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Universal Postal Union Rules Updates Regarding Free Post for the Blind

Call to WBU members to check whether their country has tabled “exceptions” against the “items for the blind” changes to the Universal Postal Union rules

WBU’s campaign for modern free post for blind people

​Some of you might recall that WBU campaigned for several years to modernise the international rules by which blind people and their organisations enjoy an exemption from charges for sending some items through the post.

We wanted the system to allow for modern items such as talking watches, Daisy equipment etc., rather than just “literature for the blind”, as the old rules called it, which covered little more than braille books.

In the Universal Postal Union (UPU) Congress of October 2012, in Qatar, we finally achieved the result we were after.

The modernised rules

The UPU- which is the UN body that makes the rules on these matters - therefore accordingly changed the international treaty that governs the exchange of international mail. The UPU treaty in question is known as the UPU “Convention”, and it is Article 7 of that Convention which is particularly affected by the changes we achieved in Qatar.

The actual wording (with changes in bold print) from of the relevant part of the Congress proposal is here:

“Article 7
Exemption from postal charges

3 Items for the blind

3.1 Any item for the blind sent to or by an organization for the blind or sent to or by a blind person shall be exempt from all postal charges, with the exception of air surcharges, to the extent
that these items are admissible as such in the internal service of the sending designated operator.

3.2 In this article:

3.2.1 a blind person means a person who is registered as blind or partially sighted in his or her country or who meets the World Health Organization's definition of a blind person or a person with low vision;
3.2.2 an organization for the blind means an institution or association serving or officially representing blind persons;
3.2.3 items for the blind shall include correspondence, literature in whatever format including sound recordings, and equipment or materials of any kind made or adapted to assist blind persons in overcoming the problems of blindness, as specified in the Letter Post Regulations.”

WBU report on the campaign and the rule changes

Dan Pescod, who along with Lord (Colin) Low was a designated WBU representative to the UPU working on this campaign, put together a report explaining the meaning of the changes to the rules, which appeared on the WBU website at the end of 2012.  It appears in the annex below, for ease of reference.
Exceptions to the new rules
Unsurprisingly, several countries have now submitted formal “exceptions” against some or all of the new wording. (These exceptions arise because the new rules are more generous to us and therefore more onerous to postal operators.)
These exceptions mean that the countries submitting them reserve the right, partly or fully, to not be bound by the new rules.
The exceptions that countries have submitted can be found on page 145 of the “Final Protocol” to the UPU Convention. See this link:

Some countries have merely maintained existing, and non-onerous exceptions. For example, the UK has always had an exception allowing it to charge for items for the blind, but it has in practice never applied this possibility.

Most of the countries which have submitted exceptions have done so to say that they will only consider receiving as “items for the blind” (and therefore exempt from postal charges) mail items which meet their own domestic criteria for exemption from charges. So, for instance, if a country does not accept the sending free of charge of large print in its domestic postal system, it might not allow large print to be sent internationally free of charge, despite the new UPU rules permitting this type of mailing.

What should WBU national members do about this?

It is for WBU national members to consider whether they wish to discuss the exemptions mentioned above with their national governments. These cannot be dealt with by WBU representatives attending UPU meetings.

You might wish to explain the need for a wide, modern interpretation of the “items for the blind” service, as achieved at the UPU Congress in 2012. However, you might decide that this matter is not a priority for your organisation.
Of course, Dan Pescod remains happy to try to answer any questions which members have on this matter.

Dan Pescod; Campaigns Manager,
RNIB; 105 Judd Street
London WC1H 9NE. UK

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7391 2009
Annex 1
WBU concludes long campaign to modernise UN rules on free international post for blind people

Back in 2008, the government of Luxembourg tabled a proposal at the Universal Postal Union’s four-yearly Congress to modernise the rules on the exchange of international postal items for blind people. 
The UPU is the UN body which governs the international exchange of postal items.

The free postal service for blind people helps make up for the difficulties in getting inaccessible books and in some cases other materials blind people need specifically because of their impairment.

After all, a blind person cannot walk into their local library and take out the book of their choice at no cost. Instead, he or she will often receive an accessible book via the post from a distant library for the blind.
(They’ll no doubt send it back the same way.) To charge for that postal service would be tantamount to charging for a person’s blindness.

The UPU rules on how this free service operates internationally were written in the 1950s and had not been updated since. They allowed postal operators to send postal items across national borders; free of postal charges, but only if those items were “Braille literature” or “sound recordings for the blind”.
It will not have escaped thoughtful readers that the world has moved on since the 1950s.
These days, blind people have new ways of sending and receiving information and items they need to play a full part in society.  This means on the one hand that often, instead of a bulky Braille book, a blind person will want to send or receive a lightweight Daisy CD. Such items would weigh far less and be less voluminous, and therefore their carriage would represent a cost reduction to postal operators, as well as a benefit to blind people.
We wanted to ensure the UN rules on this service were modernised to reflect these changes.

Returning to the 2008 Congress, some of the assembled postal operators and governments were wary of Luxembourg’s well-intentioned proposal, and referred it for “further studies”.

The proposal has since 2008 journeyed through a plethora of UPU Committees, hotly pursued by the World Blind Union.

WBU worked within these UPU Committees over that period to refine the proposed revision to the rules on free post or “literature for the blind”, in UPU terminology.

We found constructive support from such countries as Italy, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA, who all helped to ensure that the revised rules would both meet the needs of blind people and be acceptable to the world’s postal operators.

This effort generated a new proposal, presented to the UPU Congress in Doha by Italy on behalf of the UPU.

Despite the long standing drafting and negotiation to refine the proposal, a process open to all postal operators and governments, the formerly silent French delegation opposed it when it was considered in Committee 4 at the Doha Congress. This encouraged some other posts such as Poland and Norway to follow suit and ask that instead of a vote, the matter be referred for “further study” after the Congress.

On the second day of Committee 4’s deliberations on the matter, Barbados, Japan, New Zealand and Nigeria and the UK, among others, intervened in support of the proposal to modernise the rules.

The proposal was therefore put to a vote, which went overwhelmingly in our favour – 91 for, 13 against and 21 abstentions.

The UPU rules on what will now be termed “items for the blind” will now appear in their modernised form in the revised version of the Convention.
What does this mean in practice?
International postal items for the blind, exempt from postal charges, can now be sent between any combination of organisations of blind people, specialist organisations serving blind people (such as libraries for the blind) and blind or partially sighted individuals.

International items for the blind now include
“correspondence, literature in whatever format including sound
recordings, and equipment or materials of any kind made or adapted to assist blind persons in overcoming the problems of blindness”
What this change does not mean
This change does not require countries to change their internal / national free post for blind people system.
So if a country only currently allows Braille to be sent domestically under its free postal system, it will not be required to broaden its national scheme as a result of this UPU decision. The UPU only governs international postal exchange.

What it does mean, though, is that countries receiving an item containing one of the new, wider range of items under this scheme from a sender in another country, would be expected to accept these as “items for the blind” and deliver them to the addressee (blind person or organisation). The UPU rules require them to do this irrespective of the range of items the receiving country allows in its national “items for the blind” scheme. 
An example
For example, country “A” only allows Braille in its national free post system for blind people. Country “B” allows Daisy CDs to be sent in its “items for the blind scheme”.

A blind person in country “B” posts a Daisy CD to a blind person in country “A” under its more generous “items for the blind” scheme.

Country “A” must still deliver that Daisy CD, even though it would not allow the sending of such an item under its national “items for the blind” service.