Historic accessible book treaty takes effect today

In 22 countries and counting, Marrakesh Treaty will make more accessible books available for people who are blind

Two students in Africa reading a braille book.

Through ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, millions of people who are visually impaired or otherwise unable to read print materials will now enjoy increased access to braille, audio and other accessible book formats.

September 30, 2016

Stalin Arul Regan Devadoss knows how hard it can be for people with visual impairment to get books in braille format.

In August, Devadoss received an urgent request in his native India from a college student who is blind. The student had enrolled in an English Literature class, but only standard print copies of the textbook were available. She needed a braille version – and fast.

“She was falling behind in her class,” said Devadoss, who works for a government disability agency.

Devadoss was able to help the student contact a braille printing press and get an accessible copy of the textbook she needed to keep up with her sighted classmates.

Today, India and 21 other nations will begin a new era in accessible books.

Through ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, which officially comes into force today, millions of people who are visually impaired or otherwise unable to read print materials will now enjoy increased access to braille, audio and other accessible book formats.

A groundbreaking international agreement, the Marrakesh Treaty creates exceptions to intellectual property law that allow accessible versions of copyrighted books to be produced and distributed, both within countries and across international borders.

As these reforms take effect in the 22 ratifying countries, readers with visual impairments should find it increasingly easy to buy or borrow books in accessible formats.

“This treaty will definitely help,” said Devadoss, who is currently enrolled in Perkins International’s Educational Leadership Program. “Access to information is so essential for developing new ideas and building your relationship with the world. It’s the right thing to do.”

The United States has not yet ratified the Marrakesh Treaty. The agreement has backing from the Obama administration but still requires approval in the U.S. Senate. Perkins School for the Blind has made advocacy information available for individuals who support everyone’s right to read.

Kim Charlson, executive director of the Perkins Library, has been working to encourage ratification of the treaty in her role as president of the American Council of the Blind.

“The Marrakesh Treaty will level the playing field and make it possible for people with print disabilities to have access to valuable materials and information,” said Charlson. “This translates to education, personal and professional growth and empowerment for everyone.”

The treaty is formally named the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities.

It was adopted in 2013 at a diplomatic conference organized by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Marrakesh, Morocco. WIPO is an agency of the United Nations that promotes the protection of intellectual property throughout the world.

Perkins President and CEO Dave Power urged every nation to ratify the treaty. Power said technology exists to share any book in accessible formats while protecting intellectual property rights. Such systems are now in place in several countries, he said.

“Access to the printed word promotes independence for those who are visually impaired, and inclusion within their communities,” said Power. “Now is the time to make every book available across any border to those who are visually impaired.”