According to Catherine Jewell, of the Communications Division at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), “Since its launch in June 2014, the WIPO-led Accessible Books Consortium (ABC) has been working to boost access to publications for people who are blind or visually impaired. The aim is for publishers around the world to produce works that are “born accessible” so that they can be used directly by both sighted and print-disabled readers.”
Born accessible refers to works that are created and usable directly from the publisher by both sighted persons and people who are print-disabled without having to be edited or adapted by a third party.
The ABC is a public-private partnership that includes organizations that represent people with print disabilities such as the World Blind Union, libraries for the blind, standards bodies, publishers, and organizations representing authors.
The Marrakesh VIP Treaty makes possible the production and transfer of accessible books across national boundaries. According to 2017 estimates from the World Health Organization, approximately 253 million people worldwide are visually impaired. More than 90% of these are residents in developing countries, where the World Blind Union (WBU) estimates that people who are blind have only a one in ten chance of going to school or getting a job.
The numbers for North America are much better, but there is still work to do. The lack of accessible books is a very real barrier to getting an education and leading an independent, productive life. The WBU estimates that right now less than 10% of all published materials can be read by blind or low vision people.
There is a renewed push to get as many publishers as possible to sign on to the ABC-sponsored Charter for Accessible Publishing. The objective of the signatories to the Charter is to make e-books accessible to all. Ensuring that more e-books are fully accessible will only happen if publishers, authors and other stakeholders focus on this issue at a practical level.
Some publishers are worried about the impact born-accessible publishing will have on sales and revenue. Although these concerns are understandable they are proving to be unfounded. Sales will not plummet because publishers make books available in accessible formats, like EPUB 3 for e-books or HTML for journals.
Other publishers are concerned about the formats required and how to address the needs of users. Many fear that a move to accessible publishing means they will have to produce two different versions of the same publication, one for the regular (sighted) market and one for people with print disabilities. But this is not the case. A publication that is born accessible can be used by everyone. It simply has a different layout and format.