Accessibility In Literature Matters. Here's Why.

Mel Van De Graaff
Nov 10, 2020

Half of the adults in the US can’t read beyond an 8th-grade level. While we have low illiteracy rates, that doesn’t account for people who have low level reading abilities. 

Lack of education and access to literature are two of the major factors behind the low literacy level. When people can’t get books to help them improve their reading levels, they can’t improve their ability to read. The more accessible we can make literature, the better likelihood people have of increasing their reading levels, and the easier it’ll be for them to pursue the education necessary for them to succeed in life.

Lack of accessibility is a problem

Literature of all types has the power to change lives. 

But what happens when people from different backgrounds don’t have the same access to books and stories as others? Making education more accessible to one group of people over others can change someone’s future dramatically. Fortunately, the book world is already working on fixing this injustice. 

While visiting Thailand as a college student, I met a woman who created an irrigation system for her entire village. She read at a fourth grade reading level, and built the irrigation system using only  the books that were available in the library of her small village as a resource. Everyone’s quality of life there drastically improved because of what she learned from the literature available. 

Now imagine what might have happened to that village if those books weren’t available to her. The village may never have gotten a system of flowing water. Their crops wouldn’t have flourished, and they may not have been able to feed themselves. Should there be one particularly dry season, the whole village could have perished. 

This is just one example of why accessibility is so important. And while we often assume that everyone has access to books and reading support, that’s not even true in the United States . 

Have you ever noticed that libraries in higher income areas tend to have more space, and therefore more access to books? Lower income or rural neighborhoods may not even have a library in their town at all, let alone a subpar one.

As recently as four years ago, underprivileged neighborhoods were more likely to have book deserts, or a lack of libraries, than more privileged neighborhoods. This often results in children not learning to read until they are older, and not practicing their reading skills as often as is necessary to succeed in school. 

While some can read and access books of all types, there are many on the fringes who can’t access literature the same way most people do. These include people with disabilities like blindness, ADHD, and physical impairment; people with learning impediments like dyslexia, reading comprehension deficits, and executive dysfunction; and people in low income neighborhoods.

Where to find accessible literature

When considering how to change accessibility to literature, it’s important to talk about three of the most prevalent examples of accessible literature we currently have: audiobooks, ebooks, and libraries.  

Audiobooks

One of the best examples of accessible literature is audiobooks. Not everyone has the same learning style, and that means they don’t take in information in the same way. For example, people who have an auditory learning style might have a hard time learning from written literature.

There are multiple subsets of people who are disabled in some way who may benefit from audiobooks. Those with dyslexia have an easier time following stories when they don’t have to try to follow along with the words on a page, and those with visual impairments can listen to a book they may not be physically capable of reading or that might not yet be in braille or other accessible formats. Audiobooks can be easily accessed through apps like Audible, Libro.fm, Audiobooks.com, Pinna (specifically for kids), and more. 

Ebooks

Ebooks are often great for those who have less income. This is because ebooks come without the large overhead that printed books have, so you’re cutting out a lot of the cost of production and shipping. There are hundreds of classics available for free through Amazon and Barnes & Noble in ebook format, and you might even be able to find some hidden gems through websites like Project Gutenburg. While you might need (or want) to purchase an eReader (Kindle, iPad, Nook, etc.), books are often also accessible via apps you can download for your phone.

Ebooks are also great for those who need larger print to read due to visual impairment. The digital version allows you to set larger font sizes for all books, so readers with visual impairments don’t have to rely on books having a larger print run available. 

Libraries

Finally, libraries are one of the greatest examples of accessible literature. There are many people who want to support their favorite authors, but don’t have the income to purchase the books they want to read.

Libraries are one of the best ways for people to access stories who come from a lower income bracket. Some local libraries have waived late fees so that their homeless population can benefit from the breadth of information stored on their shelves. This means lower income residents can access helpful information just as easily as those in higher income situations. 

Among lower income communities, libraries are often seen as anchors in the community. They provide necessary access to Internet and other community services, and don’t discriminate among who can check out books. 

Tiny libraries are also a great way to combat book deserts and raise childhood literacy rates. If there isn’t a tiny library in your neighborhood, you can create one! 

How to support accessible literature

While the methods above are helpful in regards to making literature more accessible, they still need to be supported by people who don’t rely on them to learn about information. While there is some stigma behind using the alternative book forms, readers and educators can fight against the stigma of alternative book forms by accepting them as commonplace.  

Additionally, supporting libraries, especially in more at-risk locations, can provide more equal access to people from all backgrounds. If your local library is already taken care of, contact the libraries in lower income parts of town. Ask them what they need, and then advocate for them in your community. 

If you know someone who frowns upon any of the above methods of accessing literature, open up a conversation with them.Advocating for making books and stories more accessible will help increase the reach each of these methods have, which will only help our literacy rates as a society. And who doesn’t want that? 


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