The plight of visually impaired persons


And their right to books


The treaty’s single objective to increase access to books, magazines and other printed materials for people with print disabilities


According to the World Blind Union’s June 2013 press release, each year only between 1-7pc books, out of the millions published worldwide, is made available to the 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world. Over 90 percent of these live in low-income settings in developing countries. In Pakistan an estimated 0.9pc people are visually impaired and blind who do not have access to proper facilities in order to be educated like any other citizen of the country. Without books, journals and magazines these people are cut off from life. They cannot gain an education or participate fully in society. They cannot realise their full potential. With the global book famine, this problem persists as one with negative implications on the country’s economy, its cultural growth and innovation. That is thus not just a loss to them but is also a serious loss to the societies they live in.

In 2013, World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Morocco opened a debate to facilitate access to published work for visually impaired persons (VIPs) and persons with print disabilities through Marrakesh Treaty. The treaty seeks to alleviate the book famine which excludes million of visually impaired persons from access to the bulk of the world’s published works. It also provides for the exchange of these accessible format works across borders by organisations that serve the blind, visually impaired or print disabled.

The treaty’s single objective to increase access to books, magazines and other printed materials for people with print disabilities and it aims to achieve this by giving incentives to member states by making it easier for organisations to share work in accessible formats with their foreign counterparts and eliminating duplication, improving efficiently and reducing costs of production in the process. Instead of multiple countries producing accessible copies of the same work, each country will be able to produce different works in accessible formats which can then be shared with other countries. This treaty also addresses the book famine for VIPs by requiring contracting parties to adopt national law provisions that permit the reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in accessible formats through limitations and exceptions to the right of copyrights right holders. It allows the waiver of copyright restrictions in order for books to be available in formats such as Braille, large print test and audio books.

Upon adopting the Marrakesh Treaty, Pakistan, as per Article-4, shall be required to create one or more limitations or exceptions to copyright law. These limitations and exceptions shall mean that a range of acts may be permitted without infringing copyright. These permitted acts shall serve the interests of people called beneficiaries in the Treaty. Beneficiaries, according to Article-3, include anyone who is print disabled – including anyone who has difficulty reading printed material because they are blind or visually impaired, or because of another physical disability that doesn’t allow them to read. Under such limitations or exceptions, any work can be copied to convert it into an accessible format. Like the term “beneficiary”, the terms “work” and “accessible format” are defined quite broadly in the Treaty.

Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO) along with the ministries of law and foreign affairs should jointly make necessary arrangements for the signing and ratification of this treaty

The treaty re-emphasises the principles stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). It reiterates the principles of non-discrimination, equal opportunity, accessibility and effective participation in the society.

Pakistan is a member of Berne Conventions, the first international copyright treaty on the protection of literary and artistic works which recognises the need to balance the rights of authors of creative works and special provisions (known as limitation and exceptions) that are in the public interest. The Bern Convention and subsequent copyright treaties include these special provisions that allow for some uses of copyrighted material without authorisation from the right holder. Pakistan under its IPRs regime has certain provisions of laws in Copyright Ordinance 1962 to adopt these special provisions of the Marrakesh Treaty. Pakistan, with mild amendments in its Copyright Ordinance while defining “adaption” of works in Section 2, makes any mention of the visually impaired, and few others in sections 14, 54 and 57 will enable us to adopt this treaty and will make huge difference to the lives of millions of blind and print disabled persons.

Currently, no legislation exists which safeguards the right of persons with disabilities or provides them access to resources which can motivate them to be involved in the society and can enhance their freedom to seek, receive and impart information. If Pakistan signs this treaty, it would be another important step after UNCRPD to not only enhance the rights of a group of persons with disabilities but also to provide them access to published work worldwide including audio books as well as text, notation and related illustration while an accessible format including digital that enables a beneficiary to read or access the content as feasibly and comfortably as someone who is not print disabled. Accessible format copies, defined in Article-2(b), may only be used by beneficiaries under the Treaty in their own country from around the world without any limitations.

This treaty focuses and accessing information by the visually impaired or blind persons for the purpose s of education or research. Visually impaired and blind persons in Pakistan shall nonetheless benefit from having access to such formatted copies and this shall in return help in the development of the country.

Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO) along with the ministries of law and foreign affairs should jointly make necessary arrangements for the signing and ratification of this treaty. Right now, the ministry of education has to take some administrative and financial initiatives to understand the modalities of these accessible formats. This treaty will definitely open a world of possibilities for our educational organisations like the National Institute of Special Education to make books accessible and share them with other institutes and public libraries in the county. Even in a country like Pakistan, where the print disabled community has hardly access of this facility by virtue of this treaty, visually impaired people will be able to receive many more accessible format titles at the click of a button.

As experience goes, Pakistan has ratified many international conventions on human rights and child rights in the past. Not ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty puts Pakistan in grave violation of human rights conventions and constitutional principles which demand equality of citizens and full access to education. By implementing the Marrakesh Treaty, Pakistan can improve the education and life-chances of many of its citizens, implement the principles of international human rights law and stimulate economic development and social progress.





  1. Very informative written but I want to share my views.There are bundle of treaties and laws regarding education, restrictions of child labour, disabled persons etc etc on local, regional,national and international levels as well but no implementation at all. Although Pakistan sign this treaty then what will happen? The answer is crystal clear that there is again problem of implementation.In the society in which the intellectuals of society ; an MBBS Doctor and a District and Session Judge taking the labour from10 to 13 years old children in spite of knowing the facts medically and legally,then is there need to educate more these intellectuals or the need to change the mind set?

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