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Introduction

Literacy is the most basic currency of the knowledge economy. - Barack Obama
An illustrated quote "Literacy is the most basic currency of the knowledge economy" by Barack Obama written in blue on a yellow background.

Publishers are out in front when it comes to accessible book publishing. However, there are many other institutions, both public and private, that do critical work in the development and promotion of accessible texts.

This section explores the critical roles played by public libraries and related organizations in promoting accessibility, as well as third-party organizations that offer resources and certification to publishers who wish to develop and improve their own practices in the realm of accessibility.

Literacy

ABC pasta in a spoonful of red tomato soup held above a bowl of soup.
A spoonful of ABC pasta held above a bowl of soup.
Image source: Sigmund/Unsplash

As with all forms of access, it is important to ask and never assume what other people's needs are. There can be multiple reasons for limited literacy skills, anywhere from intellectual and learning disabilities to economic issues, including leaving school early to get a job, illness, or health issues, English as a second language, experiencing or witnessing violence in the home, or inadequate teaching practices. A common assumption is that if someone is articulate, then they must be a good reader, yet many people have excellent verbal communication skills but limited literacy skills. Others may have very good reading skills but have challenges with comprehension.

Everyone has the right to learn, and to access to materials that fit their own unique needs. While “strong” literacy skills are helpful in attaining a job – literacy is about so much more than employment. What about joy, connection, emotion, and curiosity? All reasons to read are worthy of acknowledgement and celebration.

Literacy as Social Justice

Everyone should have equal access to the skills and resources they need to communicate, analyze, criticize, and create information as literate individuals in society. There are structural barriers to access to literacy that can have an impact across generations. The documented correlation between literacy and income inequality, health outcomes, and rates of incarceration serves as a reminder that literacy intersects with equity, access, and inclusion (American Library Association (ALA), 2019).

Braille Literacy

Braille is a tactile writing system. The alphabet, numbers, music notation, and any other symbols that appears in print can all be replicated in braille by rearranging the six dots of the braille cell.

Braille is the best way for children with sight loss to develop skills in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Audiobooks and technologies that "speak" text through voice synthesizers don't give new readers the tools that they need to read and write for themselves. While many people who are blind or have low vision use screen readers to listen to books, this option isn't always available. In children, braille can stimulate the brain and encourage creativity and imagination. Braille can be taught in the classic, dots-on-paper way, or with cutting-edge technology. For children who are blind, being able to read and write braille can be a key to literacy, employment, and independence. Braille literacy can include notetaking using a slate and stylus, the ability to scan a text to find passages to study and check homework, and writing messages and notes (CNIB Braille Literacy, 2022).

A braille book being read with two hands
A braille book being read with two hands
Image source: Pexels/Thirdman

Deaf Literacy

The lowercase 'deaf' is used when referring to the audiological condition of not hearing, while the uppercase 'Deaf' refers to a particular group of deaf people who share a sign language and culture. The Deaf community regards sign language as part of their cultural identity. Sign languages are visual languages with their own syntaxes and linguistic rules and should be respected as such. The Deaf community also shares a common history, values, norms, traditions, culturally accepted behaviours, and linguistic experiences. Deaf culture is not a "disabled" culture, but refers to the linguistic, political, and social aspects of the Deaf community. Note that there is a continuing discourse around the use of language and some deaf/Deaf people find the use of 'Deaf' political. Therefore, if you are communicating with one person or a specific group, ask how they prefer to identify.

Some members of the Deaf community may not experience direct hearing loss but are still closely tied to it.

This includes:

  • People who use ASL as their primary or secondary language
  • Individuals who have attended schools of the Deaf
  • Children of Deaf adults (CODA)
  • Siblings, spouses/partners of a Deaf adult
  • ASL interpreters

-Adapted from Deaf Literacy Initiative

In Deaf and Deafblind communities, there is a diversity of experience when it comes to literacy - and the prioritization of hearing individuals and their experiences is an example of audism (discrimination against Deaf people).

The Glossary: Deaf and Disability Arts Practices in Canada guide developed by The Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) defines audism as ‘a normative system that subordinates Deaf and hard of hearing people through a set of practices, actions, beliefs, and attitudes that value hearing people and their ways of life (hearing and speaking) to the detriment of a diversity of (sign) languages and ways of moving’.

-Glossary: Deaf and Disability Arts Practices in Canada

Canadian Association for the Deaf (CAD-ASC) - Position on Literacy

Canadian Association for the Deaf logo

The high rate of functional illiteracy in the Deaf community in Canada is not a result of deafness. Shifting away from the deficit model (the perspective that Deaf culture is less than non-Deaf culture) and education toward the difference model (acknowledging the difference between Deaf and non-Deaf culture) would improve the literacy and educational achievements of Deaf people.

The CAD-ASC supports the principle that literacy is a crucial access point for Deaf Canadians to the non-Deaf world and that being able to communicate with the hearing world through reading and writing is important for a Deaf individual's future academic, professional, and social success. Greater support in sign-language acquisition and development provides people with linguistic building blocks that allow the acquisition of a second language (English or French).

Sign-language support in acquiring literacy material should be a priority. Research shows that the establishment of sign language as a first language promotes language development in the brain, which facilitates reading and writing skills.

To enhance the literacy and education of Deaf people:

  • Deaf people should have free and unrestricted access to visible and natural language and communication to promote first-language development followed by literacy.
  • The focus should be shifted from the deficit model and towards that of the difference model in early intervention, education, and teacher training programs that serve Deaf students. These programs should commit to the training and employment of qualified Deaf professionals and educators.

- Adapted from Canadian Association for the Deaf (CAD) position on literacy

Illustration of a lit lightbulb

Spotlight: The Daily Moth

The Daily Moth logo
A black and white illustration of a moth on a lightbulb that reads 'The Daily Moth',
Image source: dailymoth.com

Founded in 2015 by Alex Abenchuchan, The Daily Moth delivers daily news content and information in ASL on the publication's website, YouTube channel, and on its Facebook and Instagram feeds.

In this video, Analysis: The Lasting Impact of CODA, Abenchuchan analyzes the societal impact of the 2022 Oscar-winning film CODA. The first American film to be released in theatres with open captions, CODA's popularity led the Associated Press (AP) Style-book (an American English guide for grammar style and word usage for journalists) to update its guidance in the use of lower case 'deaf' and upper case 'Deaf'. 'Deaf' is now used when describing a person or group from the cultural Deaf community, or Deaf education or Deaf Culture. CODA is also the first Deaf-led film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, with Troy Kostur winning the Academy Award for Best Actor. Kostur is the second deaf person to win in this category after Marlee Matlin, who won for her role in Children of a Lesser God in 1986.