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The Marrakesh Treaty and the Future of Literacy for the Blind and Print Disabled: International Literacy Day 2016

September 8th, 2016 

Toronto, Canada: Fifty years ago, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) celebrated the first International Literacy Day on September 8th, 1966. In honour of the anniversary, this year’s theme is “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.” For the World Blind Union (WBU), the future of literacy for the blind and partially sighted is with the ratification and effective implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty.​ 

Currently, over 90% of published materials are not available to the nearly 300 million people that are blind or have a print disability. Access is especially low in developing and low-income countries where less than 1% of materials are accessible. This has resulted in a global “book famine” and the World Blind Union (WBU) has campaigned for years for a Treaty that would help overcome the book famine.

The result of our efforts and the efforts of our partners and other stakeholders is the Marrakesh Treaty, which was adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) member states in 2013. The Treaty needed twenty countries to ratify in order for it to enter into force and that momentous goal was achieved earlier this year on June 30th when Canada became the twentieth ratifying country. The Treaty will officially enter into force this month, on September 30th, 2016.

The President of the WBU, Arnt Holte celebrated upon the news of the 20th ratification, remarking that “the fact that the Marrakesh Treaty is coming into force might be the most positive development for blind and partially sighted persons and their right to read since Louis Braille developed the Braille alphabet. Accessible books being shared across borders will change the world for all people with print disabilities.”

The Treaty directly addresses the book famine in two important ways;

First, it will enable “authorized entities,” such as blind persons’ organizations and libraries, to more easily reproduce works into accessible formats for non-profit distribution. Second, the Treaty will permit the same authorized entities to share accessible books and other printed materials across borders with other authorized entities, helping to end the needless and inefficient duplication of efforts.

Now that the treaty is about to enter into force, its implementation has become an important focus for the WBU and its members from all over the world. WBU’s Immediate Past President and our Right to Read Chair, Maryanne Diamond, commented on this importance: “Literacy for all is fundamental to getting an education, work and participating in the community. The Marrakesh treaty must be properly implemented to make it possible for people who are blind or have a print disability to have the same experiences as persons without print disabilities.”

Our hope is that every country will ratify the Marrakesh Treaty and then effectively implement its provisions in line with the treaty’s overarching goal of furthering the human rights of persons with print disabilities by promoting their access to literature and information. The WBU and its members will continue to work with countries that have ratified the Marrakesh Treaty to ensure that it achieves its goal.

To learn more about the Marrakesh Treaty, our Right to Read Campaign and what you can do to encourage your government to ratify the treaty, visit our Campaign Page.


The World Blind Union (WBU) is the global organization that represents the estimated 285 million people worldwide who are blind or partially sighted. Members consist of organizations of blind people advocating on their own behalf and organizations that serve the blind, in over 190 countries, as well as international organizations working in the field of vision impairment. Visit our website at

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For further information, please contact:

Caitlin Reid, Communications Officer, World Blind Union​​​​​​