Library serving thousands of older Canadians at risk

Catching up on reading is one of the pleasures many people look forward to as they enter their retirement years. For thousands of older Canadians living with vision loss, it’s a pleasure made possible by the CNIB Library, Canada’s first and largest library of talking books and braille.

Due to a lack of government funding, this unique resource is now in jeopardy – and the charity that operates it is calling on Canadians to raise their voices.

CNIB has funded the operation of its specialized library with donations alone for more than 90 years. Last week, it announced it can no longer sustain the $10 million annual cost of the service without support from government partners.

“The CNIB Library is a lifeline for Canadians of all ages, and especially older Canadians who have age-related vision loss,” said John M. Rafferty, CNIB President and CEO. “It’s imperative that Canada’s governments come onside to ensure this library can be here to meet the growing needs of our aging population.”

CNIB is urging all Canadians to visit, where they can send a letter asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the country’s premiers to earmark funding for accessible library services in their upcoming budgets.

Funding commitments have already been made by the governments of Ontario, Alberta and the Northwest Territories. However, CNIB says support from the other provinces and the federal government remains crucial.

A lack of government support could place the CNIB Library and its services at risk as early as April 2010. In the short term, library users would face an erosion of services including increased wait times and fewer books. A lack of sustainable funding ultimately could force the closure of the library in 2012.

Above all, CNIB says the issue is one of human rights, pointing to the fact that libraries for sighted Canadians are publicly funded while services for blind and partially sighted people do not receive equitable support.

“It’s unacceptable that a progressive country like Canada has a two-tiered system when it comes to accessing books and information,” said Rafferty. “Disability should not dictate whether the government supports your right to read.”

Over 836,000 Canadians have significant vision loss and a further 3.4 million more have sight-threatening eye diseases that could limit their ability to read printed material. And because vision loss is closely linked to age, the number of cases is expected to double in the next 20 years as Canada’s baby boomers get older.

To send a letter in support of CNIB’s Right To Read campaign, please visit

Keywords: CNIB, disability