Imagine for a moment that your choice of books is reduced to just 7%. That is the reality facing blind and partially sighted readers who rely on books in braille, audio and large print.
Blind and partially sighted people in Brighton and Hove are now facing another battle to continue reading. The City Council is proposing to stop paying the subscription fee for their Talking Book Service run by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). And their situation is not unique. Increasingly, local authorities across the country are threatening to cut back support for the Talking Book Service, giving people no option but to pay for themselves or use other services which do not offer the same high standards of choice, quality and reader support.
Sound familiar? This erosion of commitment to a quality library service for blind people is exactly the same as cuts and closures to local public libraries. In fact, it’s a double blow for blind and partially sighted people, many of whom are elderly, on disability benefits and housebound. Even if they are able to get out and about, cuts to local branch libraries and reduced public transport means getting to the nearest library is impossible, especially in rural areas. Not to mention cuts in the amount of money libraries have to spend on audio and large print books.
Reading brings pleasure and enjoyment and is essential for work and education, literacy and lifelong learning. RNIB believes that people with sight loss have the same rights to access the rich world of books as anyone else. And they should be able to choose the books they want to read from a library service which best meets their needs.
Local authorities may view books as a luxury item but they are not an optional extra. The Talking Book Service plays an essential role in reducing isolation and loneliness for blind people, providing companionship and contributing to good health and a sense of well-being. As Diane Fazackarley from Brighton says: “I can’t go to the library on my own but I can make it to the post box to return my Talking Books. Most Talking Book users are older people who don’t get out a lot and don’t have a lot of money and the Council wants to take away one of their only few pleasures.”
In Brighton and Hove, the annual savings that would be achieved by cutting the Talking Book Service (£22,000) are very small indeed when seen against a savings programme of more than £80m over the next four years. Thanks to generous public donations, RNIB subsidises each Talking Books subscription, thereby reducing the amount we ask local authorities to contribute. We do this because we understand the importance of reading to blind and partially sighted people but we can’t do it all by ourselves.
RNIB’s Talking Book Service is a lifeline for blind and partially sighted people and we need your help to protect it from the bureaucracy of budget cuts. Please join our campaign in Brighton and Hove today to ensure that this vital service continues to be provided for those who would not be able to afford to access it on their own. The consultation closes on 10 February and you can respond at http://consult.brighton-hove.gov.uk/portal – thanks for your support.