'It's not like going to the bookstore': CNIB campaigns for more books in braille

Having limited access to books has always been something Darcy MacDougall has had to live with. That's why he decided to lend his name to a national campaign of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

Organization wants a long-term funding plan developed

Darcy MacDougall would like to see more materials available in audio, brailled and e-text. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Having limited access to books has always been something Darcy MacDougall has had to live with.

Born with optic nerve hypoplasia, MacDougall has been blind since birth.

That's why MacDougall decided to lend his name to a national campaign of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

"It's not like going to the bookstore or the library for a sighted person where you have all the choice in the world. There was always a pretty limited selection of what was available," said MacDougall.

"So, I remember times as a teenager where all my friends would be reading an author, and I wouldn't be able to get any of the books because they were just coming out and hadn't been put on braille or tape yet."

Funds needed 

As part of National AccessAbility Week recently, the CNIB called on the federal government to develop a long-term plan to fund and produce more accessible books in Canada.

A letter with a local advocate's name, was placed in newspapers across the country, including here in Charlottetown.

The CNIB is proposing to partner with the federal government on a task force to develop a sustainable strategy for accessible book production. (Bill Siel/Kenosha News/Canadian Press)

"Because of the lack of accessibility, it means we're not getting the same availability of information as our peers are, our sighted peers, and so it's very difficult to compete in education, and to compete in employment with such a low number of books available to us," said Diane Bergeron, CNIB's executive director of national and international affairs.

"So, the campaign was designed to let people know about the importance of ensuring that all published works are accessible. It's just as important to have access to something in print as it is for someone to have access to a building or a facility."

More than three million Canadians live with a physical, visual or learning disability that could impede their ability to read standard printed materials. For these Canadians, books in accessible formats like audio, braille and electronic text represent a lifeline to literacy, and are critical to their participation in education, employment and community life, according to a release from the CNIB.

However, Canadian publishers are not required by law to produce their books in accessible formats. The result is that only a small percentage of all published trade books are available in these formats — most produced by CNIB and only partially funded by federal grants.

The charity is proposing to partner with the government and other stakeholders in the print disability community on a task force to develop a sustainable strategy for accessible book production and ultimately close the access gap.

"When most people want a book, they just go get it, and for me, I have to scour every possible available place for an alternate format piece of material, and the majority of the time, it's not available.," said Bergeron.

'A long term solution'

MacDougall said things have improved considerably since he was a teenager.

The P.E.I. Public Library has Daisy talking audio books as well as a rack ball mouse, accessible keyboard and a wide screen monitor. But, he says there is always more than can be done.

Darcy MacDougall is able to use audio books on his laptop, but not everyone is able to use a computer as easily as he can. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

'If I'm reading a really light reading type of thing for my comfort level with reading on an iPad, that's good for me. But, I find if it's a book I want to take more seriously like kind of a self-help type of book with practice exercises in it, that's the kind of thing I think anyone would want, a sighted person would want right in front of them in print, and I would want to have something like that in braille, or at least in a more accessible audio format where I have more freedom with navigation and re-reading a sentence and a line."

 Bergerons said CNIB is currently talking with the federal government to look at a long term solution to try and come up with a way to make sure everybody has access. She added they want books produced in all formats, not just braille, not just audio, but the formats that provide true and real equity.