For all the focus in much of IFLA’s work on the importance of agreeing and implementing the Marrakesh Treaty, we should not forget the end goal of this effort – ensuring the accessibility of books, websites, and other materials for people with disabilities.
This is the goal set out by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in its Article 21:
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others […], including by:
a) Providing information intended for the general public to persons with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities in a timely manner and without additional cost;
c) Urging private entities that provide services to the general public, including through the Internet, to provide information and services in accessible and usable formats for persons with disabilities;
d) Encouraging the mass media, including providers of information through the Internet, to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities; […]
Libraries have a major role to play in achieving this – this blog sets out three ways.
Supporting Accessible Formats
Libraries in many countries have taken a leading role in producing (or commissioning) accessible format copies of books.
They have invested in the equipment necessary to create books in braille, to convert them into DAISY format, or have paid to create tactile books, which are particularly important for younger people with disabilities.
This work is of course supported by the Marrakesh Treaty, which removes at least a key legal barrier to carrying out these sorts of conversions.
Nonetheless, and as was highlighted at a recent hearing the New Zealand Parliament, such conversions are not cheap.
This is why libraries, for example in Australia, have looked to work with publishers to promote born-accessible books. This can mean that a book is immediately usable on a DAISY reader for example. The International Publishers Association, for example, has also promoted accessibility among its members.
Where there is readiness to adopt such formats, this offers a powerful means of expanding accessibility, but of course we remain a long way from success. The role of libraries in creating accessible books – and the need for support in doing this – is far from over.
Promoting Broader Accessibility
Under the law in many countries, libraries have an explicit mission to serve all members of their communities, especially those with disabilities.
Partly, they do this through providing accessible formats, as highlighted above. Depending on the set-up within countries, there can be many libraries offering such formats, or a central one which simply distributes them.
But all libraries have a role on the ground, in ensuring that members of their communities who do have disabilities are able to make use of the services they offer.
A survey in autumn 2017 underlined that many libraries make conscious efforts to develop policies, although even in those without formal plans, staff were active in adapting their offer. Particular areas of focus included physical accessibility and providing tailored services and internet connection opportunities.
Work in this area goes beyond print disabilities, with support for people with dyslexia, deafness and other mobility challenges also taken into account.
Marrakesh and Beyond
As highlighted above, the Marrakesh Treaty may not be a silver bullet, but it is an indispensable step towards accessibility. It removes a key barrier to providing accessible format books, linked to a market failure created by the copyright regime.
Of course, Marrakesh itself only focuses on people with print disabilities, but makes it clear that it is possible to extend provisions to other disabilities also. This is an important point to underline, given claims by some to the contrary. A large number of countries are already taking this step.
Yet ratifying Marrakesh will also mean little if there is no effort to update national laws and practices to match. IFLA, working with the World Blind Union, the University of Toronto, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries and EIFL, has produced its Getting Started guide to help more libraries make a reality of the new rules.
This work will need to continue, both at the political level (in terms of encouraging further ratifications), and on the ground. Legal reform, new practices (in both industry and libraries) and the right support from government will all be necessary to ensure that the commitment in Article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is met.