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Libraries Open World of Knowledge for People with Visual Disabilities

On April 23, 2018, World Book and Copyright Day, Gulnaz Juzbaeva made history by borrowing a book.

“One of the main obstacles I’ve encountered in school and university is the inaccessibility of study materials,” said Juzbaeva, an MBA student at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, who was born with low vision and later became blind. “As blind people, we especially miss out on reading newly published books, like our sighted peers.”

For the 258 million people worldwide with visual disabilities, there is what’s come to be known as a “book famine.” Fewer than 7 percent of books are published in a format they can read, such as Braille, large print, or audio, according to statistics from the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Seminar participants seated at a table
Participants at national seminar on Marrakesh Treaty, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, image CC-BY by EIFL

ARL member libraries can help alleviate the book famine thanks to the implementation in the US and Canada of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. As authorized entities under the treaty, libraries can facilitate the international transfer of books that have been converted to accessible formats.

The University of Toronto (U of T) Scarborough Library made the first international transfer of accessible-format books under the Marrakesh Treaty to Juzbaeva and to Dastan Bekeshev, a lawyer and member of parliament in Kyrgyzstan who lost his sight at six years of age. In response to requests by Juzbaeva and Bekeshev, U of T librarians found the books in their catalog and arranged for them to be converted into an accessible digital format.

“I am honoured to be the first recipient of an accessible book under Marrakesh Treaty rules on cross-border exchange,” said Bekeshev. “I truly believe that the lives of blind people in Kyrgyzstan will change when a new world of reading is opened up for work, study and leisure.”

To learn more about the Marrakesh Treaty and the role libraries can play in opening up knowledge for people with print disabilities, read this ARL news story about President Trump’s signing of the treaty and the University of Toronto press release, “Marrakesh in Action: History Is Made in Kyrgyzstan.”

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