Accessibility for the disabled

Ending the “book famine” for people with print disabilities

The Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) aims to increase the number of books in accessible formats worldwide

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It was Plato who said "knowledge is food for the soul," which is poignant when you consider that there are 285 million people worldwide who are visually impaired and have trouble accessing books, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

So it made perfect sense when the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) gathered stakeholders together, including publishers, to find a way to expand access for people with print disabilities. The result is set to transform the lives of people who are visually impaired and pave the way for new services to address a very specific and real humanitarian need.  

Laying the legal foundation

The first step was to lay the legal foundation for boosting access to accessible works. In 2013, WIPO oversaw the establishment of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. The treaty outlined how members could implement national law provisions that would facilitate reproduction and distribution of published works in accessible formats, such as Braille. It also enabled these accessible formats to be shared across borders by organizations that serve people who are blind, visually impaired and print disabled.

Three routes to expanding accessibility

One of the major objectives of the Marrakesh Treaty was to increase the availability of books in accessible formats and get these into the hands of the visually impaired. With the launch of the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) in June, we are starting to see the second step: implementation of practical services and solutions.

Accessible Books Consortium 

ABC is an umbrella organization that bring together the World Blind Union, DAISY Consortium, International Authors' Forum, International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations, and the International Publishers Association. The aim of ABC is to address the issue of accessibility in three highly practical ways: capacity building, inclusive publishing, and building an international service to facilitate cross-border exchange, called TIGAR (Trusted Intermediary Global Accessible Resources).

  • Capacity building. According to the WHO report Global Data on Visual Impairment, 90 percent of visually impaired people live in developing countries. So an important objective is to ensure that technical skills are shared and developed to help build capacity for everyone to create, produce and distribute accessible format versions of books. Capacity building activities of ABC include things like training and education as well as showing organizations how to use the TIGAR service to obtain books in accessible formats that are available internationally. 
  • Inclusive publishing. Inclusive publishing is another key objective of ABC, which aims to enable more publishers to deliver "born accessible" books that are fully usable by all readers, including people with print disabilities. There are many strands to the inclusive publishing activity, and here at Elsevier, we have been involved in many of these. We supported the creation of the Accessible Publishing Best Practice Guidelines and are a signatory to the Charter for Accessible Publishing, giving our commitment to improving our processes and increasing access for the visually impaired.
  • Facilitating cross-border exchange. ABC also hosts the TIGAR book exchange, a database of over 238,000 accessible format books in 55 languages from libraries from around the world. Participation in TIGAR is free; there is no membership fee or financial contribution required from a participating institution or end-user. TIGAR is designed for use by institutions which serve the needs of people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. It enables secure and transparent file exchange among these institutions. Elsevier has given TIGAR permission to use any book we publish.

"Through collaboration … we can end the global book famine"

"The lack of books in accessible formats has been a true barrier for education and employment opportunities for the blind and visually impaired in developing and least developed countries," said Dipendra Manocha, President of the DAISY Forum of India. "ABC offers a golden promise that through collaboration among key stakeholders, we can end the global book famine."

International Publishers Association President and Chairman of Elsevier Youngsuk "YS" Chi said: "The Accessible Books Consortium embodies the spirit and the collaboration that is needed to achieve equal access to all readers regardless of their abilities. Successes such as these are indicative of where WIPO's strengths lie. Publishers and the IPA look forward to continuing our accessibility work with WIPO, the ABC and the World Blind Union."

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Video: the Accessible Books Consortium

What is WIPO?

Established in 1967, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a UN agency that provides a global forum for intellectual property services, policy, information and cooperation.

WIPO assists its 187 member states in developing a balanced international IP legal framework to meet society's evolving needs. It provides business services for obtaining IP rights in multiple countries and resolving disputes. It delivers capacity-building programs to help developing countries benefit from using IP, and it provides free access to unique knowledge banks of IP information

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Elsevier Connect Contributor

Alicia Wise, PhDDr. Alicia Wise (@wisealic) is responsible for delivering Elsevier's vision for universal access to high-quality scientific publications. She leads strategy and policy in areas such as open access, philanthropic access programs, content accessibility, and access technologies. Based in Oxford, she has a PhD in anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Rachel MartinRachel Martin (@rachelcmartin) is the Universal Access Communications Manager at Elsevier, based in Amsterdam. She is responsible for helping to communicate Elsevier's progress in areas such as open access, philanthropic access programs and access technologies.

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