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After Mumbai, Right to Read Campaign reaches Delhi

D.N.I.S. News Network, India: After having made stops in Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai, the Delhi leg of the ‘Right to Read Campaign’ kicked off in the Capital on January 30 at Lal Chowk, Pragati Maidan. The event was held on the first day of the World Book Fair and many turned up to express solidarity on the ‘print famine’ that blind and visually impaired people face.

Organized by Centre for Internet and Society (C.I.S.) and Daisy Forum of India (D.F.I.), the Delhi campaign is part of the global Right to Read campaign which was started by the World Blind Union in 2008. This nationwide campaign seeks to accelerate change in the copyright law, raise public awareness on the issue of access to reading for print-impaired people and to gather support for the Treaty for the Blind proposed by the World Blind Union at the World Intellectual Property Organization (W.I.P.O.).

The event at Lal Chowk started off with a short play highlighting the acute shortage of printed materials faced by blind people. A panel discussion was next. Different stakeholders from the publishing world, government and the disability sector were represented on the panel.

The panel comprised: Chris Friend, representative and Chair of the Global Right to Read Campaign, World Blind Union; G. R. Raghavender, Registrar of Copyrights, Ministry of Human Resource Development; Manas Saikia, Managing Director, Cambridge University Press, India; Vivek Mehra, Managing Director and C.E.O., Sage Publishers; Javed Abidi, Convenor, Disabled Rights Group; and Dinesh Kaushal, assistive technology user.

Moderated by Sagarika Ghose of C.N.N.-I.B.N., some of the issues that were hotly debated were lack of printed materials, cross border exchange of accessible books, sharing of the master file of an e-book between countries, lack of business opportunities in producing accessible books and so on. “Publishers fear a leakage into the regular market” said Manas Saikia. Unless disabled people organise themselves in a manner that ensures no leakage, the problem could not be addressed, he added.

Chris Friend, while negating the claims of Saikia said, “Publishers should stop thinking of visually impaired people as a small niche constituent but as a larger group composed of elderly people and all those people who develop reading difficulties in the later stages of their lives.”

Access to books is still a big hurdle for blind and visually impaired people. The Indian Copyright Act presently debars them from converting books into accessible formats. As a result, only a miniscule 0.5 percent of books are available to them in India in an accessible format.