Unlocking Books for the Blind and Visually Impaired

imageThe Internet Archive has been making print materials more accessible to the blind and print disabled for years, but now with Canada’s joining the Marrakesh Treaty, our sister organization, the Internet Archive Canada might be able to serve people in many more countries.

In 2010, we launched the Open Library Accessible Books collection, which now contains nearly 2 million books in accessible formats. Our sister organization, Internet Archive Canada, has also been working on accessibility projects, and has digitized more than 8500 texts in partnership with the Accessible Content E-Portal, which is on track to have over 10,000 items available in accessible formats by the end of the month.

On June 30th, Canada tipped the scales towards broader access to books for all by joining the Marrakesh Treaty. This move will allow the Treaty to go into effect on September 30, 2016 in the nations where it has been ratified, so that print-disabled and visually impaired people can more fully and actively participate in global society.

The goal of the Marrakesh Treaty is to help to end the “book famine” faced by people who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled. Currently only 1% to 7% of the world’s published books ever become available in accessible formats. This is partly due to barriers to access created by copyright laws–something the Treaty helps to remove.

The Marrakesh Treaty removes barriers in two ways. First, it requires ratifying nations to have an exception in their domestic copyright laws for the blind, visually impaired, and their organizations to make books and other print resources available in accessible formats, such as Braille, large print, or audio versions, without needing permission from the copyright holder. Second, the Treaty allows for the exchange of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works across borders, again without copyright holder permission. This will help to avoid the duplication of efforts across different countries, and will allow those with larger collections of accessible books to share them with visually impaired people in countries with fewer resources.

The first 20 countries to ratify or accede to the Marrakesh Treaty were: India, El Salvador, United Arab Emirates, Mali, Uruguay, Paraguay, Singapore, Argentina, Mexico, Mongolia, Republic of Korea, Australia, Brazil, Peru, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Israel, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala and Canada. People in these countries will soon start realizing the tangible benefits of providing access to knowledge to those who have historically been left out.

To date this material has only been available to students and scholars within Ontario’s university system. The Marrakesh Treaty now makes it possible for these works to be shared more broadly within Canada, and with the other countries listed above. Hopefully the rest of the world will take note, and join forces to provide universal access to all knowledge.

2 thoughts on “Unlocking Books for the Blind and Visually Impaired

  1. Pingback: News Roundup | LJ INFOdocket

  2. Dawn Cunnane

    I’m astounded that only 1% to 7% of the world’s published books ever become available in accessible formats. The rest of the world definitely needs to take note and join this treaty.

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