SDG Spotlight: Improving Life Chances Through Accessibility

September 20, 2019

In September, world leaders will gather at United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York to signal how they will boost action to respond to the climate emergency and ensure the health and well-being of people, everywhere.

WIPO’s Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through helping increase the number of books worldwide in accessible formats and making them available to people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled.

WIPO stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the entire UN family, actively working to help unlock the innovation, creativity and competitiveness that are key to achieving the 17 UN SDGs. ABC brings together all of the key players to work on improving the lives of the 253 million visually impaired people (WHO, 2017) worldwide.

Screen capture from YouTube Video on ABCs project in Argentina
Video on YouTube: ABC’s ongoing project in Argentina has funded the production of 4,200 accessible educational books in Spanish for students who are print disabled in primary and secondary schools. Funding for the project with Tiflonexos in Argentina has been provided by both WIPO and the Republic of Korea.

To date, ABC has helped organizations in 17 developing and least developed countries to produce and deliver accessible books through training and technical assistance in accessible book production, as well as funding for the production of over 9300 educational materials in national languages for primary, secondary and university students who are print disabled. In a world in which, according to World Blind Union (WBU) estimates, less than 10% of all published materials can be read by blind or low vision people, the work of ABC is changing lives.

A path to higher education

Photo of Nguyen Manh Hung

Nguyen Manh Hung is a blind student who benefitted from ABC activities and one of the first blind people in Viet Nam to obtain a master’s degree.

Through ABC training and technical assistance provided to the Sao Mai Vocational and Assistive Technology Center for the Blind (Sao Mai) – a not-for-profit organization in Viet Nam that works with print-disabled persons – Sao Mai was able to produce accessible books with funding provided by the Government of Australia. In this manner, Nguyen was able to obtain the university-level educational books he needed in accessible formats.

He is a particular supporter of e-books, having quickly realized after starting university that they are a great way to help tackle the shortage of learning materials.

Photo of Nguyen Manh Hung
(Photo: Sao Mai Center)

After doing two theses, one for my first degree at university and one for my master’s degree, I completely understand the values and benefits of e-books. If I, as a blind person, could not use those electronic resources, it would be impossible to for me to work on academic research papers.

Nguyen Manh Hung, Master of Psychology, Vietnam

Dam Le Kim is a student at Vien Hong High School in Vietnam. She also benefited from ABC help through Sao Mai. She is in the 9th grade and was concerned that no books would be available for next year. Fortunately, she was relieved when teachers from Sao Mai introduced her to the newest textbooks produced through the ABC project. She now uses her computer and smartphone to read these accessible books.

Dam le Kim would like to graduate from grade 12 and continue with her higher education.

Photo of Dam Le Kim
(Photo: Sao Mai Vocational and Assistive Technology Center for the Blind)

I was so glad because I had been worried that next September, I wouldn’t have the textbooks of newer version for grade 10. I am really grateful to Sao Mai and WIPO for producing these accessible textbooks. They help me read faster – as fast as my sighted friends in class!

Dam Le Kim, high school student, Vietnam

A helping hand to finish high school

Image of SDG icons 4, 9, 17

Christy is one of the beneficiaries of ABC activities in Indonesia, also supported by funding provided by the Government of Australia. In April 2019, Christy was scheduled to take her junior high final exam and thanks to the reading device provided by ABC she was able to obtain the textbooks needed to better prepare for the exam.

Photo of Christy, a high school student from Indonesia
(Photo: Mitra Netra Foundation)

I can now read books on my own, and I don’t depend on someone else like I did before. I am very happy.

Christy, high school student, Indonesia

She was also able to become more independent, by learning new computer skills through the Mitra Netra Foundation, ABC’s partner in Indonesia, which in turn helped her access additional reading material.

Christy wants to continue reading books during secondary school and is passionate about music and learning piano. She is also eager to learn new languages, such as Mandarin and Japanese. Her dream is to become a classical music composer who speaks several languages.

ABC Global Book Service

Image of SDG icons 4, 9, 17

ABC, in addition to providing training and technical assistance in the latest accessible book production techniques, also manages the ABC Global Book Service, which is an on-line catalogue that allows participating libraries for the blind and organizations serving people who are print disabled, known as authorized entities, to obtain easily the accessible content they need.

Approximately 540,000 titles in 76 languages in a range of accessible formats.

Over 7,000 music scores (partitions) in braille.

A secure, automated mechanism to transfer accessible digital books across borders.

By using the ABC Global Book Service, authorized entities can:

  • add accessible digital books to their collections free of cost;
  • provide a wider range of accessible digital books in different languages to patrons;
  • go to one source for the international exchange of titles from countries that have ratified and implemented the provisions of the Marrakesh VIP Treaty, as well as those that have not; 
  • review only one exchange contract – no need to have separate agreements with other authorized entities.

Find out more

1 week – 5 summits – 17 goals: About the UN High-Level Week

Four years after breakthrough international agreements on climate change and sustainable development, the stakes are high:

  • we are not yet on track to end poverty by 2030 and world hunger is on the rise, with some 821 million people experiencing undernutrition in 2017;
  • green-house gases continue to climb. Every bit of warming matters and every day we delay action will make it more difficult to limit global warming to 1.5°C and avert the worst impacts of climate change;
  • the world’s most vulnerable are bearing the brunt of conflict, inequality, injustice and environmental degradation – 70 million people fled war, persecution and conflict in 2018; at least half the world’s population do not have access to essential health services; 18% of ever-partnered women and girls aged 15 to 49 years have experienced physical and/or sexual partner violence in the past year, and some 29.3% of the population of small island states live at less than five meters above rising sea-levels.

Action is being taken to address these challenges. Investment in inclusive and sustainable economies can unleash significant opportunities for shared prosperity. And the political, technological and financial solutions are within our reach. But much greater leadership and rapid, unprecedented changes are needed to align these levers of change with sustainable development objectives.

Bringing together leaders from governments, private sector, civil society and international organizations — these meetings can help generate the ambition and the impetus needed to protect the planet and put the world on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including through effective multilateral cooperation.