Today, December 3, 2015 is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities with the theme of “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities.” One concrete way for countries to promote access and empowerment would be to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh Treaty).
The Marrakesh Treaty creates minimum standards for copyright limitations and exceptions for the creation and distribution of accessible formats and allows for the cross-border exchange of these formats. The cross-border exchange is a critical feature and could greatly alleviate what is known as the “book famine,” a situation in which the National Federation for the Blind estimates that no more than 5 percent of published works are created in an accessible format. The ability to import works from other English speaking countries would aid in growing the collection of accessible format works in the United States and avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts in the creation of these formats. Perhaps of even greater benefit would be the ability to import works in other languages for those in the United States who do not speak English as a first language, such as large populations of Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian, German, Italian, Korean or Vietnamese speaking individuals. It would also benefit those who are learning foreign languages. Significantly, the treaty would allow those in developing countries, which generally have an even smaller number of accessible formats available, to import works from the relatively larger collections in the United States and elsewhere.
In order for the Marrakesh Treaty to enter into force, twenty countries must ratify or accede to the treaty. Currently, eleven countries – Argentina, El Salvador, India, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Paraguay, Singapore, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay – have ratified and nine more are needed.
The United States signed the Marrakesh Treaty in October 2013, signaling support for and an intention to ratify the treaty, but the Obama Administration has not yet sent the treaty to the US Senate for ratification. Efforts in Canada appear to be further along and a bill to amend the Copyright Act in preparation for accession to the Marrakesh Treaty was proposed on June 8, 2015. Countries like the United States and Canada can and should show leadership in supporting the rights of persons with disabilities and swiftly ratify or accede to the Treaty.
ARL has long supported efforts to improve accessibility. Those who are visually impaired may face significant obstacles in attaining access to information or culture. ARL urges swift ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty to support access and empowerment for those with print disabilities.