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Abigail Rekas

  Accessible Publishing


‘Every Book Born Digital, Should be Born Accessible’

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Abigail Rekas, who’s attending the WIPO Diplomatic Conference at Marrakesh this June 2013, makes a compelling case for all published and digital content to be made accessible for persons with disabilities.

This copyright treaty sets a precedent as it aims to be the first treaty – ever – on exceptions and limitations to benefit a user group. You may ask why, for the first time, is there a political will to create a treaty that does not strengthen and extend the protection provided to the content industries? The answer is simple: This treaty is an important step in the fight to end the Book Famine experienced by persons with disabilities that renders standard print format material inaccessible. These disabilities include, but are not limited to, blindness, low vision, dyslexia, and physical inability to use or handle a book (for the purposes of this blog post, I will refer to all of these disabilities collectively as "print disabilities").

This copyright treaty sets a precedent as it aims to be the first treaty – ever – on exceptions and limitations to benefit a user group

Image: An open book lying against the backdrop of Braille print with a house in the background. Pic courtesy WIPO website.

The Book Famine, a term coined by George Kersher of the DAISY Consortium refers to the fact that in the developed world, every year, a maximum of 7% of books published are adapted to a format accessible to a person with print disabilities. Let me say that again, 7%. In the United States, in Europe, in the developed world, persons with print disabilities are lucky to have access to 7% of the books published in their native countries. This was 5% a a few years ago. 


In the developing world, that percentage is much closer to 1%. This is particularly troubling when you consider that according to the World Blind Union, 80% of the world’s blind and visually impaired live in the developing world. This means that millions of people live without appreciable access to the written word. This is not due to lack of technological ability.

Right now, most accessible publishing is accomplished by non-profit entities that create digital accessible format books. Some examples of accessible publishing are large format, high contrast, text-to-speech, audio, refreshable braille output, or any combination of these. The DAISY consortium, partnered with the International Digital Publishers Forum, has issued a digital publishing standard that includes these types of tools, called EPUB 3. This standard has not yet come into wide usage, but it represents an opportunity for widespread accessible digital publishing. Betsy Beaumon of Benetech has repeatedly stated that every book born digital should be born accessible. This is the goal. Unfortunately, we are not yet there. 

In the next post: Copyright Law & Exceptions: Why the Treaty Matters.


Related Resources

News: How GPS Technology Helps Blind Golfers to See | More New Like This.

Event: University of Washington Symposium on Disability, Technology and Rehabilitation in Low and Middle Income Countries | Seattle, USA, June 27-28, 2013 | Event Details.

Blog: Accessing the Digital Media Playground: How Accessible are Social Media Platforms? Read Article by Robert Pearson.  

Publication: Putting e-Accessibility at the Core of Information Systems | Download Free PDF.