Liberals vow to renew $2.5M in funding to book program for the blind and visually impaired

Kirsty Duncan, federal minister for persons with disabilities, tweeted on Saturday that the government would renew funding to the CNIB's accessible books program. Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press/File

Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, has confirmed the Liberals will renew $2.5 million in funding to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s accessible book program.

The announcement comes a day after a Global News report revealed the money was excluded from the most recent budget and that the CNIB had no funding agreement with the government in place.

READ MORE: Trudeau Liberals axe funding for blind and vision-impaired books

“Our government will be maintaining funding to CNIB while our working group continues to develop a long-term strategy for the production of accessible alternative format materials,” Duncan wrote on Twitter, less than six hours after the Global News report revealed the CNIB’s budget request was denied.

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Duncan’s office would not confirm when the decision to renew funding was made, insisting the government never planned to cut the money in the first place.

But a memo obtained by Global News sent from Duncan’s department to Liberal MPs after the CNIB asked for help from Parliamentarians to avoid the pending loss in funding suggests otherwise.

“The [government] has continued discussions with CNIB and proactively encouraged CNIB to address the funding gap through alternative funding sources,” read the memo.

The memo continued, saying the department which normally funds the program — Employment and Social Development Canada — has “no source of funds to support the production of alternate format materials” and that this “regrettably” leaves a gap in the creation of accessible books.

Still, Duncan’s office says the government was not planning to cut funding to the program and that work continues to find a long-term solution for providing print-disabled Canadians with the accessible books they need.​

Global News has also learned from the CNIB that senior staff from Duncan’s office contacted the organization late Saturday evening and early Sunday morning to say the government is committed to ensuring the production of alternate-format books does not fall below current levels.

“I’m thrilled the response came in quickly… And I look forward to working with the minister’s office to see how we can have a sustainable solution in the future,” said Diane Bergeron, vice-president of engagement and international affairs at the CNIB.

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Bergeron says the CNIB was at a tipping point last week when it sent a letter to MPs and senators urging them for help. With less than three weeks before the government funding ran out — and with no commitment for funding in place — the CNIB felt it had to speak out to ensure Canadians with print disabilities would receive access to the services they need.

“I’m very relieved,” she said. “Definitely, there was a sense of discouragement and worry. But now the fact that the commitment has been made, that it’s been made publicly, we’re very much looking forward to seeing what this is going to look like as we move forward.”

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