The copyright law remains blind to the rights of the visually impaired.
As Indians we enjoy our right to education and to read, but should learning be restricted to books provided in school? What if, some wish to broaden their horizon and learn more, only to realise there are no books available?
That’s the situation the visually impaired in India face now. But Bangalore-based Centre for Information and Society (CIS) is out to change it. They’re starting a new campaign— Right to Read—demanding changes in the copyright law so that books can be converted into a medium with which the visually impaired will feel more comfortable.
According to the group, only 0.5% of the books available in India can be accessed in braille or audio format. Further, the World Blind Union estimates that only five per cent of the total books that get published in developed countries are converted into accessible formats.
According to Nirmita Narasimhan who works with CIS, it’s not a question of just making the books available in particular formats. “If people can read books, it will help literacy, education, employment and promote independent living. A majority of the visually impaired population don’t pursue courses because they don’t have study materials in accessible formats. This is substantiated by looking at the statistics of Delhi University — they have about 1,500 seats reserved for the handicapped. Despite that, in 2008, only 270 students applied and in 2009, only 350 came forward. This just goes to show that in addition to making reservations, it is also necessary to provide an enabling reading framework to persons with disabilities by providing materials in accessible formats and a good support system,” she says.
“Further, it is not necessarily any particular format—with technologies and the prolific use of computers, accessible electronic formats (not being jpeg images which screen readers can’t make sense of) are most appreciated. One will find that blind persons are always reaching out to each other for study materials in accessible formats—this varies from materials for board exams to text for competitive exams,” she adds.
Through the campaign, a road show scheduled to start on September 26 at Loyola College, Chennai, the group wants changes to be made in the copyright law. The roadshow will be organised in three other metros as well.
The event will comprise presentations, debates and demonstrations along with book reading sessions and stalls where various accessibility tools will be demonstrated.