Thursday, March 03, 2016

Ratify Marrakesh!

The United States Senate has a terrific opportunity to expand opportunity

The United States Senate has just been presented with the ratification package for the Marrakesh Treaty. We are joining with our peers in the disability and library community in a joint statement to strongly encourage the Senate to ratify the treaty and for Congress to implement the minor legislative changes recommended as part of the package.

We know a great deal about this Treaty, which is designed to help people who are blind or have other disabilities that interfere with reading, such as dyslexia. Our nonprofit organization operates Bookshare, the largest online library in the world that focuses on the needs of people with these disabilities. The creation of Bookshare was made possible because of an enlightened copyright law exception. And, that American copyright exception was the inspiration for the Marrakesh Treaty!

Because the Marrakesh Treaty was modeled after the Chafee Amendment, as the Section 121 copyright exception is widely known in honor of the senator who proposed it in 1996, only minor changes have been recommended to align U.S. law with the Treaty language. As the operators of the largest library using this exception in the United States, we see these changes as minor and helpful clarifications. We do not see these changes as having a major impact on who we serve in the U.S., or the work we do. Here are the three changes of note:
  1. Clarifying the definition of a disability that qualifies. We see the new recommended language as replacing antique and obsolete language (“reading disability from organic dysfunction” is one example) with language that describes functionally someone with a disability that gets in the way of reading print. While we already serve many people with dyslexia, or returning veterans with traumatic brain injuries, these changes will be remove much of the confusion that exists in the field because of ambiguous, older language. 
  2. Including illustrations as part of books to be made accessible. We include illustrations in our accessible books because many of our users can see them. People who are low vision can usually magnify pictures to see them better, and our dyslexic users often get much more out of illustrations than they get out of text. We often add image descriptions to illustrations, as well as supporting partners developing tactile versions of illustrations today, to further improve accessibility. 
  3. Serving U.S. citizens abroad under Section 121 as if they lived in the U.S. This question has also been unclear, and different libraries have treated this inconsistently. Our default setting in Bookshare has been to treat an American with a disability living in another country as being only allowed the books we have permission to provide there, which leaves out over 100,000 titles that are only available inside the United States to Americans. This change would allow us to better serve American overseas.
These three changes clarify Section 121 in minor ways that are quite helpful to Americans with disabilities.

Of course, the biggest change that the Marrakesh Treaty makes is easing the import and export of accessible books. This cross-border exchange will make the lives of people with these disabilities better worldwide, as we reduce needless duplication of effort. Americans with disabilities will have access to far more accessible books, especially in languages other than English. And, it will become possible for nonprofit organizations such as ours to help bring accessible books to people with disabilities in developing countries, often the poorest of the world’s poor, who have mostly lacked access to books entirely.

We’re excited about the prospect of Marrakesh ratification and implementation by the United States to make our work more straightforward in serving Americans with bona fide disabilities the books they need for education, employment, and social inclusion, as well as lowering the barriers to serve people around the world with similar needs!

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