Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reading as a Fundamental Right

It's no secret that here at Pratham Books we're big fans of allowing the re-use of our content to reach as many children as we can. To this end, we've tried a number of experiments but one that is particularly close to our heart is creating accessible versions of our content for those who are visually impaired - you can find some of our books on Bookshare here and here.


I've been helping with a campaign and an organization that is pushing the barriers of access to information for the visually disabled and wanted to talk about them here.


The campaign is called the Right to Read Campaign and seeks to build support for a change in Indian's copyright laws to allow for conversion of content to formats that are easy for those who are visually impaired to access.
Millions of Indians are unable to read printed material due to disabilities. There are technologies available which can help them read print if the material is converted into an alternate format such as large print, audio, Braille or any electronic format. While the Indian constitution guarantees the “right to read” as a fundamental right, the copyright regime does not permit the conversion of books into accessible formats for the benefit of persons with print impairment, as a result of which a “book famine” is created. International conventions that India is a party to specifically require India to amend its copyright laws for the benefit of persons with disabilities and to make available information and material to persons with disabilities on an equal basis as others. Publishers also do not make books available in accessible formats as a result of which less than 0.5% of books are available in accessible formats in India. As a result persons with print impairments get excluded from the education system and it impacts their career choices.
A report from their Chennai Roadshow is here.



The second is a platform called BookBolé which describes itself as:
BookBolé is a platform that enables visually impaired readers from across the world to connect and share accessible content. Lack of accessible materials and content is a major problem amongst the visually impaired and BookBolé is a community-driven solution to resolve that precise problem. By using BookBolé, users can create geographically, culturally and topically relevant communities around accessible content and overcome the barriers they face.
They go on to state that:
BookBolé is a platform that enables visually impaired readers from across the world to connect and share accessible content. Lack of accessible materials and content is a major problem amongst the visually impaired and BookBolé is a community-driven solution to resolve that precise problem. By using BookBolé, users can create geographically, culturally and topically relevant communities around accessible content and overcome the barriers they face.

Imagine Dan in Canada sharing computer programming notes and articles in accessible formats with Kumar and twelve other eager learners in India; or Rob in the UK sharing the poems of Byron in accessible formats with young romantics in China. Imagine a very successful visually impaired person from Turkey sharing his mantra for success with everyone on BookBole, and how millions across the world can learn and get inspired from those experiences.

It’s also about sharing the small victories, the handy tips which makes everyday life easier, sharing a document on your cooking tips, or how you learnt stitching, or share your personal user review of the latest assistive device, or how you overcame the lack of sheet music in accessible formats, or your first excel spreadsheet. The possibilities of sharing and learning from each other are endless.
At Pratham Books, we're firmly behind the Right to Read Campaign and support efforts to accelerate change in copyright law , raise public awareness on the issue and gather Indian support for the Treaty for the Blind proposed by the World Blind Union at the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

After all, our mission is a book in every child's hand and that isn't limited to only children who have the gift of sight.

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