a number of brand new Canadian books. Accessible versions of books are often not available for some time following the release of a new book, so aiding in the creation of braille books at the time of publication is an exciting step toward born accessible publishing.


NARRATE Pilot Project

The goal of this project was to provide an opportunity for libraries to connect their volunteers with NNELS, in order to record audiobooks. This Pilot is currently underway with 10 libraries across Canada. Portable recording kits have been sent out to libraries and online training, resources and direct support are available for all participating libraries. 

Volunteer Narration Project

We also expanded our volunteer narration program, and are currently working with 25 people from across Canada. This project has resulted in the addition of many excellent and beautifully narrated books to the NNELS collection!

Indigenous Voices Project

This new project works to connect Indigenous narrators with books that are written by authors from the same bands or nations that the narrator is a part of. We currently have one audiobook in production, and look forward to expanding this project.

The NNELS Collection

Our librarians scoured the NNELS repository in order to build important collections. Our Anti-Racist Resources, books by Black Authors, Indigenous Collection, and books by and about the LGBTQIA2S communities, are only a click away! These collections will continue to be added to, and more collections will be created, so stay tuned to our Collections page.

User Requests & Awards Collections

Part of NNELS’ core work involves fulfilling user requests. This means that, if a book is not available in an accessible format, we are able to create an accessible version upon request! Our Production Assistants are always hard at work, creating accessible format books, and have created hundreds of books over the past year (289 books in 2019, to be exact). In addition to working on user requests, the Production Assistants annually create accessible versions of award-nominated books, including books from First Nations Communities Read, Governor General awards, Scotiabank Giller Prize, and more. Take a peek at our collections of awards books!

Content Purchasing

We have also expanded the NNELS repository with many new purchases of ebooks and audiobooks from Recorded Books, Blackstone, Dreamscape, eBOUND, DeMarque, and independent Canadian publishers. We have added both English and French books, and most additions are also Canadian! Some of this purchasing we have done in collaboration with the Centre for Equitable Library Access, leveraging our funds for maximum benefit.

We have also had the opportunity to work directly with Canadian narrators, who have recorded books to add to our collection of audiobooks. In addition to the volunteers mentioned above, and thanks to support from the Government of Canada's Social Development Partnerships Program - Disability Component, we were able to work with 12 narrators, who recorded a total of 47 books! An exciting highlight of this work was that we were able to hire and support new Black, POC and Queer Narrators to record 5 audiobooks by a collection of authors with similar underrepresented identities. 

All together, we were able to add: 

  • 464 English Canadian ebooks 
  • 835 French Canadian ebooks 
  • 1,130 other audiobooks (some Canadian)

Accessible Books Consortium

In December 2019, we became part of the Accessible Books Consortium’s Global Books Service community. This means we are able to connect readers with an international collection of over 650,000 books!!

The Accessible Books Consortium’s Global Books Service community has a goal of increasing the number of books worldwide in accessible formats, and making them available to the people who need them. They partner with libraries and organizations (like us!) who can share accessible books with each other – a global library! Our favourite thing to do is get readers the books they want and need, and now we have one more way of making this happen. 


We attended and presented at a number of conferences this year - we encourage you to check out the available recordings and write-ups!

Final Thoughts

The National Network for Equitable Library Service is constantly embarking on new and exciting projects that advance accessible publishing, centre the voices of people with disabilities, and build on and enhance a repository of books that can be read and enjoyed by people with print disabilities. We are passionate about reading, equity, and access for all, and look forward to continuing to make the reading world as accessible as possible. 

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out! We would love to hear from you. Please write to, or call us at 1-888-848-9250.