European publishers and disability organisations have signed an agreement that could help convert more books into accessible formats.
The agreement aims to help ease the “book famine” faced by those who are “print-disabled” – blind, partially-sighted and dyslexic people – in which only about five per cent of books are ever converted into accessible formats such as large print, audio or Braille.
The “memorandum of understanding” was signed this week by the Federation of European Publishers, the European Blind Union (EBU) and the European Dyslexia Association, who were brought together by the European Commission (EC).
Although it will not be legally binding, the document describes the circumstances in which publishers will allow disability organisations to share their stocks of accessible books across the EU.
Most of the few books that are currently made accessible are produced by RNIB in the UK and other charities such as ONCE in Spain.
Lord [Colin] Low, president of the EBU, said the signing of the memorandum of understanding was the start of an “important project”, and added: “We need and welcome publisher help to tackle the ‘book famine’.”
Dan Pescod, international campaigns manager for RNIB, said the ideal solution would be for publishers to publish more books in accessible formats, but that “isn’t likely to happen in the near future”.
Although the agreement sets a helpful precedent, he said it was unlikely to have a huge impact on print-disabled people in Britain as there were no other EU countries mass-producing English-language books.
He also said it would be important to monitor the impact of the agreement, but stressed there was also a need for a “proper legal framework” through the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a UN agency.
RNIB, EBU and other campaigning groups want a worldwide WIPO treaty on sharing accessible books.
Michel Barnier, the EC’s commissioner for the internal market and services, presided over the signing in Brussels.
The commission described the signing of the memorandum as an “important and concrete step” in increasing the number of accessible books, and said “noticeable increases in cross-border distribution” should be possible within a year.
Barnier said: “Today’s agreement shows what Europe truly stands for: an internal market that not only promotes culture but also caters for the needs of people with special needs or disabilities.”
14 September 2010