Imagine Living Without Books Part 2: Connecting Print Disabled Readers

In part 1, I asked readers to think about what it would be like to imagine living with access to only a very small selection of books, and provided some additional context for Canada. If you haven’t already, please read Imagine Living Without Books Part 1 as the two parts are meant to be read as one post.

Providing books and other materials in formats that print disabled can read means connecting them to parts of their lives they may not have been able to connect with before, or connect them in new ways.

Connecting People to Books

The most obvious direct benefit is that print disabled people get the books that they want to read, in a format that allows them to read the books.

But much like reading any book, reading a book can make someone feel connected to aspects beyond the book itself, whether it’s the author, other readers, other cultures, other places, the past/our history, etc.

People read for different reasons, but it’s undeniable that reading can provide great enjoyment.

We received a story about one person who became blind (relatively) recently during late highschool, and therefore learnt braille late. Because she was very slow at reading braille and the selection was limited, the only time she read leisurely is when a family member had time to read to her. She was extremely happy when she discovered that her local public library provided her access to accessible formats that included lots of books that she was interested in, and that she could request books that weren’t already available. She described it as

better than Christmas morning.

One of the important parts of our service is that people can request books. While the demand from our member organizations have generally been (award-winning) Canadian literature, patrons have requested a very diverse list of books. Other than your typical romance, mystery, and other popular fiction, we have had requests for:

  • cookbooks,
  • book adaptation of video game stories,
  • Aboriginal case law,
  • graphic novels,
  • horsemanship,
  • government documents,
  • local history, and more.

On an side note, one interesting story was that we had an author who requested his own books that were written before he became physically disabled.

Much like everyone else, print disabled readers have diverse interests, and so we want to be give them access to any book they can find in the library, for equivalent access.

Connecting People to their Community

When people can read the books they want, they can also participate more in their community. There are the usual book clubs and reading programs, but also discussions about new books, books that have just been nominated or won awards, books in the news, etc.

We also greatly encourage patrons to contact their local public library, because library staff can help them in person (whereas we cannot). If patrons have mobility issues preventing them from going to the library, they can call the library and in many cases (depending on the libraries’ resources), the library can send someone to them.

I believe it’s important for typically under-served groups to be connected to their libraries, because they can provide a lot of resources, or connect people to other available resources. The library can be a great place to help someone grow, learn, and connect to other people. It was amazing to hear that one of the patrons we worked with told us

she updated her library card after more than six years.

Connecting People to their Friends and Family

When was the last time you picked up a book because someone recommended it to you? Did you discuss it with them afterwards? Or maybe they asked you how you liked it.

Imagine not being able to read a book someone recommends, and talking about it together.

Time and again, “word of mouth” is touted as the best form of advertising, probably because it means people don’t just hear about a book, they are more likely to pick it up and read it. Personally, the only time I’ve picked up a book that wasn’t based on a recommendation (either of the book itself or the author) was because it in the news (such as the recently released most challenged books of 2015 in US libraries).

While books can connect us in different ways, I believe one of the most important is to our friends and family. We can spend minutes or hours discussing specific books, authors, or literature in general; much like we might do for any topic, but in a well-read group of people, no one wants to feel left out because they haven’t read that one book.

We got a request for a book that was to be part of a book club. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the staff member organizing the book club related a story afterwards. Not only was the book published by a local author,

the author’s grandmother, who had been wanting family members to read it to her (but no one had time), could read her granddaughter’s book herself.

People Becoming More Independent

Interestingly, while I have been talking about how people can become more connected with accessible formats, a large part of it also seems to actually be about how people can be more independent. (Though I don’t think this is strange.)

I don’t think anyone wants to be fully dependent on others for reading, which many consider a basic task or ability in life. Many (print-)disabled people have expressed this sentiment as well.

People want the ability to choose how and when they connect with others and the world.

“Thanks to NNELS, my 89-year-old grandmother is going to buy herself a tablet so that she can read books, both old and new.”


This post (in its 2 parts) has been more a collection of thoughts than necessarily one coherent piece, but as I wrote at the beginning, I hope it provides some insight into the work that I do, my team does, my organization does, our members do. I hope that it will also serve as a reminder to the very same people why our work is so important, even if we sometimes forget in our day-to-day work.

Take Away

In the past, there was a lot less choice, but now, with new services, technology, and awareness, print-disabled readers can have equivalent access.

It starts with knowing that the resources are out there, and that print disabilities affect all ages, and affect sighted people as well. So spread the word.

And if you enjoy reading books out loud, consider volunteering to read at a local organization (for example, if you’re in the Vancouver area, UBC Crane Library has a production studio), or if you want to do it remotely and record at home, consider contributing to Librivox (record public domain (in the US) titles for anyone to listen), NNELS (record copyrighted titles for print-disabled Canadians), or any number of other organizations that could use your support.

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

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