Thursday, June 24, 2010

Authorized Entities <> Trusted Intermediaries

A hot topic at the SCCR20/WIPO discussions in Geneva on global access to materials by the print disabilities is the term "Trusted Intermediaries"("TIs"). This was first introduced (to my knowledge) in the Stakeholder's Platform discussions, which were the quickly ginned-up alternative option created in response to the original introduction at WIPO of the Treaty for the Visually Impaired ("TVI") by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay (and now co-sponsored by Mexico).

The concept of TIs uses U.S. and similar copyright exceptions as a starting point. In the U.S. exception, Section 121, posted at Bookshare as the Chafee Amendment, the term is "authorized entities." In the statute:
"authorized entity" means a nonprofit organization or a governmental agency that has a primary mission to provide specialized services relating to training, education, or adaptive reading or information access needs of blind or other persons with disabilities;
In this case, authorized means authorized under the statute.

This is a crucial point. Under U.S. (and as far as I know, most of the other exceptions) law, there is no approval or authorization by other entities, whether government, publishing industry or the disability consumer organizations. When you use the exception, you are asserting that your organization meets this qualification. And, if a copyright holder doubts that your organization meets the requirement in making an accessible copy, they are welcome to file a legal complaint of copyright infringement and make the case. But, the burden of proof is not on the nonprofit agency, it's on the copyright holder making the complaint. Just to be clear, IANAL, I am Not a Lawyer, so this is my layman's understanding.

I'm not aware of any litigation in the U.S. that has ever been filed on this point. Compare that to the fair use exception, which has plenty of case law. Why? It must be that the definition of authorized entity is sufficiently clear that no publisher wants to try this out in court against a nonprofit that is truly working to help people with disabilities.

The lack of a requirement for permission is fundamental to the concept of an exception: the idea that you would need permission of the rightsholders to utilize an exception from copyright is an oxymoron. Yet, this is the requirement of the European proposal for TIs here at WIPO! And, the U.S. proposal has similar (but not quite as out there) language saying that the organization using the exception has to have the trust of both the publishers and the consumer groups. A requirement that does not exist in the U.S. exception.

To be clear, there is at least one major publisher who publicly states their contempt for organizations such as Bookshare and RFB&D that utilize their materials under an exception. As long as we obey the law, they are unlikely to sue us. But, if we're trusted by most publishers but one complains, does one publisher's veto stop the operation of exceptions or import/export?

It's becoming increasingly clear that the term of "Trusted Intermediaries" is loaded with the issue of "trust" becoming a codeword for having received permission. In discussions with the advocacy community here, there's a strong desire to discard this term.

The U.S. term "authorized entity" carries some of this freight to non-U.S. audiences who assume that some other authority provided the authorization.

A term that was brainstormed by some of the other great minds here was "Responsible Entities," which I think is quite good. I believe it delivers on the concepts in U.S. law, and addresses the core concerns of the advocacy community while providing the publishers with more confidence that exceptions (and especially imports/exports beyond existing norms) will be done by NGOs and government agencies that are following laws and acting responsibly.

By the way, there are other requirements in these proposals that I'm not commented on. I'm solely focused on the requirements of a nonprofit organization/government agency needs to meet to be eligible to use the exception/norms.

I'm hopeful that by changing the term, and ditching the idea that Responsible Entities need to do more than meet the standards in the law to be able to take advantage of these copyright exceptions.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My remarks just made at WIPO today

Statement of Benetech to the
20th Session of the
Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights

at the World Intellectual Property Organization
June 23, 2010, Geneva, Switzerland

