In Memoriam – Scott LaBarre – International Advocate for People who are Blind and ABC Board Member

December 14, 2022

The partners of the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) learnt about the recent passing of Scott LaBarre with great sadness. Mr. LaBarre was the World Blind Union representative sitting on the Advisory Board of the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) since its launch in June 2014. 

Mr. LaBarre played a key role in negotiations that led to the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled in Morocco in 2013. He also spoke at the inaugural Marrakesh Assembly at the Geneva headquarters of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) when the Marrakesh Treaty came into force in October 2016. 

Video of Scott LaBarre’s speech at the Inaugural Marrakesh Assembly

The Marrakesh Treaty requires that countries that join the Treaty implement provisions in national copyright law that permit the production of books in accessible formats, such as braille, audio and e-text without the need to request permission from the copyright owner, as well as allowing for the cross-border exchange of such accessible format copies. Beneficiaries of the Treaty are persons who are blind, have low vision, are dyslexic or have mobility impairments that impact their ability to read the printed word.

(Photo: WIPO)

We are saddened to hear about the untimely passing of Scott LaBarre who was a staunch advocate for the rights of persons who are blind and visually impaired around the world. He was a key player in the process that led to the landmark Marrakesh Treaty. Our sincere condolences to his family and the entire community that he so ably and proudly represented.

Daren Tang, WIPO Director General

Mr. LaBarre’s contribution to the ABC as Vice-Chair of the Advisory Board were rich, varied and often breakthrough. He supported the idea of making the ABC Global Book Service catalogue of 800,000 accessible titles in over 80 languages discoverable to everyone through possible collaborations with public search engines and large aggregators of accessible content.  He emphasized that large global search engines would provide access to information and benefit persons with print disabilities. This would allow anyone searching for information about the availability of accessible titles to do so. While only those persons who are print disabled as defined in the Marrakesh Treaty would be entitled to obtain an accessible format copy of a book through the ABC Global Book Service, Mr. LaBarre supported the objective of making the ABC catalogue open to all for searching purposes. 

Mr. LaBarre also advocated for publishers to ensure accessibility of their e-books and other digital publications released on the commercial market. He argued that the estimated 253 million people who are blind and visually impaired around the world would appreciate the opportunity to purchase accessible books at the same time and price as any other reader.

During an event held in July 2022 at the WIPO Assemblies of Member States, Mr. LaBarre lauded multi-stakeholder support for the Marrakesh Treaty, noting that countries that have seen the greatest benefits from the Marrakesh Treaty have engaged a broad alliance of stakeholders from government, civil society, libraries, publishers, and the private sector, as well as international initiatives, such as WIPO’s Accessible Books Consortium. He stated that it is not sufficient for countries to ratify the Treaty, it is only if contracting parties transpose its provisions into domestic legislation that people who are print disabled will be able to benefit from the humanitarian objectives of the treaty.

Video of the Event on the Marrakesh Treaty and the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) moderated by Scott LaBarre during the WIPO Assemblies of Member States 

Mr. LaBarre lost his sight at a young age due to a childhood virus.  He was a practising lawyer in the United States and a key champion for the rights of people with print disabilities in both the U.S. and around the world, having held many important positions in blindness organizations at the state, national and international level, as well as having sat on the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association. Scott’s intelligence, advocacy skills, keen sense of humor and kindness will be sorely missed.