Accessible Book Clubs for All

February 7, 2022 | Winona

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Book Clubs are a great way for all who enjoy reading to share our love of books, discover new ones and connect with others. But for people with disabilities, it can be difficult, or even impossible, to join a book club and experience its many benefits if there are barriers to participation.

To help you make sure your book club welcomes all readers, I'd like to share some tips for making book clubs accessible for all.
Headphones worn on a stack of books next to an open book..

I am writing this post to coincide with White Cane Week (the first full week of February). White Cane Week was started by the Canadian Council of the Blind in 1946. It is a time to raise awareness of the issues facing people who are blind or partially sighted.

A black and white photo of two women speaking. The younger woman on the right is holding the arm of the older woman on the left. the older woman is holding a cane. In the foreground there is another person's feet and white cane.
Photo of Peggie Harvie, 86 (L), and then Ontario Citizenship Minister Elaine Ziemba (R), taken during White Cane Week. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive, 1991.

Many of the tips in this post are adapted from the Accessible Book Clubs Handbook, published by the Canadian Council of the Blind, and from Running an Inclusive Book Club, published by the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA). 

These tips are not just about people with visual disabilities. They will also support inclusion for people with physical disabilities, people with learning disabilities, and people without disabilities too.

Here are some key tips for accessible book clubs.

Meet in an accessible space

If your book club meets in person:

  • choose a meeting place close to public transportation and accessible parking
  • make sure there is elevator access if the meeting room is not on the main floor
  • know where the accessible washroom is
  • make sure there is a clear pathway for navigation and space for people using mobility aids and support animals
  • have someone at the door to welcome members and guide them to the room

If you meet online:

  • use a meeting platform that works with screen reader software; if unsure, check the help section of the platform's website for accessibility information
  • turn on closed captioning, if available
  • provide a phone-in option for people without internet access.

Run accessible meetings

In your meeting invites or reminders, include a message to let people know they can contact you if they have accessibility questions or requests.

At the start of the meeting, do a quick round of introductions, so people who are blind or partially sighted know who is present. It may also be helpful to say your name before you speak, so everyone knows who is talking. This is especially helpful in online meetings. Lastly, encourage turn-taking and try to give everyone who wants to speak the time they need to do so.

For online meetings, let people know how to mute themselves when they are not speaking and how to use features like Chat and Raise Hand, if using.

Choose books in accessible formats

People read in all kinds of ways - with their eyes (print books), ears (audiobooks), and fingers (braille books). To make sure your book club selections can be read by everyone, choose books that are available in accessible formats.

Accessible formats, sometimes called alternate formats, are ways of presenting printed, written, or visual material so that people with print disabilities can access it. People with print disabilities may:

  • be blind or live with low vision
  • have a learning disability that affects reading
  • have a physical disability and be unable to hold the pages of a book or turn its pages.

Accessible format books include, but are not limited to: 

  • large print
  • e-book
  • audiobook
  • braille.

Get to know the library's accessible collections

Toronto Public Library carries a wide range of reading material in accessible formats. When you have decided on the book your book club will be discussing, check the library catalogue to find out what formats are available, and let your book club members know. 

You can also get to know our accessible collections from the information on our website:

Icon of a stack of books with a cup of tea on top.

Library Book Clubs

Library book club facilitators try to select books that are available in accessible formats. Check the book club program description for information about what book is being discussed and what formats are available. Visit Book Clubs & Writers' Groups and Talk About Books to browse all upcoming library book club programs. 

We also have a line-up of selected titles by book club that includes a link to all formats:

If you need multiple copies of a book for your book club, you can borrow a Book Club to Go set. These are made up of conventional print books, so be sure to check the book descriptions for a link to all formats, and let your book club members know what options are available.

The library also has an annual Reading Challenge program. This online book club is a great way to read widely and discover new books, in your preferred format, and to connect with other readers online.

And don't forget the TD Summer Reading Club for kids! This is an annual summer reading program for kids of all ages, interests, and abilities. Kids with print disabilities can download their reading notebooks in multiple accessible formats - another great tip for making book clubs accessible.

Peter's Book Club

If you have low vision, or are blind or partially sighted, you are invited to join Peter’s Book Club. This accessible book club is run by the Canadian Council of the Blind, Toronto Visionaries chapter, in collaboration with library staff. To join, you must be a public library member who can access CELA. The book club currently meets once a month, online. For meeting dates and times, book selections, contact information, and how to join, please check the Toronto Visionaries Chapter events and activities calendar.

Accessibility at Toronto Public Library

For more information about accessibility at Toronto Public Library, please visit tpl.ca/accessibility.

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