Founding Editor: Shafqat Munir   

Raising voice for the World’s 314m Visually Impaired Persons 

09 November 2013 06:12:30

Raising voice for the World’s 314m Visually Impaired Persons

Presently, there are more than 314 million blind and visually impaired persons in the world. Ninety per cent of whom live in developing countries and only 60 countries have limitations and exceptions clauses in their copyright laws that make special provision for the visually impaired persons, for Braille, large printer or digitized audio versions of copyrighted texts as mode of acquiring knowledge.

According to the World Blind Union of the million or so books published each year in the world ,less than 5 per cent are made available in formats accessible to visually  impaired persons .

On 27th day of June, 2013, some 600 delegates from among the 186 members of World community joined in the debate leading to the adoption of the Marrakesh treaty   to facilitate Access to Publish Work by Visually Impaired Persons  (VIP) and persons with Print Disabilities. 57 members’ states have signed the treaty so far including United States of America. Pakistan has yet to sign this treaty.

The Marrakesh Treaty seeks to alleviate the book famine which excludes millions of visually impaired persons from access to the bulk of the world’s published works. It also provides for the exchange of these accessible format works across borders by organizations that serve the blind, visually impaired or print disabled.

It is the first international treaty to harmonize these types of special provisions internationally ,making it easier for organizations to share work  in accessible formats with their foreign counterparts and eliminating duplication, improving efficiency and reducing costs of production in the process .Instead of multiple countries producing accessible copies of the same work ,each country will be able to produce a different works in an accessible formats which can then be shared with other countries. It will address the ‘book famine’ for the visually impaired by “requiring its contracting parties to adopt national law provisions that permit the reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in accessible formats through limitations and exceptions to the rights of copyright right holders. It allows the waiver of copyright restrictions in order for books to be available in formats such as Braille, large print text and audio books.

In Pakistan Persons with Disabilities are often included in the marginalized groups.The unofficial statistics acclaim that 0.9% of the population in Pakistan consists of the visually impaired and blind people. They are a significant part of our population and their disability should not restrict them from being involved in the development of the country. In order to attain a more socially inclusive atmosphere for the visually impaired and blind persons, resources or materials should be provided to them that can make them socially at par with the other citizens of the country. Marrakesh Treaty, which has been established to “Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled”. The treaty re-emphasizes the principles stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). It reiterates the principles of non-discrimination, equal opportunity, accessibility and effective participation in the society.  Pakistan being a signatory of UNCRPD should acknowledge and enforce these principles in their domestic legal system.

Currently, no legislation exists which safeguards the rights of persons with disabilities or provides them access to resources which can motivate them to be involved in the society and can enhance their freedom to seek, receive and impart information. If Pakistan signs this treaty, that would be another step for Pakistan after UNCRPD to not only enhance the rights of a group of persons with disabilities but also to provide them access to published work in their own country from around the world without any limitations.  This treaty focuses on striking a balance between protecting the rights of authors and accessing information by the visually impaired or blind persons for the purposes of education or research. Visually impaired and blind persons in Pakistan shall nonetheless benefit from having an access to such formatted copies and this shall in return help in the development of the country.

Luckily Pakistan is member of Bern Conventions, the first international copyright treaty  on the Protection of Literary and Artistic works which recognizes the need to balance the right s of authors of creative works  and special provisions ( known as ‘’limitations and exceptions ‘’) that are in the public interest. The Bern Convention and subsequent copyright treaties include these special provisions that allow for some uses of copyrighted material without authorization from the right holder. Pakistan under its Intellectual Property Rights IPRs regime has certain provisions of law in the Copyrights Ordinance 1962 to adopt these special provisions of Marrakesh Treaty. Pakistan under special cases, with mild amendments in section 14, Section 54 and 57 may easily adopt this Treaty and will really make a practical difference to the lives of millions of blinds and print disabled persons.

Intellectual Property Organization of Pakistan- IPO, Ministry of law and Ministry of Foreign affairs should jointly make necessary arrangements for the signing and ratification of this treaty. The Ministry of Education should start now to understand the modalities and technical now how of these accessible formats so the installation process should not take much time. This treaty will definitely open a world of possibilities for organizations like National Institute of special Education to make books accessible and share them with other institutes and libraries in the country those need them most. Even in country like Pakistan, where the print disabled community has hardly access of this facilities ,by virtue of this Miracle Treaty, visually impaired people will be able to receive many  more accessible format titles at the click of a button.

(The Writer is a Former Judge and President Center for Rule of Law Islamabad-CROLI and National Consultant for WIPO. He can be reached at E-mail:  judgemajid@hotmail.com)