NCD Letter to Foreign Relations Committee Advising Ratification of Marrakesh Treaty

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April 20, 2018

Chairman Bob Corker

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee
423 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Ranking Member Bob Menendez
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee
444 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Corker and Ranking Member Menendez:

I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency with a statutory mandate to advise the President and Congress on disability policy matters to thank the Committee for considering the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled at your recent hearing. In our roles as your federal disability advisors, we recommend to you the ratification of Marrakesh Treaty and the adoption of S. 2559, the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act, which we believe would enhance the lives of people all over the world who are blind, visually impaired or print disabled by providing them with access to books and other material in accessible formats, including Braille, audio, digital, large print and other formats that emerge as technology advances. Ratification and adoption would be in keeping with the national policy aim of exporting the best of American policy abroad, given that the U.S. is looked to as a world authority on the rights of people with disabilities.

The Marrakesh Treaty allows “authorized entities” to create accessible versions of published materials and share them with individuals who need them to access the material at no cost. Additionally, the treaty allows authorized entities to exchange accessible works across international borders with each other, thereby reducing duplication and cost. It’s important to note that this treaty would not require substantive changes to existing U.S. law, which already allows authorized entities to reproduce or distribute copies of previously published literary works in specialized formats for use by blind or other persons with disabilities, S. 2559 makes only modest changes to U.S. copyright law that will facilitate access to copyrighted material in accessible formats.

Worldwide, it is estimated that 95% of published material are not produced in accessible formats, leading to a global “book famine” for blind and visually impaired individuals. This poses a tremendous barrier to education and employment opportunities for this population of people with disabilities. For individuals who are blind, visually impaired or print disabled, this treaty would unlock access to the written word, from novels to religious texts and educational materials.

NCD is very proud to have played a primary role in drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and working to assure its passage in 1990. NCD views the ratification of both the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Marrakesh Treaty as important ways to export the core values of the ADA to the rest of the world. The Marrakesh treaty in particular has the potential to open up a world of knowledge and shared cultural and educational experiences to everyone, regardless of disability.  

NCD advises this Committee to consider the potential of enormous transformative impact that the Marrakesh Treaty and S.2559 represent. Please don’t hesitate to have your Committee staff contact our staff if you desire additional information. We stand ready to serve.

Respectfully,

Neil Romano,
Chairman