Digital library for blind adults and children

January 2017

Community Health

Country of origin: Canada

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind has launched a digital library with the most advanced collection of alternative formats in the world. More than 10,000 audio, text, and Braille titles are available.

The online library is the most advanced library of alternative formats in the world and a model for 175 international libraries producing alternative-format information. It also contains The Children?s Discovery Portal, the world?s first portal of its kind for children who are blind.

?For sighted people, technology makes access to information easier. For people like myself who are blind, it makes access possible,? said Jim Sanders, president of The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). ?The CNIB Digital Library will open up worlds of opportunity and knowledge. For example, I can now read a newspaper the same day it hits the newsstand. And the new service is particularly exciting for young CNIB clients, who will be able to visit a website that is just as much fun, attractive and informative as any other children?s site.?

The CNIB Digital Library offers a completely new reading experience for people who are blind or visually impaired. Currently, only 3% of published materials are available in an accessible format. Highlights include:

1.The CNIB Digital Library was designed from the outset to ensure it met the accessibility needs of people who are blind or visually impaired. It works with major adaptive technology products including screen reading programmes and braille keyboards.
2.Brings all of the Library?s online services including the CNIB catalogue and digital repository of books into one unified, bilingual, Internet gateway.
3.There are more than 10,000 audio, text, and braille titles available online for instant reading, including bestsellers such as Life of Pi and The Stone Diaries. Clients can also search and order from a collection of more than 60,000 titles.
4.Clients can listen to a CNIB Library talking book (with human-voice narration) right from their computer simply by selecting a link for the title of that book.


The Children?s Discovery Portal is one of the most exciting parts of this digital transformation. For the first time children who are blind or visually impaired will be able to play online games, participate in online polls, get homework help, sample or read entire books online and chat with other children who are blind from across the country. For some this may be the first opportunity they have ever had to meet another child who is blind.

?The whole Portal is cool but I especially love the chat room because I can speak to other kids like me,? said 11-year-old CNIB client Robert Hampson. ?I also like playing games like Dreadnought and it?s fun to be able to read books right away instead of waiting for them to arrive in the mail.?

The CNIB Digital Library is the result of a bold venture to fully transform the CNIB Library?s collection and production process to a digital library environment. The Library was relying on obsolete technology to reproduce materials. The collection was also at risk of being lost forever had it not been digitised.

To try out The CNIB Digital Library, visit the Library?s website and select the ?guest? option on the login screen. Some functions are not available to guests (they are for CNIB Library clients only and available with password access).

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