• My nonprofit organization, Benetech, operates Bookshare, the largest online library for people with print disabilities, with the mission of bringing accessible books to all people with print disabilities around the world
• We have roughly 100,000 members in the U.S. with print disabilities, with more than 70,000 copyrighted works in our library, the majority of which have been created under the US copyright exception by volunteers, mainly people with disabilities themselves, helping each other.
• At Bookshare, we have been very sensitive to the complaints of blind and print disabled people around the world, feeling that they have been unfairly denied access to our extensive collection
o My explanation that it’s simply copyright law doesn’t make them feel any better
• We would like a binding instrument so that we can bring all of our collection, including the 15 to 20,000 new books we add every year, to all people with print disabilities
• Until that day, we work directly with publishers to provide voluntary licenses at no charge to us.
• We now have global permissions for around 8,000 copyrighted books out of our 70,000.
• We have been especially successful in receiving blanket agreements from major trade book publishers such as HarperCollins, Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Perseus, Scholastic, Encyclopaedia Britannica, as well as many university presses (including Cambridge U Press). Most publishers don’t say yes or no. Many of the publishers do provide us with permissions do not have global rights, and limit the availability of these books to certain jurisdictions
• We first launched international Bookshare in India and have more than 1000 members there, as well as permissions agreements with more than ten publishers in India
• We have recently concluded agreements with national and regional groups serving people with disabilities in countries including Denmark, Australia, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and China.
o We’d love to serve the community of people with print disabilities in your country, with English and Spanish today and we hope your national languages in the future
o We’re planning on launching an Arabic language service later this year
• As wonderful as these permissions are, several years of work has led to less than 100 publishers making these agreements. Compare that to Google Book Search, with more than 25,000 publishers signed up for their commercial program in a similar time period. Google, who has been sued by the same publishers for alleged copyright violations.
• That is why we have exceptions: to lower transaction costs and secure the civil rights of people with disabilities to have equal opportunity
• That is why we need a binding instrument that makes copyright exceptions a global norm, and allows for import and export of these materials.
• We need a binding instrument that doesn’t give publishers veto power over the organizations who comply with national and international laws and norms
• We need a binding instrument that doesn’t establish a thicket of bureaucratic requirements to discourage access
• We need a binding instrument that makes getting disabled people the books they need easier, and not harder
• If we get that binding agreement, then we can ensure access to printed materials for education, employment and social inclusion for all people with print disabilities around the world.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights at WIPO

I'm here in Geneva for the 20th Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights meeting. This is the international forum for discussing copyright issues, and it is the body considering the Treaty for the Visually Impaired (TVI).
Eric Bridges, Anahit Galechyan, Scott LaBarre, Jim Fruchterman in back row, Jim is working on his PC and the others are listening to the translations
Jamie Love of KEI took the above picture of ACB's Eric Bridges, NFB's Scott LaBarre (and his wife Anahit Galechyan) and me at the meeting: I was busy tweeting what I was hearing at my Twitter handle of @JRandomF.

Hot issue this week are the now four proposals on solving the problem of access to print by people with print disabilities globally:
  • The TVI: the treaty sponsored originally by the World Blind Union and supported at WIPO by Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay and Mexico. [I was one of the co-drafters of the treaty language]
  • The U.S. draft Joint Recommendation
  • The EU draft Joint Recommendation
  • The African broader Treaty draft
Look forward to updating on Twitter what's happening.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Supporting Vulnerable Human Rights Defenders in the Congo

Dr. Patrick Ball, Benetech's Chief Scientist and Vice President of our Human Rights Program, is spending much of this year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Patrick is working with a UN human rights project.

The importance of supporting human rights in the DRC was underscored this month when it was reported that Floribert Chebeya, executive director of one of the DRC’s largest human rights organizations, Voice of the Voiceless (VSV), was found dead on the outskirts of Kinshasa. Chebeya, who also directed a national network of DRC human rights groups, died of unknown causes after being summoned on June 1st to meet General John Numbi, the head of the national police force. According to news reports Chebeya was found dead in his car early the next morning.

Amnesty International notes that there has been increased oppression of human rights defenders in the DRC this past year including illegal arrest, prosecution, phone threats and repeated summoning to the offices of the intelligence services. Benetech staff member Vijaya Tripathi has trained human rights workers in the DRC to use our Martus data management tool to create searchable and encrypted databases - and back their data up remotely to publicly available servers. Martus helps protect sensitive information and shield the identity of victims or witnesses who provide testimony on human rights abuses.

Veronique Aubert, deputy director of Amnesty's Africa program, said in a statement that Chebeya had campaigned to uphold the rights of the constitution and democracy in the DRC parliament and had been harassed by authorities in the past. Aubert called for a full government investigation of Chebeya’s death as did Human Rights Watch.

Benetech provided Martus training in October to members of Chebeya’s VSV organization, which participated in a meeting sponsored by the International Center for Transitional Justice. We will continue to assist VSV if they request. As Aubert said in her statement, “Those who defend the rights of others must be allowed to continue their work free of harassment and persecution. Floribert’s death is a great loss for the human rights community.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Heading out on the road

I'm now on the road for more than 5 weeks on combo business trips and family vacation. DC this week and Geneva next week (international copyright).
Scott Rains wearing Brazill football jersey and Jim Fruchterman, under the Benetech office signAs I headed out the door, I ran into Scott Rains and we had a picture taken of Scott in his Brazil jersey (after the U.S., I'm a big Brazil fan too). Scott is helping with the Bookshare volunteer community as a Benetech Fellow.

