By R. David Edelman & Stephanie Valencia
Today we mark another important achievement for equal rights, this time for over a million Americans — and over 340 million people worldwide — who are blind, visually impaired, or with other print disabilities.
In April, 2012, President Obama expressed the United States’ commitment to a treaty that “ensures that copyright is not a barrier to equal access to information, culture, and education for visually impaired persons and persons with print disabilities.” This week in Morocco, we made good on that commitment, joining with over 150 states in approving a landmark treaty that holds the potential to open up a world of knowledge to a population that is too often shut off from it.
According to the World Blind Union, of the million or so books published in the world each year, less than 5 percent are made available in formats accessible to the visually-impaired. We call this “book famine.” No one has said it better than Stevie Wonder, the world-famous singer-songwriter and prominent advocate for the treaty: we must “end the information deprivation that continues to keep the visually impaired in the dark” — and today, we are proud to mark a major achievement in that effort.
The treaty adopted today can help do just that by facilitating the development and distribution of accessible-format print works within the framework of the international copyright system. That is why organizations as diverse as the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Federation of the Blind have already come together in praise of this achievement. In adopting this Treaty, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Members, including the United States, demonstrated the continued contributions a modern and dynamic copyright system plays in promoting creativity and enabling access to knowledge worldwide.
In Stevie’s words, this treaty can “open the doors to the world’s written treasures, moving toward a future where there are no barriers to the expansion of knowledge and the enjoyment of culture — even for the visually impaired.” The approval of its text is the first step towards formally approving it at home and bringing it into force worldwide. We are proud to have played a leading role in its negotiation, and thank our experts throughout the Administration, and advocates from across the United States, whose tireless efforts helped us reach this milestone.