In May 2003, CAILC launched Literacy for Independent Living (LIL), a new section on the CAILC website. LIL offers accessible online literacy resources for facilitators working with adult learners with disabilities. It includes information on assistive devices and disability awareness.

LIL was created to provide information as well as online tools and resources for the disability and literacy communities to share and learn from each other. It is funded by the National Literacy Secretariat of Human Resources Development Canada.

Most of the online resources are free, in recognition of funding constraints faced by disability and literacy organizations. Accessibility features include items such as tips on how to enlarge text displays on websites, and online tools for converting PDF documents into HTML or ASCII text for persons with vision disabilities.

CAILC’s recognition that people with disabilities have much lower rates of literacy than their fellow Canadians led us to develop this site in partnership with the National Adult Literacy Database (NALD). NALD provided the technical and web design expertise and we provided the content, in consultation with the project’s Advisory Committee. We also surveyed 265 literacy organizations and all of our Independent Living Resource Centres (ILRCs) to find out what kinds of information they would like to see on the site.

Although the online resources collected in LIL are exciting, they are limited in number. There are numerous gaps in literacy and disability resources, as this is a field where more work needs to be done. However, we did find some real gems of information.

For example, there is a site from the United Kingdom called A to Z Deafblindness by James Gallagher (click on Deaf-Blind in the Disability Awareness section). Another gem is Pat Hatt’s guide that outlines best practices on assessment procedures for literacy practitioners whose students are adult learners with cognitive, learning, mobility, psychiatric or sensory disabilities. To find this resource, click on the Literacy Information and Resources button, go to Learning Disabilities and then choose Best Practices. Also on the site are: initiatives and strategies on literacy for adult learners with disabilities; more best practices; tools for literacy practitioners who teach adult learners with disabilities; funding for literacy programs and for assistive devices; training and support for assistive devices; etiquette towards people with disabilities, and more.

The creation of this site is innovative: LIL is the first bilingual, centralized online library that houses resources on literacy and disabilities. With LIL, we have collected up-to-date resources that respect the Independent Living philosophy.

In July, we were pleased to be notified that the National Literacy Secretariat would be providing CAILC with a further two years of funding to maintain and expand LIL, and to undertake additional activities. The National Adult Literacy Database (NALD) will continue as our partner, and the Movement for Canadian Literacy, the national umbrella organization for literacy coalitions, organizations and individuals, is also joining us to work on the next phase of LIL.

Over the next two years, we will be adding enhancements to the LIL site. For example, we plan to add a database to the site with information on the accessibility of literacy programs across Canada. We will develop a resource guide on literacy and disability issues. CAILC also will be hosting a national literacy and disability symposium to bring together core staff from ILRCs and representatives from the literacy community so that we can continue to learn from and share with each other. With these activities we hope to raise awareness, and, ultimately, enable more persons with disabilities to access literacy programs in their communities.

You can access LIL at www.cailc.ca/lil (to view it in French, go to www.accva.ca/ava). We welcome your comments and feedback.

(Susan Forster is CAILC’s National Project Manager, e-mail: projects@cailc.ca.)