Uganda has become the 38th country in the world to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled.
The 38 contracting parties include Kenya, Ghana, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, India, Liberia, Malawi, Mongolia, Nigeria, Tunisia and Uganda, among others.
The Treaty eases the production and transfer across national boundaries of books that are specially adapted for use by people with visual impairments, most of whom live in low income countries.
The Marrakesh Treaty was adopted on June 27, 2013 in Marrakesh, Morocco, and it forms part of the body of international copyright treaties administered by World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). It has a clear humanitarian and social development dimension and its main goal is to create a set of mandatory limitations and exceptions for the benefit of the blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print disabled (VIPs).
The treaty clarifies that beneficiary persons are those affected by a range of disabilities that interfere with effective reading of printed material. The broad definition includes persons who are blind, visually impaired, print disabled or persons with a physical disability that prevents them from holding and manipulating a book.
The said treaty will enter into force, with respect to Uganda on July 23.
The Marrakesh Treaty requires contracting parties to introduce a standard set of limitations and exceptions to copyright rules in order to permit reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in formats designed to be accessible to the visually impaired, and to permit exchange of these works across borders by organisations that serve those beneficiaries.
Once a country joins the Marrakesh Treaty, the focus turns to implementing it on the ground. Capacity building and technical assistance activities help develop the infrastructure necessary to create, manage and distribute accessible texts. As a leader of the accessible books consortium (ABC), WIPO assists countries with maximising the benefits of the treaty. 319,000 titles in accessible formats are available through the ABC book service for readers who are blind or have low vision.
The National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (Nudipu) has welcomed Uganda’s decision.
“We are hopeful that there will be increased access to published work and other reading materials for persons with visual impairment without any encumbrances including reproduction of published works into accessible formats.
Nudipu’s membership can share published works in accessible formats across borders,” Nudipu’s head of programmes and programme manager disability and human rights, Esther Kyozira told Daily Monitor.
“It is good news to hear that Uganda has ratified the Marrakesh Treaty. This treaty is going to give us the chance to translate reading materials with or without the permission from the authors,” Francis Kinubi, the headmaster of Salama School of the Blind in Ntanzi, Mukono District, told Daily Monitor.
Nudipu is an indigenous umbrella non-government organisation of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), formed in November 1987. It brings together all categories of disabilities including the physically, sensory and mentally impaired people in Uganda.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 253 million people live with visual impairment: 36m are blind and 217m have moderate to severe vision impairment. Eighty-one per cent of people who are blind or have moderate or severe visual impairment are aged 50 years and above.
According to the Uganda National Population and Housing Census 2014, PWDs are 12.4 per cent and the visually impaired are more than 2.1m.
The challenge is that many people living with visual impairments around the world struggle to gain an education and employment.
So far, only a small proportion of published texts are originally made available in accessible formats - such as braille - tailored for use by people with visual impairments.
According to the World Blind Union, only less than 10 per cent of all published materials are accessible to blind or low vision people.
“Books for the blind at all levels of education are not available in Uganda, especially for major subjects. For example, prescribed reading materials for Literature in English are not translated to braille. So, for a student to pass they have to copy these books into braille manually. That is tedious and tiresome. This is the same problem in all other subjects leading to poor performance,” Kinubi says.
“The Justice ministry and the responsible government departments should sensitise PWDs, authors and the public on the provisions of the treaty and the need to remove any restrictions on any published work,” he added.