Marrakesh Treaty Op-Ed

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Realizing the Right to Read for People Who Are Blind

“Knowledge is power” is a phrase so ancient that we cannot be certain who first said it. We do know, however, that it is undeniable true. For people who are blind, power lies in accessible books. Access to the written word puts financial, social and personal independence within reach for people who are blind worldwide. Without that access, people who are blind are tragically excluded from employment and participation in society.

Currently, copyright laws create barriers for accessible media to travel across international borders, even for people who can only use audible or braille materials. This negatively affects approximately 285 million people* around the world who are blind. Imagine the benefits to the world if every person who is blind had easy access to the written word to learn, work, and contribute their full talents. Allowing books and other media to cross international borders in accessible forms unleashes human potential.

In 2013, an international conference created the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled with the aim of breaking down those barriers to accessible books. More than 80 countries signed the treaty managed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Twenty-four nations have now ratified the treaty, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates. On September 30, 2016, the treaty went into force to realize the promise to transform lives for the better. This is our nation's chance to stand up for the rights of people who are blind in our own country - and around the world - by ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty and bringing its power to our people.

Only between 1 and 7 percent of the more than one million books published each year are available in forms that people who are blind can read, according to the World Blind Union. Can you imagine only having access to five percent of the millions of books available to others? It is unjust. Many publishers see value in providing every book to every person at the same time and price. Ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty opens the door to putting all published materials into the hands of millions and enabling them to meaningfully participate in society, politics, cultural events and the economy.

The treaty strictly preserves copyrights and protects against potential abuse. Practical means to certify user eligibility and other technical safeguards are provided through authorized parties such as government agencies and certified schools for the blind in each country.

Access to the written word unleashes the highest human accomplishments. More than 185 years ago, a young Frenchman named Louis Braille devised the manual code of raised dots that represent printed words. The need for ratification is summed up in his own words, “Braille is knowledge, and knowledge is power.” Empower people who are blind. Ratify the Marrakesh Treaty.

The views expressed by the author are personal.

*World Health Organization estimate