Accessible Books Consortium Launched, Joins Effort to End “Book Famine” for People with Print Disabilities

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Geneva, June 30, 2014

PR/2014/762

The World Intellectual Property Organization and a group of key partners are launching a new alliance to boost the number of books in accessible format for use by hundreds of millions of people around the globe who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled, most of whom live in less-developed regions.

The partners of the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) officially inaugurated the new multi-stakeholder entity today at a ceremony in Geneva.

ABC was created to help implement the objectives of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled at a practical level through work in three areas: the sharing of technical skills in developing and least developed countries to produce and distribute books in accessible formats, promoting inclusive publishing, and building an international database and book exchange of accessible books. The Marrakesh Treaty was adopted by WIPO’s members on June 27, 2013 and will enter into force once it has been ratified by 20 nations.

“The launch of the Accessible Books Consortium advances global efforts to increase the number of books available for use by people with print disabilities,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. “We are pleased that ABC’s stakeholders are fully committed to collaborating and ensuring the success of this initiative,” he added.

According to the World Blind Union (“WBU”), over 90% of all published materials are inaccessible by blind or low vision people. This scarcity of published works in accessible formats has been referred to as the “global book famine”.

"The Accessible Book Consortium provides a practical way to address the enormous problem of the lack of books in accessible formats in the world today" said Ms. Maryanne Diamond, Immediate Past President of the World Blind Union and Chair of the International Disability Alliance. Persons with print disabilities have the right to information and the right to read on an equal basis with their sighted peers. The ABC provides an excellent platform to bring together key stakeholders in the delivery of holistic solutions to this very large and complicated global problem."

“The lack of books in accessible formats has been a true barrier for education and employment opportunities for the blind and visually impaired in developing and least developed countries,” said Mr. Dipendra Manocha, President of the DAISY Forum of India. He noted that “The ABC offers a golden promise that through collaboration among key stakeholders we can end the global book famine.”

Through its work on capacity building in developing and least developed countries, the ABC is helping to boost technical knowledge in how to produce accessible books, particularly for school books in national languages. The ABC also promotes inclusive publishing, which encourages publishers to deliver digital publications for sighted audiences that are equally accessible to the print disabled – a system known as “born accessible” – as well as encouraging the adoption of an industry-wide accessibility standard.

International Publishers Association President Y.S Chi said “The Accessible Books Consortium embodies the spirit and the collaboration that is needed to achieve equal access to all readers regardless of their abilities. Successes such as these are indicative of where WIPO’s strengths lie. Publishers and the IPA look forward to continuing our accessibility work with WIPO, the ABC, and the World Blind Union.”

Under the auspices of ABC, WIPO also hosts the Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources (TIGAR) book exchange, a database of over 238,000 accessible format books in 55 languages from libraries from around the world.

The ABC includes the following umbrella organizations: World Blind Union, DAISY Consortium, International Authors' Forum, International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations, and the International Publishers Association.

Background for Editors

The World Health Organization estimated in 2013 that some 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired: 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision. This issue has an important development dimension given that more than 90% of persons who are visually impaired are resident in developing countries and face reduced educational opportunities and employment prospects.

According to the World Blind Union (“WBU”), over 90% of all published materials are inaccessible by blind or low vision people. This scarcity of published works in accessible formats has been referred to as the “global book famine”.

The WBU estimates that in developed regions like North America and Europe, employment of blind people is approximately 25% while in developing areas of the globe like Africa, Asia and Latin America, fewer than 10% of blind people are employed.

In June 2013, WIPO’s 187 member states adopted the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. This Treaty lays the international legal framework for boosting access to accessible works.

The Treaty, which takes effect after it is ratified by 20 signatories, requires its contracting parties to adopt national law provisions that permit the reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in accessible formats – such as Braille -- through limitations and exceptions to the rights of copyright holders. It also provides for the exchange of these accessible format works across borders by organizations that serve people who are blind, visually impaired, and print disabled.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the leading global forum for the promotion of intellectual property as a force for innovation and creativity to achieve positive change. A specialized agency of the United Nations, WIPO assists its 187 member states in developing a balanced international IP legal framework to meet society’s evolving needs. It provides business services for obtaining IP rights in multiple countries and resolving disputes. It delivers capacity-building programs to help developing countries benefit from using IP. And it provides free access to unique knowledge banks of IP information.

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