Marrakesh Treaty could bring 285K adapted books to visually impaired Canadians

Less than 10 per cent of books are turned into alternative formats, but CNIB says something called the Marrakesh Treaty will help advance the interests of visually impaired Canadians.
About 34.5 per cent of people with vision challenges indicated that they discontinued their formal education as a result of their condition, according to a Statistics Canada survey. (Steve Mitchell/Associated Press)

Less than 10 per cent of books are turned into alternative formats, but CNIB says something called the Marrakesh Treaty will help advance the interests of visually impaired Canadians.

"If you can envision yourself walking into your public library and take 93 to 95 per cent of the books off of the shelves, that really gives a perspective as to what the amount of books available to an individual that might be blind or partially sighted or otherwise print disabled," said Garry Nenson​ executive director and regional vice-president of CNIB in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Nenson said Canada signing on to the Marrakesh Treaty will help to break down the barriers to international trade of alternative format books.

Cutting the red tape

Industry Minister James Moore announced on Monday that Canada will be signing on to the treaty, which would create access to 285,000 alternative format books — including audio books and electronic braille — once the treaty comes into effect.

Almost one million Canadians live either with blindness or partial sight, while some have mobility issues that prevent them from being able to enjoy a book, according to a news release from Industry Canada.

Without the treaty in place, copyright laws and publisher's rights agreements impede the re-creation of written works and the shipment of alternative formats across international borders.

Nenson said estimates are that only five to seven per cent of books are currently available in alternative formats.

He told CBC's Up to Speed on Wednesday that the treaty will co-ordinate efforts across countries, meaning the same book won't need to be reproduced in each country.

That would allow for resources to be put to better use in the creation of new books in various formats.

Another benefit Nenson pointed to was that the agreement spans many cultures and languages, which will allow Canadians originating from different parts of the world to have access to books in their native languages.  

The Marrakesh Treaty has yet to go into effect. There are currently fewer than 10 countries that have ratified the agreement, and it needs 20 countries before it can move forward.

If the treaty measures come into force, it will give access to adapted works from 13 countries in more than 55 languages.

Nenson said the treaty would most benefit students, employees and seniors.

More than one-third of Canadians with visual impairment discontinued their formal education as a result of their disability, according to a Statistics Canada survey.


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