I can tell World Cup fever is really hitting!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Towards Global Access for the Print Disabled

A Policy Update from an engineer, Jim Fruchterman of Benetech

June 8, 2010

The international copyright negotiations in Geneva around a proposed Treaty for the Visually Impaired (“TVI”) have been steadily heating up. Counterproposals have been made, governments have been engaging with rights holders, consumers and NGOs (or not!) and there’s a general feeling something is going to happen. I’m heading to Geneva later this month for the next major meeting at the World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”), to hear the latest and make my three-minute oration as an accredited NGO representative (first time for me!).

My recommendation to the advocacy community is to continue to pursue a “yes-and” approach, as we have so far with the TVI and the Stakeholders’ Platform. However, my suggestion is to pursue the U.S. Joint Recommendation and the TVI, but drop the Stakeholders’ Platform.

This update explains my reasoning. Remember, IANAL (I am not a lawyer). So, your lawyer’s opinion may vary, and is likely to be better informed on the legal aspects.

The Goal

The goal is pretty clear: insuring that every person on the planet with a serious print disability has access to the books and other printed material that they need to get an education, make a living and be included in society. It is abundantly clear that the great majority of people in the world who cannot pick up a book and read it effectively are at a terrific disadvantage in society. I’m measuring this entire effort by how much it does to change this sorry state of affairs, in both the short and long term.

The Proposals


A. The Treaty for the Visually Impaired (TVI). The draft can be downloaded from WIPO. The name is a misnomer: it’s designed for all people with print disabilities. The treaty does a lot of things, but let me highlight a few:
• A global norm that there be copyright exceptions that allow for the making of accessible versions of copyrighted works for free on a nonprofit basis by a broad range of people or organizations, without having to get permission from the rightsholders.
• Allowances for import and export of such material between countries by people or organizations.
• A broad functional definition of disability (although awkwardly drafted, as someone who participated in the drafting) including the visually impaired as well as those who “need an accessible format … in order to access a copyright work to substantially the same degree as a person without a disability.”
• A broad definition of formats, including Braille, audio, large print, digital text, and video with audio description.

B. The U.S. Joint Recommendation Proposal (US-JR). This draft can be downloaded from the DAISY Consortium. This was recently presented by the U.S. Government delegation, as a next step possibility. It is narrower than the Treaty, and is not binding as a treaty would be (some call it “soft law” compared to the “hard law” of a treaty). Its key points are:
• A recommendation that import and export be permitted under national law in all WIPO-member countries between Trusted Intermediaries (“TIs”), a narrow class of nonprofits and government agencies with a primary mission to serve the print disabled, with the option of charging TIs for the privilege to do so.
• A functional definition of disability that I think is pretty close to the TVI (it is even clearer).
• A definition of formats that includes Braille, audio and digital text, but excludes large print and video.
• Strong hints that import/export is already permitted by U.S. law (this is a wildcard issue right now).

C. The African Union Proposed Treaty (“AUPT”). This has just been released with a rough translation (into English from the original French). I would class this as TVI (nearly identical) plus additional provisions creating a similar exception for schools, libraries and archives. For the purposes of my discussion, I consider it equal to the TVI in carrying out our objectives. Its greater scope creates additional challenges to get it passed.

D. The European Union rumored Joint Recommendation draft (“EU-JR”). While it has not yet been made available, I would assume it is US-JR minus compared to the AUPT’s TVI plus! The signals from a few European countries on its likely content have not been encouraging.

E. The WIPO Stakeholder’s Platform (WIPO-SP). This is an effort to create a voluntary project between the publishers and the Trusted Intermediaries. Right now, it’s not in great shape:
• No global exception norm, but voluntary agreement by rightsholders (that’s today’s status quo), with model agreements that are terrible from the nonprofit/library side.
• More restrictive disability definitions, using a medical model, excluding learning and cognitive disabilities in general.
• A definition of formats that includes Braille, audio and digital text as well as large print. Excludes video.
• In addition, a number of negative, overly-restrictive factors that would limit accessibility for users: DRM requirements, indemnities of the TIs to the publishers (which could bankrupt a library), shelf-clearing requirements to remove books from a library in the case of even minor breaches, fees to the publishers for access and possibly preparation work, restrictions on creating a work if a special format version is available somewhere, intrusive record keeping that probably violates U.S. and European privacy laws, and so on.
• A proposed three-year pilot with 100 titles. This seems unreasonably modest, when Bookshare alone already has much more favorable voluntary agreements covering 20,000 English language titles and 1,000 Spanish language titles with many of the major U.S. trade publishers (and some in India and the UK), and over 1,000 international members in 35 countries today. Plus, many countries are already sharing cross-border on a larger scale, albeit mainly regionally (like Scandinavian countries sharing with each other).

