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Smart Bangladesh must not forget those with disabilities

Date: 28 February, 2023

Writer : Vashkar Bhattacharjee
Source : Dhaka Tribune

Reading Time: 6 Minutes

28 February, 2023
Writer : Vashkar Bhattacharjee
Source : Dhaka Tribune
· Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Smart Bangladesh must not forget those with disabilities

Smart Bangladesh must not forget those with disabilities

The strength and courage of people with disabilities serve as an example for all of us, and they make a significant contribution to the promotion of a diverse, tolerant, and inclusive society free from discrimination — which benefits other groups and individuals who are also seen as different and thus frequently marginalized.

Persons with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else — to information, education, employment, and political, social, and economic involvement in society — with respect and without discrimination.

Yet, accessibility to so many things, which many of us take for granted, is woefully lacking for persons with disabilities, hindering them from fully participating in society, pursuing their dreams, accessing knowledge, and becoming leaders and a force for change.

The Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works for persons with disabilities (visually impaired) was a landmark step in the right direction. Marrakesh Treaty was adopted in 2013 at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to facilitate the availability and cross-border exchange of books and other print material in accessible formats around the world.

Bangladesh signed the Marrakesh Agreement of the International Intellectual Property Organization to eliminate the problem of reading books for people with all types of persons with print disabilities, including the visually impaired.

In September 2022, at the headquarters of the International Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, Permanent Representative and Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United Nations, Mostafizur Rahman handed over the document of Bangladesh’s signature to the Marrakesh Agreement in the hands of Darren Tang, Director General of the organization. Bangladesh has signed this agreement as the 116th country in the world with the aim of improving the reading opportunities of people with disabilities in the country.

It is disheartening that, because of all these barriers, persons with disabilities frequently aren’t included in the creation of laws and regulations that affect their own needs and way of life.

Very importantly, visually impaired, or those that have other print disabilities, are unable to acquire knowledge, information, and education due to the lack of equitable, timely, and affordable access to books and other published materials in accessible formats, such as braille, audio, or e-books.

According to the World Blind Union, less than 1% of published books are ever converted into accessible versions in underdeveloped countries, which constitutes a hidden violation of the human rights of individuals with disabilities.

It has been good to see a2i, with their incredible strategy of digitization, publishing accessible books (eg: Daisy Multimedia Talking Book, braille books, etc) for visually impaired persons.  Furthermore, agreements across nations with regard to material for visually impaired individuals is also vital. Under such an agreement, various accessible content of one country is granted for use by visually impaired persons of other countries.

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabilities, which entered into effect in September 2016, seeks to eliminate the legal and copyright restrictions that prevent the duplication of published works in accessible formats and their international sharing. The Marrakesh Convention lays the road for nations to address this “book famine” while guaranteeing that writers’ interests are reasonably respected. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in collaboration with governments and disability communities, are enhancing civil society organizations’ capacity for advocacy and giving nations legal and technical guidance so they can take advantage of ratification of the Marrakesh Convention.

Darren Tang, Director General of the International Intellectual Property Organization, said that by signing the Marrakesh Agreement, it will be possible to ensure equal rights to participate in the economic, social and cultural fields for all, including the visually impaired youth of Bangladesh. In the future, the organization will have an opportunity to work together with Bangladesh to improve the quality of life of people with all kinds of reading disabilities, including the blind and the visually impaired.

With this signing of the Marrakesh Agreement, more than 340,000 visually impaired people in Bangladesh will have the opportunity to read more than 8 lakh books of WIPO’s “Accessible Book Consortium.”

Meanwhile, in order to improve the quality of life of the persons with disabilities and increase their skills and ensure various facilities, the Ministry of Social Welfare and a2i have jointly prepared multimedia talking books and accessible dictionaries — with the aim to provide quality education for visually impaired students.

Smart Bangladesh is a vision and policy of the government of Bangladesh to build a digitally-enabled, smarter, and more sustainable country. It aims to leverage the power of technology to improve the quality of life for all citizens, create new economic opportunities, and drive sustainable development.

To build Smart Bangladesh and truly leave no one behind, to create a digitally-inclusive society for the future, the Marrakesh Treaty will be playing a very significant role.

Vashkar Bhattacharjee, a person with visual disability , serves as the national accessibility consultant for the a2i Program. He is also involved with YPSA (Young Power in Social Action), an organization for sustainable development, and provides advisory support towards its disability portfolio. He has worked to advance inclusive development and humanitarian action for 18 years.

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