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Press Release from WBU for International Literacy Day 2015


Fifty years ago, in November 1965, UNESCO proclaimed September 8th to be International Literacy Day.
Literacy remains as essential to human development as it did fifty years ago and as it has for centuries, especially in today’s knowledge-based societies. This year’s theme for International Literacy Day is “Lite​racy and Sustainable Societies,” and it is a reminder of the link between literacy and access to information, and the strength and development of our societies.

There are millions of people worldwide with little to no access to readable material because they are blind or have print disabilities. In 2013, the Marrakesh Treaty was adopted by WIPO to specifically address this “book famine” for blind and print disabled persons. The Marrakesh Treaty will create more opportunities for more books to legally be made into different print accessible formats, including DAISY, audio, Braille, large-print, and electronic, without obtaining the permission of copyright holders. The Treaty also allows for countries and organizations to share print-accessible books to other countries that have also ratified the Treaty.

We could not imagine modern societies without literacy, but sadly, illiteracy is still common for people who cannot read standard print. Illiteracy and “the book famine” are particularly extreme in developing countries, where 1% or less of published works are made into accessible formats. However, things are not much better in the developed countries, where approximately only 7% of materials are made into accessible formats. This is why the Marrakesh Treaty is an essential treaty as it directly addresses illiteracy through increasing accessible materials.

The Marrakesh Treaty is the second international treaty that specifically addresses the rights of people with disabilities, after the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The Marrakesh Treaty, once in force, will help to implement several articles of the UNCRPD, by removing the copyright law barriers to accessible information and culture. It is absolutely imperative for governments to uphold their promises and to defend the rights of persons with disabilities in order to ensure sustainable growth and positive development of our societies.

Seventy-two countries, plus the European Union, have signed onto the Marrakesh Treaty and nine have ratified it. The Treaty needs twenty ratifications before it can come into force and start changing the lives of millions of blind and print disabled persons. This is why on International Literacy Day, we are calling for all governments who have not already done so, to ratify or accede to the Marrakesh Treaty. The Chair of the International Disability Alliance and our Immediate Past President, who also leads our work on the Marrakesh Treaty, Maryanne Diamond, put it best:

“Access to information is a human right. Information is used to make choices in life, decisions and to participate in our communities. The Marrakesh Treaty, once in force, will provide millions of books for blind and print disabled persons around the world they currently do not have access to. I call on governments to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty as a matter of urgency so we can begin to transform the lives of millions of people worldwide.”

Once in force, the Marrakesh Treaty can be used to improve the lives of millions of people the world over and give them the chance to become literate, active participants in all facets of society. Blind people are as entitled to have access to information and to be literate as the rest of the world. Encourage your government to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to help end the “book famine.”


For further information, contact:

Caitlin Reid
Communications Coordinator
World Blind Union​