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60th IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 21-27, 1994

Equalizing Opportunity for Disabled Students:
the Contribution of the National Library of Canada and Canadian University Libraries

Diane Bays
Liaison Officer,
National Library of Canada, Ottawa, Canada


The paper describes the roles of the National Library of Canada and Canadian university and college libraries in the provision of library services to disabled students. Nine features of effective services in college and university libraries are presented. The National Library of Canada supports these services through the provision of a union catalogue of alternate format materials (CANUC:H) and the Adaptive Technology for Libraries Program, a funding program which assists Canadian libraries acquire equipment to make their collections and databases accessible to print handicapped Canadians.


Canada has over 250 colleges and universities with a total enrolment of approximately one and a half million students, of whom 112,000 have identified themselves as having some degree of disability. Although few in number, these students are guaranteed the right to an education free from discrimination based on their disability by Canada's constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

At universities and colleges across Canada efforts are being made to remove barriers that disadvantage disabled students. Offices of Disabled Students Services have been established to modify programs, services and facilities to accommodate disabled students. Examples of accommodations frequently provided are: captioning of televised lectures for deaf students; building ramps for mobility impai red students; giving additional time for examinations to learning disabled students ; and providing textbooks and course materials in braille for blind students.

Use of university and college libraries for supplementary reading and research is an important part of a post secondary education in Canada. If disabled students are to be successful, they must have the same access to library services as other students. Libraries have, therefore, also been involved in efforts to accommodate disabled students at universities and colleges. Effective programs, w hich foster independence and self reliance in students while ensuring they receive the additional support necessary for success, incorporate the following nine features.

Co operation between libraries and Offices for Disabled Students
ensures that accommodation efforts on a campus are coordinated and expertise shared. The Offices for Disabled Students at two universities have provided funds for a librarian to work with disabled students in the university library.

Designation of a library staff member
responsible for developing a service to disabled students demonstrates commitment of the library to providing this service. It also provides a personal contact for students, who may have little experience using libraries.

Development of an awareness of the needs of disabled students
in all library staff from security guards to reference librarians enables them to assist disabled students confidently and effectively.

Consultation with students
on an individual and group basis ensures the services provided are meeting their needs. Advisory committees of disabled students provide a forum to involve them in planning.

Provision of a Study/Adaptive Equipment Centre for Disabled Students
allows disabled students to study and use library materials in the library. With adaptive equipment students can convert information to alternate formats, consult information in alternate format, take notes or write essays. While assistance and instruction in the use of the equipment is available, students are encou raged to work independently.

Accessible buildings
make it possible for students with mobility or visual impairments to move around the library independently and access services at the same delivery points as other students.

Service accessibility
ensures that accommodations are in place to enable students to access all library services. For example, students with visual and mobility impairments will need assistance with retrieving and transporting books. Sign language interpreters can assist deaf students in reference interviews.

Providing library orientation and bibliographic instruction
ensures that students with little previous experience using libraries learn to plan and conduct research independently. Disabled students can schedule appointments with reference librarians, who assist them to locate and access library resources, while teaching students to use reference tools. Another common approach is to pro vide each new student with a tour of the library.

Providing information in alternate format
is vital for print handicapped students. Access must be provided to both bibliographic tools such as online catalogues, and periodical indexes and to the books and periodicals located by consulting these catalogues and indexes. Libraries provide access through a combination of alternative output devices for computers and by providing a voluntee r service for taping readings. Crane Library at the University of British Columbia built studios for recording books and articles on audiotapes, which are loaned or sold to students across the country.

In the delivery of programs to disabled students, Canadian libraries have been able to rely on the support of the National Library of Canada. Through two of its core functions, fostering library development in Canada and co ordinating resource sharing among Canadian libraries, the National Library supports the delivery of library services to disabled Canadians.

The National Library has advocated the development of library services to disabled Canadians by all Canadian libraries since the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981. To support the provision of these services the Library developed guidelines, handbooks and directories, financed training videos, and provided extensive reference and advisory services.

In 1992, the Library launched the Adaptive Technology for Libraries Program, a further initiative to support development of library services to print handicapped Canadians. The Program provides up to half the cost of hardware or software that converts printed or electronic information to large print, braille, or audio formats, thereby providing access to books, serials, and databases not availab le in alternate format. Applications to the Program are judged by an external committee, which assesses such factors as knowledge of the user community, the selection process, the improvement in access to information, the promotion plan, and the assistance to be provided to library users.

In the first two years of the Program, 19 university and college libraries received funding. Some libraries launched services to disabled students with the equipment acquired; others expanded services to additional locations on campus or augmented existing services. Closed circuit televisions and optical character scanners to provide access to printed materials in large print, audio, and braill e were purchased by 13 libraries. The Program enabled 15 libraries to provide access to online catalogues, CD ROMs and the Internet in braille, large print or audio.

The National Library also supports the delivery of library services to disabled students through its role as facilitator of resource sharing among Canadian libraries. In response to requests from librarians in the education sector for a bibliographic tool to support identification and interlending of alternate formats, the National Library created CANUC:H, the Canadian Union Catalogue of Library Materials for the Print Handicapped. CANUC:H lists over 100,000 books and serials in large print, braille, audio and electronic formats held by over 30 Canadian libraries and alternate format producers. Several of the libraries reporting holdings to CANUC:H are college and university libraries. This union catalogue is part of the National Library's bibliographic database and is available onlin e in 650 Canadian libraries. Resource sharing of alternate format titles has enabled libraries to avoid duplicate production and provide material to students more quickly.

In another initiative to support resource sharing, the National Library is loading selected CANUC:H records on BLND, the database of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress. BLND will be issued on a CD ROM, providing access to the holdings of alternate format producers in the United States, Ireland, and Canada in a format searchable by pri nt handicapped users.

In conclusion, Canada has adopted a decentralized and co operative approach to the provision of library services to disabled students, involving both university and college libraries and the National Library of Canada. In the coming years universities and colleges and the National Library will continue to work together to maintain and expand these services so that disabled Canadians have equal a ccess to post secondary education.