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Improving access to published books for persons with print disabilities

Less than 1 percent of published books in developing countries are accessible to people with print disabilities. The situation is often referred to as a ‘book famine’. This week in Ha Noi, stakeholders gathered to discuss a path forward to address this in Viet Nam – to ensure equity in accessing knowledge for all.

The national workshop sought to build the capacity of key stakeholders on the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. The forum, organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the National  Committee for Persons with Disabilities (NCD) and the Viet Nam Blind Association (VBA), provided opportunities for members of the disability community to engage in policy dialogue.

The World Blind Union estimates that globally less than 10 percent of published books are ever made into accessible formats. This lack of access to books, information and knowledge severely limits opportunities for people with print disabilities to study, work, enjoy culture and fully participate in society.

To end the global book famine by providing enabling legal frameworks, member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a UN agency, adopted the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled, which entered into force in 2016.

The Marrakesh Treaty paves the way for an enabling legal environment to pursue the goal of accessing “the same book, at the same time and at the same price” by persons with print disabilities, striking the right balance between the protection of the rights of authors and the protection of public interests. Viet Nam is not yet a party to the Marrakesh Treaty.

“The Marrakesh Treaty will provide a powerful tool to realize the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’ of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said Akiko Fujii, Deputy Country Director, UNDP Viet Nam, in her opening remarks at the workshop. “Acceding to and implementing the Marrakesh Treaty are about realizing the fundamental rights of one of the most marginalized populations, about reducing poverty, and about eliminating exclusion to achieve inclusive development, which underpin UNDP’s core corporate visions.”

The workshop shed light on the reality of the situation facing the print disabled in Viet Nam; provided an overview of the Marrakesh Treaty within the context of the country’s legal and social environment by Catherine Phuong, UNDP’s Assistant Country Director; shared experiences from other countries; and discussed ways forward.

“Children and adults with blindness, low vision or other print disabilities have faced many challenges in accessing print materials in Viet Nam. The accession to the Marrakesh Treaty will not only introduce a very good legal framework but also contribute to increasing awareness and activities from relevant bodies to support people with print disabilities,” said Dinh Viet Anh, Vice President, VBA. “The Viet Nam Blind Association is pleased to partner with the National Committee for Persons with Disabilities and UNDP to support the country’s efforts.”

To enhance the knowledge base on the Marrakesh Treaty in the Vietnamese language, UNDP, VBA, and the World Blind Union Asia-Pacific also worked together to produce a Legal Review and Issue Brief, which are available in English, Vietnamese, braille and audio formats.

The workshop demonstrated Viet Nam’s commitment to the theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality,” which will be celebrated on 3 December.

Source: UNDP Vietnam