CNIB serves fewer than 10 per cent of the people who need alternatives to standard print.
By Graeme McCreath, Special to Times Colonist
January 22, 2010
If you’re blind or have impaired vision or a physical or reading disability that makes print inaccessible to you, where do you go if you want to read a good book?
In British Columbia, one of the best places is your local public library.
The provincial public library services branch has long been a leader in providing reading material in the form of recorded books to those whose disabilities make print books inaccessible.
Another option is the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, a private Toronto-based charity, which also operates a library, though print-disabled individuals who are not blind or vision-impaired have
no access to it. In fact, CNIB serves fewer than 10 per cent of the
people who need alternatives to standard print.
The federal government, as part of its commitment to libraries that serve all Canadians, commissioned a $3-million study on ways to provide all print-disabled Canadians with the best possible access to
As the next step in the process, Library and Archives Canada recently created the Initiative for Equitable Library Access to consult with print-disabled Canadians and other stakeholders on the best way to
implement the study’s findings. These Canadians are awaiting the
opportunity to review both the study and the recommendations of
Library and Archives Canada.
Consensus appears to be building among individuals and organizations within the community of library users and librarians that a new non-government organization — not the CNIB — be responsible for
spearheading services to print-disabled Canadians by working closely
with local and provincial libraries to deliver services through the public library system.
CNIB has been involved in this consultative process from the beginning, but, perhaps for the first time, its voice is not the only one being heard. Acting on its own, outside of the consultative
process, the CNIB has embarked on an aggressive media and lobbying campaign aimed at getting all levels of government to fund its ongoing library operation. The charity appears to be trying to position itself
as “the” library for blind Canadians, whether or not blind Canadians
or the library community want it to be.
For 90 years, CNIB has funded its library largely through charitable donations. Suddenly, just as the government has begun to recognize public responsibility to fund library service for print-disabled
individuals, but before broad consultations have helped determine the
best structure for those services, the CNIB has announced that the institute can no longer continue charitable funding of a service that has always been one of its core programs.
Blind Canadians are asking, “What’s the rush?” Surely CNIB funding is
not so precarious that the well-endowed charity must short-circuit a
constructive consultative process? Could it be that CNIB is trying to do by lobbying government and conducting a misleading public relations campaign what it cannot achieve through the support of stakeholders?
Rather than bowing to pressure from a savvy charity, federal and provincial governments should allow the consultative process to be concluded so that a well-planned structure can be created that will
encompass the needs of all Canadians who do not use standard print.
In the interim, the government of British Columbia will best serve the print-disabled population by directing its funding to the public library services branch where it can continue to strengthen the
talking-book and audio section.
As a blind person, I feel this service should be provided on a par with all other Canadians via the public system, and not through a private charity tapping the public purse to keep control of what is a
I am an avid user of the talking-book section of my public library and as technology continues to progress, I along with many other blind people can enjoy walking into the same library as my friends and
Equitable access to literature for all should be the fundamental goal and therefore the charity concept to support blind readers may be a thing of the past.
Graeme McCreath of Saanich has been blind since he was eight years old.
The Victoria Times Colonist