For further information, contact:

Mark Richert, Esq.
Director, Public Policy, AFB
(202) 469-6833

As advocates should know, an effort has been underway to improve worldwide access to books for people with vision loss or other print disabilities. For several years, negotiations have been moving forward on what many have come to call the "Treaty for the Blind."

The goal of the international treaty is to make it possible for people who are blind, or have other print disabilities such as dyslexia, to get access to the books they need for education, employment and inclusion in society—no matter where they live. In June, 2013, delegates from around the world will meet in Morocco, under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), to try to finalize the treaty.

Organizations such as Learning Ally and Bookshare already provide books in a variety of accessible formats to people with vision loss or other print disabilities in the United States. Producing books in accessible formats without first needing to obtain permission from the copyright holder is permissible in the US because we have a law that allows it. Organizations representing people who are blind have been working to secure an international agreement to allow books in accessible formats to be shared internationally to people with print disabilities regardless of the country in which they live.

Unfortunately, this reasonable international policy approach is being opposed by some prominent groups representing both copyright owners’ interests and non-disabilities advocates. These two very vocal lobbies unfortunately seem to want to shoehorn their competing, and in some cases fairly controversial, agendas for altering the current scope and direction of international copyright law into what should be a relatively simple international agreement. In response, a coalition of disability groups is fighting to save the treaty and ensure that the US government is supporting it throughout these negotiations.

As a leading member of the World Blind Union (WBU), the primary international disability advocacy voice calling for the treaty’s establishment, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) has also been an active proponent of the treaty.

We believe that conclusion of work on a binding international agreement that breaks down needless barriers to the right of people with print disabilities worldwide to read is long overdue. AFB is calling on all parties to renew their commitment to the core purpose of such a binding international agreement: to simply facilitate the sharing of accessible materials across borders, not to fundamentally transform the structure and operation of international copyright law.

How You Can Help

There are three petitions that you can sign to show your support for access for people with vision loss. One petition is on the White House website:

It notes that less than 1% of printed works globally are accessible to the blind. This is because laws around the world bar printed material from being turned into formats useable by the blind and visually impaired, or for such material to be shared across borders. If the petition gets 100,000 signatures, the White House is required to respond to the petition and will, hopefully, take positive action. Note that you will need to establish an account to sign this petition, and we understand that, ironically and disappointingly, there may be serious problems with the accessibility of the account sign-up procedure for people who are blind or visually impaired.

The American Council of the Blind (ACB) has a petition available through its website:

Another petition is available through the website of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB):

A recent article in the Washington Post documents NFB's treaty-related agreement with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), one of the groups that has been opposing the treaty:

If you are interested in more background on the treaty, here are some articles and resources you can review:

Huffington Post piece by BookShare's Jim Fruchterman on how the treaty is being poisoned by private interests:

WIRED Magazine article that gives some recent updates on the treaty:

Please take action now!