Print Disability and Public Libraries in Australia: Challenges and Opportunities

Print Disability and Public Libraries in Australia: Challenges and Opportunities Sam loves stories but hates reading print. His dyslexia means that by the time he has decoded the words on the page he has lost the narrative of the story. Enid has always loved reading but since her stroke she can no longer hold or manipulate objects, so using her e-book is no longer an option. Tom was once an avid reader, but his dementia has significantly impacted his ability to understand and remember what he has read. As a result, Tom can no longer read.

What do all these readers have in common? They all experience a print disability. There are no recent figures on how many people experience print disability in Australia. However, the findings from the 2014 RPH Radio Reading Network research estimated that 4,726,186 Australians were print disabled, or 22% of the population at the time. Despite developments in digital technologies which allow publishers to produce “born-accessible” digital publications, less than 10 percent of works published worldwide are available in accessible formats (Jewel, 2018). This “global book famine” affects the opportunities for learning, participating in the social and economic life of society, and leading a balanced life. So, what’s the role of public libraries in addressing these barriers? What do librarians understand about print disability and accessibility? What’s the present level of service for people with print disability in Australian public libraries? What can librarians do to ensure that people with print disability have access to information via public libraries?

This presentation presents the results of part one of a research project exploring these questions, using a mixed-method methodology, combining quantitative and qualitative data collection. Part one of the project involved an online questionnaire with a mixture of close and open-ended questions distributed to public libraries in Australia. The quantitative data was analysed using SPSS, and free-text responses were coded in Excel. Almost 300 participants answered the questionnaire. The results provide an insight into the key drivers and barriers to provision of accessible resources and services via the public library system in Australia, including levels of knowledge of print disability, collection development funding and understanding of community print disability needs.

This data is broken geographically indicating the strengths and weaknesses in different Australian states. The research outcomes provide benchmark data to help identify the extent to which the needs of people with print disability are considered, gaps in library staff training, key challenges and areas for improvement. They help identify strategies for more effective services, uncover examples of the best practice, and facilitate sharing them across the sector.  

References Ipsos Australia (2014). Secondary Research to Determine the Size of the National Print Disabled Audience. Report prepared for RPH Australia, June, Jewel, C. (2018, February). The Accessible Books Consortium: What it means for publishers. World Intellectual Property Organization.

Dr Jo Kaeding

Course Coordinator, University of South Australia

Author Bio

Dr Jo Kaeding is a Course Coordinator in Library and Information Management at the University of South Australia. She has a Doctor in Philosophy from the University of South Australia. Her research focus is inclusive and accessible public libraries for people with disability. She is a past recipient of the following awards: South Australian Catherine Helen Spence Scholarship, Public Libraries of South Australia Rod East Memorial Award and the Australian Library and Information Association Twila Ann Janssen Herr Award.

Dr Agata Mrva-Montoya

Lecturer and Degree Director, University of Sydney

Author Bio

Dr Agata Mrva-Montoya is a lecturer in the Discipline of Media and Communications, University of Sydney. Previously she worked at Sydney University Press, where she led the implementation of accessible publishing practices. Her research focuses on innovation, technology and power in the publishing industry. She has published on the impact of digital technologies and new business models on scholarly communication and the book publishing industry in general. She seeks to align her current research projects with her interest and experience with accessibility, design thinking and digital technologies, in the belief that publishing can play an important role in creating a better society.