Technology & Science

Library access in braille jeopardized

The CNIB says it can no longer afford to run Canada's largest library of braille and accessible audio materials.

The CNIB says it can no longer afford to run Canada's largest library of braille and accessible audio materials.

CNIB has used donated money to run the library for more than 90 years. But the charity said Tuesday that it can no longer sustain the $10-million annual operating cost of the service.

The library lends braille, audio and software technology to people across Canada from CNIB's national office in Toronto. Materials are sent in the mail. 

Without funding, CNIB said, the service could be affected as early as April 2010. No staff are expected to lose their jobs if the service ends.

CNIB said it is no longer in a position to offer the service unless the federal, provincial and terriorial governments help to sustain the "lifeline to literacy."

"It's just not sustainable," said John Rafferty, the CNIB president and CEO. "We are an aging population and each year the number of visually impaired people is growing by 45,000."

Regular public libraries are funded by taxpayers, but Canada is the only G8 country that does not publicly fund library services for people with vision loss, CNIB said.

Rafferty considers it a human rights issue, saying a disability should not dictate whether the government supports the right to read.

So far, Ontario, the Northwest Territories and Alberta have committed a total of $2 million in funding. The federal government hasn't yet responded to CNIB's request.

Craig Newman's 15-year-old daughter, Katja, uses the library service to read books transcribed into braille.

"Sometimes its better to physically read it as opposed to hear it from someone," he said in Toronto.

CNIB is urging Canadians to visit its campaign website to send a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the premiers, asking them to fund accessible library services, and to spread the word about the Right to Read campaign.

More than 836,000 Canadians have significant vision loss and another 3.4 million have sight-threatening eye diseases that could limit their ability to read printed material, according to CNIB.

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