Young woman is holding one open and one closed container of cassette tapes up beside her head. The talking books are the property of North York Public Library
The 1950's to 1980's:

Within Living Memory: Post-War, Pre-Digital

As they look back on their youth, today’s blind older adults can recall what it was like to undertake higher education and establish careers as adults in the pre-digital age, with far fewer supports than currently exist for achieving success and fulfillment in a world designed for sighted people.  This part of the exhibit reflects on the ways in which many current CNIB clients accessed reading and information in the post-war, pre-digital era.

The Canadian social support system grew dramatically in the first decades after the Second World War, with the introduction of universal old age pensions, health insurance and other social services and supports that provided a greater safety net for Canadians. Along with this expanded vision for the role of the state in social supports came the rise in the disability rights movement, with activists arguing that people with disabilities had the right to participate fully in mainstream society.  Blind Canadians could count on greater integration into society than in earlier times, with increasing numbers of blind children being enrolled in mainstream public schools, and vocational training increasingly focused on individual interests and talents, rather than on those types of works considered “suitable” for the blind.  Pensions allowed for “a modicum of subsistence for blind persons in need, and provided the starting means in whole or part for the personal and economic rehabilitation of many,” as one CNIB historian wrote.

The object.... is to provide blind people with the literature they want in a form that is accessible to them

For the CNIB Library these were years of providing users “with the literature they want in a form that is accessible to them” in braille and audio. A Library “fact sheet” from the late 1960s noted a readership expansion of 2,000 users in 10 years, “the largest expansion in history,” and describes the collection as follows:

  • 10,000 tape talking books (1,800 titles)
  • 25,000 records (900 titles)
  • 27,000 braille volumes (5,000 titles)

The collection included everything from detective stories to modern novels, instruction manuals, the classics and the Bible.

While still pre-computer, notable improvements in assistive technology took place, with, for example, talking books being recorded and distributed on tape instead of on records, and advances in the types and affordability of magnification devices for those with low vision.

It couldn’t get better than this!
Jim Sanders receives a new talking book machine (2:44)
Jim Sanders vividly recalls the day the CNIB representative, Mr. Gilby, arrived with the new talking book machine that replaced vinyl records in the mid-1960s

Former president of CNIB, Jim Sanders, recounts the transition from books on phonograph records to his first Clarke & Smith tape talking book, which provided many hours of reading time, and required the user only to push a button to get to the next track.  This was such an improvement over the phonograph technology that he believed “it couldn’t get better than this!”