As Maryanne Diamond says:
“Information is power. We use information to make decisions. We use information to make choices in our lives.
And we are waiting for our lives to be transformed. “
World Blind Union represents 285 million people who are blind or have low vision. 90% live in developing countries, and 90% of those children do not get a proper education, leading to high unemployment and low living standards.
For the blind and vision impaired, access to knowledge is both essential and a constant struggle.
Even today, 93% of the books published are not published in an accessible format, and in developing countries as few as 1% of published titles are accessible. The majority of ebooks are still in formats that blind people cannot read, devices are not easy for blind people to navigate and adaptive technologies out of reach of most budgets.
A handmade braille children’s book from Visability WA. Photo Australian Digital Alliance CCBY4.0
Copying and adapting works to make them accessible to the blind and vision impaired is an infringement of copyright. That is why many countries (including Australia) include exceptions or licences to allow works to be converted. Our system is not perfect (and is currently under review) but it does allow institutions and individuals to convert works as long as they aren’t protected by TPMs* or already available in an accessible format.**
Recently the Marrakesh Treaty was concluded. This treaty would make it mandatory for countries to have an exception or limitation to enable the visions impaired, or people assisting them, to make works accessible. It also has a mechanism by which an accessible copy, once made, could be shared with institutions in another country.
Maryanne Diamond, AO, is the General Manager, Advocacy and Engagement at Vision Australia. She is also the immediate past president of the World Blind Union, and was instrumental in the conclusion of the Marrakesh Treaty. Her inspiring story, from diagnosis as blind at 6 weeks of age, to working as an IT professional to international advocate shows the central importance of access to information and is a story that all Australians should hear.
*Some institutions such as blind organisations or educational organisations can bypass TPMs to create accessible copies for the vision impaired, but individuals cannot do so.
**Unfortunately the accessible format does not have to be accessible to the user, so a commercially available audio book precludes a proper DAISY audio file being created under the exceptions.