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Media Release

BC government's decision to withdraw audiobook funding a devastating decision
for Canadians who are blind: CNIB

January 29 * The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) today
expressed its deep regret at the BC government's recent decision to stop
funding the BC Library Services audio book program.

The reason given for the cut was that commercial audiobooks are now available
to replace the books recorded in the program. However, the vast majority of
commercial audiobooks are abridged, and the few that are full-length are
costly. "When it comes to library services, we don't expect sighted people to
buy books, or read books that are incomplete," said Jim Sanders, President and
CEO of the CNIB. "Why would we expect that of people like myself who are blind
or visually impaired?"

Only 3-4 per cent of what is published ever makes it into an accessible
format, such as an audio book. With such a huge gap in access to information,
the loss of any further production in Canada is devastating. The CNIB Library
and BC Library Services have been sharing titles for 27 years. In 2001, the BC
audio book program provided a quarter of the titles added to the CNIB
Library's collection. Many of these titles were Canadian content and not
available anywhere else.

"Even though I live in Alberta, this hurts me and all other print-disabled
Canadians who want original Canadian content in an accessible format," said
CNIB client Gerry Chevalier. "I have read many, many audiobooks over the years
that were produced by BC Library Services."

"More than 3 million Canadians cannot read print because of a disability. This
decision marks the last exit of a Canadian government from the creation of
general English-language accessible content. It is regrettable, because all
other major industrialized nations fund the production of braille and audio
books for people who are blind or visually impaired," said Sanders. "Sighted
Canadians have the right to books and information through a local library.
However, Canadians who are blind do not have that same right."

The $280,000 annual price tag for the audio book program amounted to only one
hundredth of one per cent of the total cuts the BC government made on Jan 21.

Fact Sheet: Access to Information in Canada

When it comes to books, culture, and information for people who need alternate
formats, there's just not enough out there. The British Columbia government's
decision to cut its audiobook program is the most recent setback, but
government support in Canada for books for people who are print disabled has
been eroding now for decades. Here's a look at the numbers behind the
problem...

  - Percentage of materials published in Canada that make it into an alternate
format like an audiobook: 3-4%

  - Number of Canadians who need alternate format materials because of a print
disability (a visual, physical, or learning disability that prevents them from
reading print): 3 million, or 10% of the population

  - Number of audiobooks Canadian publishers produced in 2000: 814

  - Estimated number of these books that were full-length (unabridged): less
than 5

  - Typical retail cost of an unabridged audiobook: $50*$200.

  - Percentage of new audiobooks (many Canadian content) added to the CNIB
Library's collection in 2001 that came from BC Library Services: 25%

  - Number of print books available through a local public library system in
Canada: 1 million and many millions more by inter-library loan

  - Number of alternate-format books available in the five wealthiest
countries in the world: 280,000

  - Average number of books read by a public library user each year: 1.5

  - Average number of books read by a CNIB Library client each year: 60

  - Number of the eight major industrialized nations to fund library services
for people who are blind or visually impaired: 7 (Canada is the only
exception)

  - Canadians over age 65 that experience severe vision loss that cannot be
corrected with standard eyeglasses: 1 in 9

  - Canadians over the age of 80: 1 in 4

  * 30 *

For more information
Julia Morgan
Communications Coordinator
CNIB Library for the Blind
(416) 480-7423