New report demands equal access to knowledge for the visually impaired

Ensuring the right to knowledge among persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled should be a higher development priority, says a new report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Blind Union – Asia Pacific (WBUAP).

Lack of equitable, timely and affordable access to published works in accessible formats, such as braille, audio or e-books, is preventing millions of persons with print disabilities from harnessing crucial human development opportunities. As a result, persons with print disabilities are being excluded from education, employment, healthcare and participation in just about any aspect of political, economic and social lives.

Released on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Our right to knowledge: Legal reviews for the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty for persons with print disabilities in Asia and the Pacific provides technical guidance for six countries on legal reforms to facilitate the ratification process and to take full advantage of the Marrakesh Treaty.

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled was concluded in June 2013 and aims to remove legal obstacles that are hindering the reproduction of published works in accessible formats and their cross-border dissemination. The Treaty paves the way for an enabling legal environment to pursue the goal of accessing “the same book, at the same time and at the same price” by persons with print disabilities, while ensuring that an author’s rights and interests are protected.

However, it has yet to enter into force. The Treaty requires ratification by 20 countries, but to date that number sits at just 11. Greater efforts are needed to facilitate the ratification so that the benefits of the Treaty will reach persons with print disabilities without delay.

“This report offers a clear rationale and practical legal guidance to realize the principle of ‘leaving no one behind,’ a key feature of the newly-adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said Nadia Rasheed, Team Leader, HIV, Health and Development, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub. “Ratifying and implementing the Marrakesh Treaty are about realizing the fundamental rights of one of the most marginalized populations, reducing poverty, and eliminating exclusion to achieve inclusive development, which underpin UNDP’s core development vision.”

The report explains key provisions and expected benefits of the Marrakesh Treaty, and is designed to help government, community and development partners recognize the importance of the Treaty and to facilitate capacity development and policy dialogue. Furthermore, the report helps situate the ratification and implementation of the Treaty as part of collective efforts towards achieving the SDGs and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“Children and adults with blindness, low vision or other print disabilities have been denied access to print materials for far too long,” says Michiko Tabata, President of the WBUAP. “Now that we have the Marrakesh Treaty on its way toward enactment, this WBUAP-UNDP partnership and the report will serve as a guiding light for countries and contribute to the realization of the very basic human rights of access to knowledge.”

The World Blind Union estimates that less than 1 percent of published books are ever made into accessible formats in developing countries, and it is in these countries where the vast majority, or 90 percent of 285 million, visually impaired people reside. The situation has been described as a ‘book famine’.

The importance of greater access to published works in accessible formats is expected to become more pronounced as the world witnesses an increasing number of persons with print disabilities due to population ageing and rapid growth of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes.