At least five percent, and up to 10 percent, of Americans cannot read standard print materials due to a physical or visual impairment (Petri, 2012). This print-disabled community is broad, encompassing people who are blind or have low-vision, have a physical impairment that prevents holding or using a book, or have a learning disability such as dyslexia. Print-disabled people rely on special formats in order to read books, magazines, music, websites, and more. Yet according to the World Blind Union (2016), less than 10 percent of the world's published materials are available in accessible formats such as braille, audio, or large-print—constituting a “book famine.”
This guide presents information and resources for children with print disabilities and the adults who support and care for them. Our focus here is specifically on reading, literacy, and access to information. The guide covers different formats for reading, ways to access books and other materials, recommended books for print-disabled youth, accessibility considerations, and additional resources. In an effort to be accessible in other ways, we have emphasized free and low-cost services and materials. The primary audience is adults who work with or care for children with print disabilities, such as parents, relatives, caregivers, teachers, and children’s librarians. The guide may also be of interest to bookstore owners who purchase children’s materials and may be looking to be more inclusive or scholars researching accessible children’s literature. Specific resources are provided for New York City, but most of the guide is useful far beyond the five boroughs.
We feel this guide fills an information need. In fact, we haven’t found a similar guide addressing the needs of print-disabled children. As future librarians, we understand the importance of accessibility in creating and maintaining a library that serves all of its patrons equally. One issue with serving print-disabled patrons, and youth in particular, is awareness. Elizabeth Burns (2013) described the barriers working for a library in the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) network:
“To be honest, most people don’t know about NLS and what it offers. My outreach doesn’t involve visiting local schools and community centers and talking to kids and teens about library services. Instead, I search for the adults—teachers, school staff, librarians, health care workers—who don’t know we exist but who work with children who are eligible for our services. If they have heard about us, they either think we are just for people who are blind (with the further mistaken belief that blind means total vision loss) or that we don’t offer anything different from a bookstore, public library, or school library.”
Greater awareness and understanding of needs and options are some critical factors in better serving and supporting this population. Literacy and easy access to information are essential not only education and employment but for full participation in society.
There is no official or legal definition of a print disability in the United States. Print disability is thus typically functionally defined based on eligibility criteria for services, such as the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, or described by individual organizations. However, the Centre for Equitable Library Access in Canada provides this helpful definition of print disability as "a learning, physical or visual disability that prevents a person from reading conventional print." This includes visual impairments, such as blindness or low vision; physical disabilities that prevent reading of standard print; and learning disabilities that significantly interfere with reading, such as dyslexia.
George Kerscher was first to use the term "print disability" around 1989 to describe any sort of disability that interfered with someone reading traditional print (My Blind Spot, n.d.). As a blind person, he started working with the internet and other computer-based information technology to create assistive technologies in order to aid people with print disabilities. He has since become a leader in web accessibility and a member of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) who believes that "properly designed information systems can make all information accessible to all people" ("Brief Profile of George Kerscher", n.d.).
Less than one percent of people under 18 in the United States suffer from vision loss. Many perceive this percentage as small, which can sometimes translate into a lack of attention or resources for the group. This guide aims to combat that perception: In
reality, less than one percent of the population translates to over 500,000 children, who each deserve resources.
Note: The data comes from the American Foundation for the Blind (2017), but the chart was assembled by the librarians of this guide.
While specific estimates vary, about 15 percent of the United States population has dyslexia. While symptoms and severity vary, that is a significant portion of the population that could benefit from accessible materials and assistive technologies.
Note: The data comes from the Society for Neuroscience via Learning Disabilities Online (2004), but the chart was assembled by the librarians of this guide.
None of the three creators of this guide has a print disability. We followed best practices for web accessibility and accessibility for screen readers in making this resource. We welcome feedback on both the content and accessibility of this guide.
American Foundation for the Blind. (2017). Statistics about children and youth with vision loss. Retrieved from https://www.afb.org/research-and-initiatives/statistics/statistics-blind-children
Brief Profile of George Kerscher. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.w3.org/2004/11/W3C10-speakers/brief_bio_v1.html
Burns, E. (2013). Reading: It’s more than meets the eye. The Horn Book Magazine, 89(2), 47-53.
Centre for Equitable Library Access. (n.d.). What is a print disability? Retrieved from https://celalibrary.ca/about-us/what-is-a-print-disability
Learning Disabilities (LD) Online. (2004). Dyslexia: What brain research reveals about reading. Retrieved from http://www.ldonline.org/article/10784
My Blind Spot. (n.d.). Accessibility defined. Retrieved from https://myblindspot.org/mbs-accessibility-defined
Petri, K. (2012). Accessibility issues in e-books and e-book readers. In Polanka, S., No shelf required 2 : Use and management of electronic books (pp. 41-58). American Library Association.
World Blind Union (2016, April 23). Millions of people are denied access to books and printed materials. Retrieved from http://www.worldblindunion.org/English/news/Pages/Millions-of-People-are-Denied-Access-to-.aspx