My Recommendations

My recommendations to advocates are:
1. Support the TVI or AUPT.
2. Be open to negotiating on the US-JR if it’s stipulated that it is a step on the road to a treaty (a “yes-and” strategy).
3. Until the EU-JR is released, wait and see.
4. Oppose the Stakeholders’ Platform unless it is changed to be as good or better than today’s status quo practices, which I think is unlikely.

Reasons for Each Recommendation

The Treaties


The TVI or the AUPT are treaties that would do a great job towards meeting the goal I stated above. They would be binding international law if negotiated and adopted, stating that all countries should have an exception for the print disabled. They would permit import and export of accessible materials, and are crafted to avoid a significant financial impact on publishers. They are as good as what we have in the United States today, with some parts that are even better.

The U.S. Joint Recommendation

I think that advocates should consider supporting this, as long as it is explicit that it is a first step to a treaty. The U.S. has been very negative on a treaty in the past: their public statements have been softening lately. I think that over the last six months, the US Government has come out in favor of accessibility, splitting with some of its typical EU/rich country partners.

What don’t I have a problem with at this point?


• Disability definition: it’s as good as the TVI (maybe clearer) and better/clearer than U.S. law today.
• It has the power of the USG behind it: an important norm setting for both international and domestic activities.
• The format definition as “being exclusively for use by persons with print disabilities, such exclusivity being inherent to the format, through technical means, or through exclusive distribution by Trusted Intermediaries” is a terrific clarification of the issue: much better than today’s ambiguous U.S. law.

What would I work on?

• Clarification that U.S. law permits import/export today. That could start the ball rolling with access right away. But, the USG has been pretty coy about this: they represent that import/export is legal today as an argument against the TVI, but won’t actually go on record (or at least, the Copyright Office won’t). This isn’t solid enough to count on, but if secured could be a major short-term win. Support for the US-JR only makes sense if we have reliable confidence that exporting and importing are legal today (not, try it and see if you get sued).
• Clarification on Trusted Intermediaries. I’m supportive of this as a concept, as long as it doesn’t go beyond U.S. law today: there is no current requirement for registration or being on a list. Many developing countries don’t have a national group that serves in similar ways to the groups in wealthier countries. We should be able to work with the blind school in the capital, an NGO that has a major focus on people with disabilities, disability offices of universities or regular libraries, and the like. They all meet the definition of TI as a primary purpose of the agency or NGO.
  • A WIPO registry could be a real barrier to the goal of access for people around the globe, unless it is implemented with huge sensitivity to the reality of developing nations.
  • The nationwide network concept is ambiguous. Bookshare serves over 10,000 schools and nonprofits in the U.S. today: they follow our rules but they are not each TIs, nor should they be. NGOs and agencies (like clinics, hospitals, regular libraries and schools) should be able to cooperate with a Trusted Intermediary to deliver materials directly to the people with qualifying print disabilities.
• Large print: the U.S. exception currently permits large print for educational purposes. We should give more flexibility to include large print.
• Clarification that to export into a developing country, a disability copyright exception is not required if there is some other exception or common practice that would permit such activity (fair use/trading, interlibrary loan, assistance to the disabled/poor, etc.).
• It has a statement encouraging national copyright exceptions for people with print disabilities as a Good Thing™.

The WIPO Stakeholders’ Platform


Forget the WIPO-SP, unless it gets modified to be at least as good as the status quo. Right now, it’s a major step backward: filled with poison pills. It confers no benefits compared to how things operate today: individual publishers have been willing to be far more reasonable than the draft agreements. We certainly do not want it to be used as a base for future treaties or other negotiations.

