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For the past five years, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) has been discussing proposed exceptions to the copyright reproductions rights that would help the visually impaired and those with other print disabilities. The problem is obvious: there are millions of individuals across the world to whom printed media is inaccessible, because of visual impairments or other physical or developmental disabilities. Solutions to providing access to the written word for people with these disabilities are, technology-wise, simple and readily available, and include ebooks, braille, large-print books, and audio books.
Unfortunately for those with disabilities—especially for the disabled in developing countries—and despite the availability of these technologies, virtually no publications are published in accessible formats. Up to now, import limitations and translation costs have remained prohibitively high.
In 1948, the United Nations released the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 27 of the UDHR states that “[e]veryone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefit.” Thus, the fact that those with print and visual disabilities are unable to read over ninety-nine percent of written works—the mode of transmission for vast amounts of human culture, art, and scientific advancement—can easily be described as a human-rights violation.
Mindful of the need for lowering the costs of disseminating the written word to the visually impaired, on June 27, 2013—a date that also marks the anniversary of Helen Keller’s birth—the WIPO Diplomatic Conference for Visually Impaired Persons concluded, and WIPO thus adopted, a treaty for the visually impaired. According to recording legend Stevie Wonder, “this new treaty is a major step to access to the basics.” He went on:
This victory is most significant for many reasons: most obviously a positive impact for the blind and the visually impaired; but also it sends a message to all world leaders that it is possible to do business and to do good at the same time.
The treaty, signed in Marrakesh, Morocco, will become effective when twenty member nations ratify it. It is unclear how long that will take, but many are optimistic that this treaty will do a lot to remedy what some call the “book famine.” Fifty-six countries, all members of WIPO, signed the document at the conclusion of the Conference, which is a strong signal of their dedication to quickly ratify the treaty.
For more information and to keep up with the progress of this treaty’s implementation, check out WIPO’s overview here.
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