Australia ratifies landmark treaty to end book famine


The book famine for people who are blind or have low vision is a step closer to being resolved after Australia ratified the Marrakesh Treaty overnight in Geneva, a world treaty that facilitates access to published works by visually impaired persons and persons with print disabilities.

The goal of the Treaty is to help end the book famine faced by people who are blind, have low vision or have a print disability. Currently, only five per cent of the world’s published books ever make it into accessible formats due to access barriers in copyright law, which is something the treaty will help to remove.

Vision Australia has been advocating on behalf of Australia’s blindness and low vision community, led by Maryanne Diamond AO – past president of the World Blind Union and former Vision Australia General Manager, to ensure that the Australian Government took action and ratified the Treaty.

The Marrakesh Treaty will significantly expand the choice of books to read for people who are blind or have low vision.

In 2013, fifty-one countries signed the Marrakesh Treaty; however the Treaty only becomes effective once 20 countries have ratified it. Australia is the 12th country to ratify and joins countries such as India, Mali, Mexico and Uruguay who have also ratified.

Australia’s blindness and low vision population is estimated to be around 350,000.

The Treaty will allow organisations to share books directly with individuals who are blind or have other print disabilities, as well as enabling the international exchange of books between relevant organisations, like Vision Australia, and prevents the need to duplicate production in different countries.

Vision Australia operates Australia’s largest library for people who are blind or have low vision and this Treaty will allow it to provide even more publications in accessible format such as braille or audio books to suit the needs of the individual, which is currently denied under the current Copyright Act.

Michael Simpson, Vision Australia's General Manager of NSW Client Services and Accessible Information Services, who has been blind for 40-years, said: “We are excited that the Australian Government has acted quickly to support greater access to written works by ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty. While this is a fantastic step for better access to books, Australia still has a long way to go in getting better access to Australian programming for people who are blind or have low vision. This has given us the determination to achieve the same outcome with the Australian Government to reach our goal of audio described programs on free-to-air television. Vision Australia is absolutely committed to achieving equal access to information for the blindness and low vision community,” he said.


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