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Senator Harkin calls for access to copyrighted works for print disabled

Last week, Senator Harkin (D-IA) wrote a letter to President Obama to express his support for a “…international treaty to expand access to copyrighted information for people with disabilities around the world.”

In his letter, Senator Harkin explains,

Blind people and others with print disabilities now face daunting challenges in obtaining access to accessible formats of copyrighted works in many parts of the world. The barriers to such access are in part due to two different factors. First, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), many countries have inadequate or no statutory rights for people with disabilities regarding access to information. Second, most countries that do provide for exceptions in copyright for people with disabilities do not permit the export of copies of works in accessible formats to foreign countries, leading to costly duplication of efforts in an area where resources are limited. As a result, people with disabilities have very limited access to accessible formats of copyrighted works. These disparities are particularly severe for people living in developing countries, or for people who need to access works in different languages.

The ALA has long been engaged in advocating for equitable access to information for all, including those with print and other disabilities.  We continue to work with International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to draw attention to the fact that this issue exists in this modern, technologically advanced 21st century.

It is shocking that here in our country only 5 percent of works published in the U.S. are available in formats accessible for people with print disabilities.  Just imagine the good it would do those in other countries that are even worse off if cross-border sharing of accessible content became a lawful reality.  That is why the ALA also works closely with the U.S. delegation comprised of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the U.S. Copyright Office, the U.S. Department of State and others to ensure equitable access rights here at a home and then promotes them internationally.

And, finally a quick aside — there are two of us here in the ALA Washington Office that proudly hail from the Hawkeye State. Ted, our Grassroots Coordinator is from Des Moines and I am from Albia, Iowa.  We are especially pleased that Senator Harkin is advocating on behalf of people with disabilities not only in Iowa, but around the world.

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Corey Williams

Corey Williams is a former member of the Washington Office government relations team.

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