Accessible books will soon become more available to millions of people around the world, now that a groundbreaking treaty has been ratified.
In late June, Canada became the 20th nation to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty, which will significantly increase the number of braille and audio books available to people who are visually impaired or otherwise unable to read print materials.
“This is a game-changer for people who are blind, especially in developing countries,” said Dave Power, President and CEO of Perkins School for the Blind. “Access to books is core to our mission as educators, and we know that the Marrakesh Treaty will enable more people with visual impairments to meaningfully participate in school, employment and culture.”
With Canada’s action, the Marrakesh Treaty becomes binding on the 20 countries that ratified the treaty, including India, Mexico, the Republic of Korea, Australia and Brazil. The treaty formally goes into force on Sept. 30, 2016.
The United States has not yet ratified the Marrakesh Treaty. The Obama administration sent the Marrakesh Treaty to the Senate in February 2016 and urged that body to ratify it. Perkins has information available for individuals who want to advocate for ratification.
The Marrakesh Treaty creates exceptions to intellectual property law that will allow accessible versions of copyrighted books to be produced and distributed, both within countries and across international borders. As these reforms take effect, readers with visual impairments should find it increasingly easy to buy or borrow books in accessible formats.
According to the World Blind Union, about 1 million books are published around the world each year, but less than 7 percent are made available in formats accessible to people who can’t read traditional print.
“The shortage of accessible books has been a major barrier to the education and employment of people who are blind, and has impeded their full integration into society,” said Kim Charlson, director of the Perkins Library. “Ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty is an important milestone in creating a more accessible world for people with disabilities.”
The treaty, formally called the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities, was adopted June 27, 2013 at a diplomatic conference organized by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Marrakesh, Morocco. WIPO is a U.N. agency that promotes the protection of intellectual property throughout the world.
Even with the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, the campaign for accessible books isn’t over. Braille and audio books must still be produced and distributed in multiple languages around the globe.
To achieve that goal, WIPO established the Accessible Book Consortium (ABC) that works to help developing countries establish accessible printing facilities and build an international database of accessible titles. Charlson is a member of the ABC Board.
“The Marrakesh Treaty is just the first step,” she said. “Now the hard work begins, which is to make sure that people who are blind everywhere in the world have access to the printed word in an accessible format. And to get the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty for people who are blind in the United States, so they can benefit from materials throughout the globe, as well.”