International Leaders Adopt Historic “Treaty for the Blind”

By Benetech, posted in Education on

“Miracle in Marrakesh” Gives People with Disabilities Expanded Access to Books; Powerful Tool to Fight Worldwide Book Famine

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Marrakesh, Morocco, June 28, 2013 — What has been commonly referred to as the “Treaty for the Blind” was formally adopted yesterday, and signed by 51 countries today, in a Diplomatic Conference convened by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This historic treaty paves the way to expanding the access to books for people who are blind or otherwise print disabled and provides the necessary legal framework for organizations, like Benetech and its Bookshare initiative, to deliver those books to people across international borders.

“This is an excellent Treaty. The Benetech team is delighted by its adoption today,” said Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech, in a closing statement to delegates at the Diplomatic Conference. “We have the technology, we have the content and now we have the legal framework to make it possible for every person with a print disability on the planet to get access to the books they need for education, employment and social inclusion.”

The treaty’s formal title is: “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled.” It was adopted after a week of negotiations and debate among over 600 delegates and advocates from around the world. According to WIPO, the treaty “will enter into force after it has been ratified by 20 WIPO members that agree to be bound by its provisions.”

“For years, we have been working to end the worldwide book famine. This Treaty provides a tremendous tool to accelerate that work,” said Betsy Beaumon, Vice President and General Manager of Benetech’s Global Literacy Program, which operates Bookshare. “As our Bookshare library continues to expand globally, this treaty will allow us to deliver more books to more people and help to equalize their access to information and knowledge—that’s powerful.”

It is currently estimated that fewer than five percent of the books needed by people with print disabilities around the world are available in accessible formats, such as digital text or digital Braille. This lack of accessible books is a major contributor to what is known as the worldwide “book famine.” Today, because of the strong support from publishers and authors, one third of Bookshare’s library, over 60,000 titles, is already available today in every country in the world. In most countries, over 90,000 titles are available, and growing every day.  With implementation of the Treaty, Bookshare would be able to provide its nearly 200,000 titles to users around the world, and better serve its US users when they need books from other countries.

“We’ve made significant progress, but our work isn’t over,” said Fruchterman. “Now that the treaty is adopted, we must work together to ensure it is ratified in as many countries as possible and begin conversations on how we can rapidly expand access to books for people with print disabilities.”

You can read Benetech’s full closing statement, delivered in Marrakesh by Jim Fruchterman, here: http://benetech.blogspot.com/2013/06/benetech-closing-statement-on-marrakesh.html.

About Benetech 
Benetech was founded to be a different kind of tech company—a nonprofit—with a pure focus on developing technology for the social good. Benetech has four main program areas—Human Rights, Global Literacy, Environment and Benetech Labs—and focuses on projects that offer the greatest social return on the funds invested. Jim Fruchterman, social entrepreneur and MacArthur Fellow, founded Benetech in 1989 and leads the organization as its President & CEO. Benetech has over 70 employees, most of which work out of its headquarters in Silicon Valley. For more information, please visit Benetech.org.

About Bookshare
Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech. Bookshare is the world’s largest online accessible library of copyrighted content for people with print disabilities. Through its technology initiatives and partnerships, Bookshare seeks to raise the floor on accessibility issues so that individuals with print disabilities have the same ease of access to print materials as people without disabilities. In 2007 and again in 2012, Bookshare received five-year awards from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), to provide free access for all U.S. students with a qualified print disability. The Bookshare library now has over 198,000 books and serves more than 250,000 members. To learn more about Bookshare, please visit bookshare.org.

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