World Book Day: ABC Award Winners on the Importance of Accessible Books

April 22, 2016

World Book and Copyright Day is on April 23, 2016 and will be celebrated by millions of book lovers around the world. Many of these book lovers are fully-sighted; able to pick up a bestseller in a bookstore and enjoy it on the train home or to read educational material online and use it for their studies. However many will not be able to enjoy this simple pleasure due to being print disabled.

Millions of today’s book lovers are print disabled and therefore unable to do the things that so many of us take for granted: unable to read bestsellers because there is no braille version or to access educational material because there is no audio option. For many people, World Book Day is not World Book Day at all.

Ending the book famine

But this is changing. The Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) is working towards ending the book famine of accessible published materials.

The ABC International Award for Accessible Publishing is just one example of how issues of accessibility of printed material are gaining a higher profile. This year’s award winners are:

  • Elsevier
  • The Action on Disability Rights and Development (ADRAD), a Nepalese NGO
  • The DK Braille Concept Development team (part of Penguin Random House)

All three organizations were recognized for providing outstanding leadership and achievements in advancing the accessibility of commercial e-books or other digital publications for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled.

What does accessibility mean to you?

To mark World Book and Copyright Day, this year’s winners agreed to share with us a few of their thoughts on what accessibility means to them:

The reason I am passionate about accessibility is because of my little brother who has dyslexia; he is one of hundreds of millions of people living today with dyslexia or blindness, which makes it difficult or impossible to read text. I recently published an article about him.

Alicia Wise, Director of Access and Policy at Elsevier
Michele Woods (center), Director of WIPO's Copyright Law Division, with Dr. Alicia Wise (left) and Dr. Marcia Balisciano (right) of Elsevier (Photo: London Book Fair)

It was about creating a shared learning experience, reducing the feeling of isolation that blind children may feel; and also about giving all children the same access to visual publishing that DK is known for.

Fleur Star, Senior Editor at DK

When I think of ‘accessibility’, the words inclusion, equality and easy-access spring to mind. During our initial project research, we struggled to find tactile books for the visually impaired in the mainstream market. We started brainstorming ways of how we could change this because we felt that it was wrong that visually impaired readers were under-represented.

Jemma Westing, Project Art Editor at DK
Michele Woods, Director of WIPO's Copyright Law Division (center), with Fleur Star (left) and Jemma Westing (right) of the DK Braille Concept Development Team (Photo: London Book Fair)

The road to ratification

The Marrakesh Treaty, passed in 2013, proposes to address the book famine by requiring 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 visually impaired persons. It also facilitates the exchange of these works across borders by organizations that serve the target beneficiaries.

Twenty countries must ratify the Treaty for it to come into force. To date sixteen countries have done so and the hope is that by the end of 2016 the important milestone of twenty will be reached.

If the Marrakesh Treaty provides the legal framework to address the book famine, it will be people such as Birendra Raj Pokharel, Chairperson of ADRAD, who will make accessible books a reality in Nepal. Mr. Pokharel, who is blind, advocates about the absolute importance of accessibility for all, particularly in light of the devastating earthquake that occurred in April 2015.

In Nepal, many schools collapsed and Braille books were buried in the mud due to this natural disaster. ADRAD assumed even more responsibility to make books available for students with print disabilities in the districts affected by the earthquake. While there is a big demand for audio books, training is also required on the reading devices since the playback methodology has not been well understood by our print-disabled users. Accessibility modifications are essential to enable persons with disabilities to gain access to education, employment and to exercise their human rights.

Birendra Raj Pokharel, Chairperson of ADRAD
Michele Woods, Director of WIPO's Copyright Law Division (left), with Birendra Raj Pokharel of ADRAD (Photo: London Book Fair)

About the Accessible Books Consortium

The Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) is a multi-stakeholder alliance led by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). ABC includes organizations that represent people with print disabilities; libraries for people with print disabilities and organizations representing publishers and authors. ABC aims to increase the number of books worldwide in accessible formats – such as braille, audio and large print – and to make them available to people who are print disabled.

ABC carries out activities in three areas to fulfill its mandate, namely:

  • Inclusive Publishing – activities to promote accessible book production techniques within the commercial publishing industry so that e-books are usable by both sighted people and those with print disabilities. Accessible eBook Guidelines for Self-Publishing Authors were recently launched and six national publishing associations have endorsed the ABC Charter for Accessible Publishing. The first ABC accessibility excellence awards were presented at the London Book Fair in April 2015 to Cambridge University Press and the Young Power in Social Action of Bangladesh.
  • Capacity Building – training in developing countries for local NGOs, government departments, and commercial publishers who want to produce and distribute their books in accessible formats.
  • ABC Book Service  (i.e., TIGAR) – a global library catalogue of books in accessible formats that enables libraries serving the print disabled to share items in their collections, rather than duplicating the costs of converting them to accessible formats. Over 58,000 people with print disabilities have borrowed accessible books through the 15 participating libraries in the ABC Book Service.

For further information, please visit the ABC website or send us an e-mail.