by Kim Charlson
On June 28, 2018, as ACB members were arriving in St. Louis for the 57th annual national convention of the American Council of the Blind, ACB received the news that the United States Senate passed, through unanimous consent, the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (S. 2559). This action ratifies, through the Advice and Unanimous Consent calendar of the Senate, this landmark treaty agreed upon by the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2013.
As ACB gathered in St. Louis, almost five years to the day after Marrakesh was introduced to the world, we continue to be excited by the new frontier that lies ahead for the tens of millions of people who are blind worldwide who have challenges gaining access to accessible written material. Passage of the Marrakesh Treaty by the Senate sets the stage for the United States to play a major role in ending the global shortage of accessible books for people who are blind or have other print-reading disabilities.
ACB has been actively involved with advocating for the treaty’s principles and was represented in Marrakesh on June 27, 2013 when the final document was passed by WIPO. Commonly referred to as the Marrakesh Treaty, it facilitates access to materials in a specialized format to eligible individuals. The final step necessary for the U.S. to begin participating in the sharing of accessible books is passage of S. 2559 by the U.S. House of Representatives, which will fine-tune the necessary copyright provisions to allow for the exchange of such materials.
Having received unanimous consent in the Senate, we believe that the House of Representatives has no reason to hold up passage of the minor amendments to U.S. copyright law. At the time of writing of this message, ACB is hopeful that the House will pass this legislation before they adjourn. ACB stands committed to working with the other nations that have already ratified the treaty, assuring that accessible materials can begin to be made available for both American citizens and other individuals who are blind seeking published works from the United States.
Over the years that I have worked in accessible libraries, now as the executive director of the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library in Massachusetts, I have had countless opportunities to introduce people to the wonders of audio, braille, large print, and electronic materials. The thrill of finding an accessible format version of an important book for a student’s class, an article needed by someone to prepare a report for work, or a grandfather wanting a title written by his granddaughter, each and every one of these experiences have been priceless to me. The true joy for me is knowing how that feeling of satisfaction will grow several hundredfold as Marrakesh moves forward into its implementation, bringing with it greater access to more accessible materials than ever before. I can’t wait for the new challenges that Marrakesh will give me to serve library borrowers with the vast array of accessible resources from throughout the world!