On Sunday, July 26, 2015, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 25th anniversary. The ADA, authored and sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and passed with strong bi-partisan support, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability including with respect to education and employment. The ADA covers a wide range of disabilities and ensures that the civil rights of those with disabilities are protected. This landmark piece of legislation represented world leadership in the area of promoting the rights of those with disabilities.
ARL has long supported the ADA and efforts to improve accessibility. Those who are visually impaired or hearing impaired, for example, may face significant obstacles in attaining access to information or culture. Those with physical disabilities may face limitations in accessing physical spaces. The ADA helps to promote greater accessibility and protect the rights of those with disabilities.
As the United States celebrates this landmark piece of legislation and the many successes that the ADA has produced, continued efforts are needed to promote the rights of those with disabilities. The United States has a clear and concrete way to improve the rights of the print disabled by improving access to improving access to accessible format works.
In July 2013, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) concluded a diplomatic conference resulting in the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Those Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. 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, nine countries – Argentina, El Salvador, India, Mali, Mongolia, Paraguay, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay – have ratified and eleven 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. The United States should show leadership and be one of the first twenty countries to ratify the treaty. While the ADA has been a great success and 25 years of ensuring the civil rights of those with disabilities is a moment for celebration, more can still be done to improve the lives of those with disabilities.