On June 27, 2013, delegates representing over 160 member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), finalized an international treaty that, once ratified, will allow cross-border exchange of published works in specialized formats — braille, large print and audio — increasing access to the content of print materials for persons who are blind and print disabled.
The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled is unique in that it represents an international effort to address an issue affecting persons with print disabilities in all parts of the world. The treaty is a first step to eliminating the “book famine,” a phrase first used in a 1970 UNESCO study that addressed the lack of access to print materials in developing countries, but more recently used to describe the dire shortage of accessible texts for persons with print disabilities.
If ratified, the Marrakesh Treaty promises to benefit students and other persons with print disabilities in the United States. Among the potential beneficiaries of this treaty are the over 255,000 students with print disabilities, K-12, currently receiving accessible books through Bookshare, an online library of digital books for people with print disabilities, supported in part through a cooperative agreement with the Department’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).
The Marrakesh Treaty would also permit authorized entities, like Bookshare, and individuals with print disabilities to locate and obtain accessible books from holdings in other countries, including for example, materials in foreign languages, accessible versions of rare books, and specialized STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) texts and materials. Increased availability to a wide range of materials in accessible formats raises the floor for students and others with print disabilities by providing equal access to information, knowledge and education, the keys to meaningful careers and employment and full inclusion in the community.
The final treaty language and additional information about the Marrakesh Diplomatic Conference can be found at http://www.wipo.int/portal/index.html.en
Information on eligibility and accessing materials at Bookshare can be found at https://www.bookshare.org/
Glinda Hill is an education program specialist in the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education