In her speech at the celebration ceremony on Wednesday evening at the House of Wisdom, Sharjah, Bodour Al Qasimi emphasised that the Marrakesh Treaty came into effect to address a tangible challenge stemming from a scarcity of accessible books. Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: People with visual impairment will now have more books accessible, thanks to Kalimat Foundation, the UAE-based non-profit, that has activated the ‘Marrakesh Treaty’ to reproduce published works in formats accessible for visually impaired without infringing copyright.

The activation of the Marrakesh Treaty granted to the entity under an authorised license by the UAE Ministry of Economy was celebrated in the presence of Bodour Al Qasimi, founder and chairperson of Kalimat Foundation (KF) and president of the International Publishers Association (IPA).

The Marrakesh Treaty, administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), aims to facilitate access to published books and works for the blind, visually impaired and otherwise print-disabled people.

Ending scarcity of accessible books

In her speech at the celebration ceremony on Wednesday evening at the House of Wisdom, Sharjah, Bodour Al Qasimi emphasised that the Marrakesh Treaty came into effect to address a tangible challenge stemming from a scarcity of accessible books.

The IPA President pointed out that the activation of the treaty in the UAE marks the beginning of a meaningful journey to end this scarcity and mitigate its negative impact on blind and visually impaired people.

Al Qasimi remarked that as a publisher and president of IPA, she understands the extensive losses incurred by intellectual property rights infringement and its impact on the book industry in many markets around the world. She noted that despite the challenges, publishing stakeholders can strike a balance between protecting the rights of publishers and authors on the one hand, and the rights of the blind and visually impaired to access knowledge and content naturally, on the other.

The IPA President clarified that Kalimat Foundation is looking forward to achieving this balance, noting that it will reproduce, distribute, and make available copies of published works in accessible formats within the country or internationally, without infringing copyright.

First licensed non-profit

Hessa Bint Essa Buhumaid, UAE Minister of Community Development, said: “We are pleased to congratulate Bodour Al Qasimi, Kalimat Foundation, the Kalimat family, differently abled people and their families, and institutions dedicated to the blind, visually impaired and print-disabled, for this achievement which benefits, supports and empowers people of determination.”

“The Ministry of Community Development is a keen supporter of differently abled people in the UAE and applauds the efforts of the Kalimat Foundation in providing children and young adults access to books. The culmination of these efforts led to the granting of the license from UAE’s Ministry of Economy to reproduce, distribute and publish accessible books without copyright infringement, and to provide those books to beneficiaries in the UAE and beyond under the terms of the Marrakesh Treaty. Thus, KF is the first non-profit organisation to get this license in the UAE,” said the Minister.

“The activation will boost the unique initiatives and programmes of KF that target children and youth, including the differently abled, and fulfil their right to access knowledge and reinforce their participation in the cultural and creative sector like every other member of the community,” she added.

‘Potential for better future’

Abdulaziz Ibrahim Ali Al-Nuaimi, assistant undersecretary for the Commercial Affairs Regulatory Sector at Ministry of Economy, said: “The UAE is one among the top three countries to ratify and sign the Marrakesh Treaty that was adopted on June, 27, 2013, and which stipulates the commitment to facilitate access to specially-adapted books for the benefit of the blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print-disabled.”

He added: “The collaboration of all relevant entities will enable us to make the most of the terms of the treaty in line with the directions and vision of the wise leadership of the UAE. This will also ensure that the blind and visually impaired can carve a better and brighter future with the increased potential to bolster their capabilities to learn and work.”

WIPO Accessible Books Consortium

Sylvie Forbin, deputy director General of WIPO stressed that Kalimat Foundation is an important and valued partner of the WIPO-led Accessible Books Consortium (ABC). Kalimat and ABC have collaborated on the production of a range of Arabic language books specially adapted for use by children who are blind or visually impaired.

She said: “Under the 2018 agreement between KF and WIPO, Kalimat Group produces books that are ‘Born Accessible’, meaning that the books would be made accessible by Kalimat right from its publication. No third party is needed to adapt the text into a format suitable to the needs of blind or visually impaired persons, thus saving time and money in the spread of culture and knowledge.”

“Kalimat Foundation will provide access to its own accessible publications as well as those obtained from the ABC catalogue to persons who are blind and otherwise print-disabled, located not only in the UAE, but also in other countries that have ratified and implemented the Marrakesh Treaty,” she added.

On the sidelines of the celebration, Kalimat organised a panel discussion titled ‘Marrakesh Treaty, how it’s implemented, and ways to leverage it.

3 MoUs signed

Amna Al Mazmi, Manager of Kalimat Foundation, signed three MoUs during the celebration to mark the activation of the Marrakesh Treaty.

The MoU with the Emirates Association of the Visually Impaired was signed by Adel Abdullah Al Zomor, chairman of the Board of Directors of the association, and aims to facilitate the publication of accessible books.

The second MoU with the House of Wisdom and the third with the Sharjah Public Libraries aims to provide accessible books to libraries dedicated to blind and visually impaired children, and organise inclusive workshops throughout the year. Signatories included Marwa Al Aqroubi, sirector of House of Wisdom, and Eman Bushlaibi, sirector of Sharjah Public Libraries.

Producing more accessible books

As part of its efforts to provide accessible books for blind and visually impaired youth and children through ‘Marrakesh Treaty’, KF will be the first UAE non-profit organisation to have the right to produce books in accessible formats and distribute them in the UAE and beyond, without the permission of authors or publishers.

Kalimat Foundation’s initiatives consolidate its efforts to provide books for youth and children, especially the blind and visually impaired. Through its ‘Ara’ (I See) initiative, the foundation has provided around 24,000 books in various accessible formats, including braille, audio, large print, in 33 sites across 10 countries in the MENA region.