By Erda Khursyiah Basir
This article is in conjunction with World Braille Day which falls on Jan 4 every year.
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – Malaysian disability rights activists have urged Malaysia to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to empower and facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind or partially sighted.
While neighbouring nations such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore are among the more than 67 countries that have ratified the treaty, Malaysia has not acceded to the agreement yet.
The Marrakesh Treaty was adopted by the World Blind Union (WBU) and World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) on June 27, 2013 and it came into force on Sept 30, 2016. The treaty is in line with Articles 21 and 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Signatories to the treaty will enjoy special access to publications in Braille and in large print, audio and digital formats, and other reading materials without the threat of copyright infringements, thus reducing the disparity in access to education for the blind.
Dr Ahmad Shamsuri Muhamad, who is chairman of the Human Capital Development committee of the Society of the Blind in Malaysia, said the time has come for Malaysia to take the step forward to address the blind community’s thirst for knowledge.
The WBU had said in 2013 that although millions of books are published throughout the world annually, only one to seven percent of them are accessible to the 285 million persons worldwide who are completely blind, partially sighted and have difficulties reading printed text.
“The most relevant issue in conjunction with World Braille Day 2021 is the Marrakesh Treaty. In fact, the WBU in its website https://worldblindunion.org/ has urged all nations to ratify and implement the Marrakesh Treaty which allows the distribution of publications in Braille and other reading materials that can be accessed without the threat of copyright infringements.
“This (implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty) is the best way to ensure that Braille publications remain relevant along with new technologies. It is also crucial for the less developed nations where the high cost of producing publications in Braille is limiting the availability of reading materials for the visually impaired,” Ahmad Shamsuri, who is also a senior lecturer at the Department of Educational Psychology and Counselling at Universiti Malaya, told Bernama.
He said local non-governmental organisations representing the blind had participated in a dialogue session, organised by the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO) in April 2018, to discuss Malaysia’s preparations to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty.
Following the dialogue, MyIPO, together with WIPO and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, organised a national seminar in August 2018 to impart information to the stakeholders concerned to ensure Malaysia’s participation in the Marrakesh Treaty within the stipulated time.
“Although several measures were agreed upon at the seminar, however, there have been no positive developments to date,” he added.
Recounting his personal experience, Ahmad Shamsuri, who is completely blind, said he owed his success to reading materials in Braille which he described as his most valuable assets.
“These materials in Braille format helped me a lot since the time I was very young up to the stage when I obtained my doctorate. But there were times when I faced constraints in securing reading materials, which hampered my access to information and knowledge that is readily available to others (able-bodied individuals),” he said.
As a university lecturer, he is still facing certain constraints in terms of the textbooks used by his students who are normal.
“Since they use textbooks in the normal print format, I have to get to know the contents of these books beforehand. For this purpose, I have to get the textbooks concerned in Braille format to ensure a smooth teaching and learning process.”
With respect to this, he added, it is crucial that Malaysia ratifies the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate the sourcing of the relevant publications in Braille from other countries.
Ahmad Shamsuri also pointed out that Malaysia has to amend its Copyright Act 1987 before ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty to allow imported and exported reading materials to be converted to Braille format.
Malaysian Foundation for the Blind founder and chief executive officer Silatul Rahim Dahman, meanwhile, said the existence of various reading materials in Braille is helpful to the blind community in terms of their educational and socioeconomic development, as well as their ability to secure employment.
Hoping that efforts will be stepped up to provide information in formats that can be accessed by the blind, he said it will facilitate Malaysia’s estimated 50,000 blind population’s access to information, especially during these COVID-19 times when a lot of information is being disseminated digitally or via online platforms.
“We hope the relevant agencies can develop websites that can be accessed by the visually disabled based on the guidelines determined by World Web Consortium. For example, explanations in text and audio formats must be given for all images and infographics because the screen reader software cannot read images and infographics in full.
“Apart from that, online applications for aid and entrance into educational institutions, and financial transactions and e-commerce activities, as well as all forms of applications and checks carried out online, must take into consideration the constraints faced by users who cannot see or hear,” he said.
Suggesting that an alternative support system be developed for online services that are not disabled-friendly, Silatul Rahim said a call centre, for example, can be set up for the blind to contact for assistance.
Translated by Rema Nambiar
Malaysian National News Agency
No.28 Jalan BERNAMA
Off Jalan Tun Razak
50400 Kuala Lumpur
Tel : +603-2693 9933 (General Line)
Email : helpdesk[at]bernama.com