Conclusion

I recommend a “yes-and” approach: the TVI and the US-JR. The domestic disability policy angle is especially important to the U.S. disability community; we have the political leadership advocating almost all of our wish-list for the U.S. copyright law:
• Clarifying that copyright exceptions (here and globally) should include a functional definition of print disability. We’ve been fighting this exact issue in the U.S. for years: some publishers want to exclude or constrain people with real and significant print-related learning disabilities.
• Clarifying the formats include digital formats that are distributed through TIs (or with some DRM) as being what fits under a copyright exception. This means we can clearly distribute formats that are usable on standard, cheap, mass-market platforms.
• Stating the imports and exports should work to the benefit of both U.S. residents with disabilities and globally.

The U.S. is an essential player in any global copyright action. The US WIPO delegation has come over to our policies almost completely. Contrast that with the chains of the Stakeholders’ Platform proposal. We cannot abandon our quest to get national copyright norms changed; the US-JR avoids this and therefore is only half the equation. But, if we were comfortable with a “yes-and” approach before (with the TVI and WIPO-SP), TVI plus US-JR is even better.

Jim Fruchterman
CEO, Benetech. Bookshare founder.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The FCC and Accessibility

Overview

One of the great things about the Obama Administration is that they've generally lowered the bar for citizen participation in federal policy. I'm much rather post something in a blog than go through a formal sending of a snail mail letter!

The FCC just did a series of four blog posts asking for feedback on their new accessibility plans. Here are my comments on the big picture and a couple of their proposals. I'm also going to copy portions into the comments section of their specific posts.

Comments on the FCC's Accessibility Plans (June 2010)

My main recommendation to the FCC is to be more ambitious about accessibility. Although the Clearinghouse and Awards programs could be helpful to the cause of greater access for people with disabilities, I don’t think they truly take on the biggest opportunity for change.

We have a model for this kind of change: TTYs (text telephones) and relay services though the telephone. When the technology in question was the telephone, those people with disabilities with the greatest barrier to use, the deaf, had access to technologies that provided a decent level of service.

We need to think much bigger with the Internet and the full range of disabilities. It’s certainly within our technical capabilities to provide a basic level of access to the information and communication capabilities of the Internet and web through broadband. For each American who has a disability that affects access to information and communication capabilities, there are tech solutions that could be delivered through broadband to make that resource accessible.

If the FCC lacks the funding and/or legislative authority to make this happen, then my recommendation is to seek that funding and authority, and then make it happen.

Examples of the kinds of solutions that I believe are possible:
• Wizards that helps people determine the accessibility features they need, without a focus on disability diagnosis (needs and preferences over disability labels)
• Infrastructure that makes it easier for resources to implement accessibility (see the proposed National Public Inclusive Infrastructure-NPII from Prof. Gregg Vanderheiden of the TRACE Center)
• Cloud-based tools that read text aloud to broadband users who are visually impaired, learning disabled or developmentally disabled
• Basic AT tools built into the web and broadband

We definitely need to do more than simply talk about these needs - we must provide the resources/funding to develop and prove these solutions out in the short run and to deploy and maintain them over the long run.

Specific comments on the proposed Clearinghouse.

Disability information clearinghouses have been set up in the past, and have failed to fully meet the need or realize the potential of such a solution. If the FCC is to succeed with a new clearinghouse, it needs to avoid the mistakes of the past.
• Old Clearinghouses rapidly became out of date, especially after the initial grant expired. The FCC should embrace a more Web 2.0 approach where users, experts and vendors can update the data every day, keeping it relevant and timely. Oversight needs to be with a light hand.
• Material should be posted under an unencumbered open content license, so that the content can be shared widely, especially in case of the Clearinghouse losing funding as some future date (so that the content can be freely moved to a new home)
• Promotion: the Clearinghouse won’t matter if no one visits. Consider Google and other search engine advertising (or see if Google will partner on a Google Grant). Actively optimize for search engines so that the people who need to find the information will.
• The Clearinghouse could also host wizard functionality to help people decide what they need, and provide trial access to key accessibility technologies so that users can actually experience what the AT would do for them.
• The biggest enemy of a Clearinghouse is irrelevancy. Make it an indispensable tool for people with disabilities, their families, educators, rehab professionals and the assistive and mainstream technology industries.

Specific comments on the proposed Chairman’s Awards.

I think identification of problems could be a very exciting opportunity, to build up a detailed list of requirements that could inspire developers and problem solvers. It’s not clear that money awards would be an important driver of this Phase: the gift of attention to the issue would be the main payoff.

