Centre for Internet & Society

Four years of struggle for a global treaty for the benefit of blind persons is finally bearing fruit. Member states of the World Intellectual Property Organisation have agreed to conclude a treaty for visually-impaired and print disabled persons by June 2013.

Madhavi Rajadhyaksha's article published in the Times of India on December 20, 2012 quotes Nirmita Narasimhan and Rahul Cherian.

Print disabled persons are a group which includes those who are blind, visually-impaired, orthopaedically challenged or those living with hearing problems or learning disability. They have traditionally lacked access to an array of books , films and research material simply because they aren't available in formats which are accessible to them. For instance, blind persons have been denied access to books and films which aren't available in Braille.

The international treaty that is underway would ensure free exchange of work suitable to print impaired persons across borders. In other words, a book in Braille available in the United Kingdom could be freely imported by India for the benefit of visually-impaired persons here.

The treaty is particularly a huge boon for developing countries like India, many of which cannot afford the huge costs of translating works into print-friendly formats or importing them from more developed nations. There are roughly 285 million blind and partially sighted people in the world with the largest pool in India.

The desperate need for such a treaty is evident from the fact that only seven per cent of published books are made accessible to persons with disabilities. This estimate of the World Blind Union is largely for richer countries, with less than one per cent of work available to those in poorer countries.

Organizations like the Indian Right to Read Alliance which has been pushing for the treaty welcomed the June deadline. "This is an incredible development, and after a four year struggle we are looking forward to the treaty being concluded next year. This Treaty will revolutionize access to reading materials for persons with print disabilities around the world and we in India will hugely benefit from being able to import books in accessible formats from countries with large libraries such as the United Kingdom and the United States," said Rahul Cherian Jacob of the Inclusive Planet Centre for Disability Law and Policy, who is the legal advisor to the World Blind Union.

Sam Taraporevala, Director of the Xavier's Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged was elated by this development. "There is a library in the United States which has 10 million books in accessible digital formats which will be accessible to us once this treaty is passed. This is huge boost to our blind and visually impaired students who want to get into the field of research."

The treaty could transform the lives of million of people around the world, believes Nirmita Narasimhan, policy director, Centre for Internet and Society, a Bangalore based NGO which has played a crucial role in WIPO negotiations. She pointed out that breaking the barriers would make the Internet and accessible information and communications technologies more meaningful by expanding their potential for use.

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