On March 16, 2021, Employment and Social Development Canada announced they were increasing funding by a million dollars for the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) and the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS), organizations which produce accessible books for people with print disabilities. What the announcement didn’t mention was that the funding merely replaced the million dollars that the federal government had already cut.
In November 2020, the federal government announced an annual 25 per cent reduction in funding to CELA and NNELS, with their funding to be eliminated completely by the 2024–2025 fiscal year. This “one-year reprieve,” as CELA executive director Laurie Davidson referred to it in the organization’s response, does not disguise that both organizations’ federal funding is still on track to be eliminated entirely. Q&Q talked to Davidson and Daniella Levy-Pinto from NNELS to discuss what their organizations offer to Canadians and how these cuts will impact their ability to produce accessible content.
How many people access your services, and what impact will there be for those people if you lose your federal funding?
Laurie Davidson: One in 10 people—more than 3 million people in Canada—have a print disability. This is a large group of people who also have a diversity of reading needs, which is why it’s important to have choice in the different digital and physical formats we provide. The funding cuts will have a devastating impact on our users.
Daniella Levy-Pinto: We would no longer be able to produce our specialized formats, particularly print braille books and human-narrated audiobooks, which are required by a significant segment of our users. NNELS works closely with publishers to produce accessible formats, and if the cuts proceed, NNELS will have less capacity to assist publishers in creating accessible content. Our team has considerable lived experience with print disabilities, so we are able to provide valuable feedback for developers and vendors of reading platforms, as well as accessible files.
Do you receive any funding other than the federal funding that is currently at risk?
Davidson: Currently 65 per cent of our funding comes from the federal government, which is what is currently at risk of being eliminated. The remaining 35 per cent comes from the provinces and territories and some individual libraries.
Levy-Pinto: [At NNELS,] five provinces and the three territories fund the basic service, but most of the work we’re doing to produce specialized formats is only possible with the federal funding.
What would you say to people who think this doesn’t affect them because they don’t personally access your services?
Levy-Pinto: People can get a print disability at any time in their life. Nobody is immune to hurting their eyes or having an accident that will prevent them from holding a book or turning pages. This is about inclusion.
What can people do to oppose these cuts?
Davidson: Both CELA and NNELS have advocacy pages on our websites to show what supporters can do to help. We’re asking people to write letters to their MPs and to Minister [of Employment, Workforce Development, and Disability Inclusion Carla] Qualtrough and Minister [of Finance Chrystia] Freeland, and people can use the template letters we have on our websites for that or they can edit those letters to include their own experiences and why these services are important to them. We’re also encouraging people to share posts in our social-media campaign. Minister Qualtrough has always been a strong supporter for people with disabilities and has shown great support for NNELS and CELA, so we’re hopeful that we can find a solution.