The bigger question is about how to structure the second phase. Awards programs are around providing incentives to encourage certain kinds of behaviors. The FCC has to think about what its biggest objectives are. Are they intended to inspire students? Change the behaviors of mainstream tech companies? Launch new solutions for people with disabilities? Recognize past accomplishments?

Of these different options, I’d be most excited about awards that would lead to innovation and new solutions for people with disabilities. The assistive tech field struggles with funding, and innovation is slower than in mainstream technology.

Some awards programs are around encouraging students and individual inventors: with the incentive being prestige or a minor amount of money ($5-10,000). These encourage students and professors to think about accessibility. They don’t tend to lead to widespread adoption that benefits people with disabilities directly, though. Larger awards can encourage groups that have more capacity for sustained services. For example, the Tech Museum Awards of five $50,000 prizes each year attracts many organizations with real capacity who are seeking both prestige and funding that could be significant in getting the new projects off the ground. Lastly, you have larger X-Prize style awards, where the prizes are large and are intended to spur investments larger than the prize money involved. It’s not clear how effective this approach would be in accessibility, where most of the people (individuals, small AT vendors, nonprofits) who would be competing don’t have the funds necessary to win the prize. Of these three types, I think the medium-sized prizes would have the biggest impact.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Visit to Qatar

I’m on the plane heading back to the U.S. after my first visit to the country of Qatar. It was a lightning visit of only two days (Sunday and Monday), with a focus on attending the World Economic Forum's Global Redesign Summit 2010 (the GRI). The government of Qatar hosted the conference, and underwrote travel and accommodation. This meeting was a follow-up for me from my attendance earlier this year at the main WEF meeting in Davos, where I presented my proposal as part of the GRI.
My proposal was on ensuring that all of humanity benefits from the incredible knowledge and technology. We need to encourage limitations and exceptions (like the one in the U.S. that makes Bookshare possible) and open licensing terms, so that people who the market will fail to address get the benefits of our incredibly rich and expanding knowledge base. One famous example of this approach is the affordable licensing and thus wider availability of drugs to combat HIV/AIDS in the developing world, which has literally saved the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. Another Schwab social entrepreneur, Richard Jefferson of Australia-based CAMBIA, spoke on behalf of greater transparency in patent databases as a crucial start in realizing greater access to the knowledge embedded in patents. As he pointed out in Doha, top companies rarely publish in scientific journals, compared to the amount of know-how they disclose in patent applications. James Moody, also from Australia, presented a concept for a Global Social Responsibility license focused on humanitarian applications of patents and technology.
Queen Rania of Jordan, Klaus Schwab of the WEF

The other session I really liked was the one on education. They were well set-up by Queen Rania of Jordan, who extensively advocated for education in her plenary speech the first day of the conference. One of their recommendations was that there be a venture capital fund for investing in education. I was able to mention the Venture Capital in Education Summit that I’m attending in New York next week. StartL, a new education VC fund backed by a number of leading American foundations, will be launching there.
Mada: Qatar Assistive Technology Center

Since the conference didn’t get formally going until noon on Sunday, I had the chance to squeeze in a morning visit to Qatar’s ICT Ministry. They are launching a new center for assistive technology, the Mada Center on today: Tuesday June 1. Mada means "horizon" in Arabic. I got a preview of the state of the art equipment on Sunday morning. I was glad when they agreed to host me: it turns out that Sunday in Qatar is the first day of the work week. The team at the Mada Center is really dynamic, and excited about expanding the reach of assistive technology in Qatar and the region. We talked about bringing English language Bookshare to Qataris with print disabilities, and our discussions quickly went to what it would take to truly serve Arabic speakers in Qatar and around the world. We’ve just added our first books in Tamil and Hindi (two national languages of India), and so it was fun to brainstorm about the possibilities. The coolest demo was of a high quality Arabic text-to-speech synthesizer. I could see that the adaptive technology possibilities for Arabic are both real and exciting.

I also personally delivered the business cards of Abbas Abbas, a blind Ashoka social entrepreneur, who focuses on serving the needs of Arabs with disabilities in Israel with his AlManarah (Lighthouse) Association. I had met Abbas at the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit/World Forum in San Francisco. Lisa Nitze, the new CEO of the SEA, had made a point of connecting the two of us. And, I had promised Abbas to connect him to the Mada Center in Qatar. There is a tremendous need to expand accessible content in the languages that most people with print disabilities around the world use.