In Peru, books in accessible formats are so scarce that many blind people need to transcribe their own books in Braille using a stylus and slate. If this were the case of a ten year old girl, we would have to wonder why she has to do this exhausting task for herself. At her age, she should enjoy her free time. Given that the Peruvian State provides resources to enable children attending public schools to receive textbooks, the girl in our example is Peruvian like the other children and has a right to read like the other children. Also consider the example of an adult who can no longer see due to advanced age. He confesses that he has been in love with Isabel Allende’s novels his whole life. All he wants is to re-read his books. This is an old man who worked and paid his taxes like any Peruvian but he cannot access these books.
These instances should not happen in the 21st century when technology has helped blind people immensely through the creation of braille equipment, text reading machines, and other devices. Access to information is essential: We rely on these tools to lead an independent life, so that blind children can read like the other children, and the elderly continue to enjoy culture like any other citizen.
This made me wonder why we do not have these types of services in Peru. I realize that, frequently, it is not necessarily a lack of resources but, rather, a lack of political will. What’s missing is that we need to see the needs of everyone and claim them as our own responsibility. Disability accessibility needs to be seen, not as something remote from our experience, but rather as a reminder of our social commitment that all services are really for everyone.
I think that as a disabled person, one must be part of the solution because we are the people who live with inaccessibility. So, through internet research and a recent visit to the United States, I sought to learn about new technologies and the way blind people receive books in accessible formats in other countries. While in Washington, D.C., USA for a conference, I visited a public library where they have an accessibility center, and seven of their ten staff have disabilities. In this center, users are taught to use different reading formats. This is very important for me because the disabled person must know different formats and be the one to choose which format to use. For example, if I read a novel I prefer audio or digital but for short text I prefer braille.
In my country, we’ve made some recent advances in this area. We now have a library that provides books in accessible formats. Our new national literacy plan is taking into account the needs of children who are blind or have low vision. Our government made a commitment to increase access to books in alternative formats by ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty.
Creating a Place Where Everyone Can Read
In the Ricardo Palma Library of the Miraflores District in Peru, a project was developed to provide everything to make the library a friendly place for all, and accessible to everyone. The library is a place where the enjoyment of reading a book is possible whether or not you have a disability that prevents you from seeing. This was made possible through the availability of:
- Reading machines that recognize printed text with a camera and reproduce it in audio
- Closed-circuit TV “CCTV” that enables people with low vision to read text with large print
- Computers with DVD screen to enable people to access reading in digital formats
- Collections of print books, audio books, digital books, and books in Braille
- Assisted reading services for people who do not use technology
- Spacious rooms for people using wheelchairs
There is no denying that the people responsible for a library are not necessarily informed of the new technologies for enabling people who are blind or have low vision to access the materials that they store in their facilities or web sites. When the library started accessible services, I approached them as a visually impaired person who knows the technologies so that together we could plan the services to offer. Together we decided that the services should be simple such as offering audio books and magnifying glasses since we knew that 50% of the local disabled population was over 65 years of age according to recent household survey results.
If municipalities do not have the resources to invest in culture, consider accessing the Participatory Budget (fund given by the Ministry of Economy and Finance to be used by the neighborhood councils). You can make an impact with the neighborhood councils to support this type of project to be submitted to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
Incorporating Access into National Initiatives
Peru is taking into account the access needs of the visually impaired for it’s 2016 – 2021 Reading Plan. I was invited to join the initiative to help make sure that the Reading Plan’s actions are accessible for the visually impaired. We are making the first tactile book of Peruvian animals and spreading the braille system to district schools who have children with visual impairments among their students.
Leveraging International Treaties
In Peru, for the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, we were a group of blind people who set a goal: for Peru to become part of this important international agreement so that people like us, who live with vision limitations, can improve access to books in accessible formats. To do this we had to visit some offices such as the Foreign Ministry, the Institute for the Defense of Competition of Intellectual Property, the Ministry of Defense and Finance, and the National Library, which are the responsible organizations for the treaty’s implementation. This was not an easy task, nor was it fast. It was important not to give up when a door did not open, to seek alliances to help us in this task, and to look for the right moment to approach officials that make decisions.
One of our greatest difficulties was that the National Library, the lead agency in books and reading, did not respond to the Foreign Ministry who requested an opinion on this treaty. Therefore, we attended an exhibition at the National Library where the Director would give a presentation. We were very close to him the entire time and when it finished we talked to him about the Marrakesh Treaty and how important it was that he commit to it publicly.
This was a big win, but not the end of the task. With the support of a congressman, we had to continue until we were able to submit the document to the legislature and to ensure that the Committee on Foreign Affairs would prioritize and approve it to be taken to Parliament for its ratification vote. Then we informed all caucuses of the benefits the treaty would give to people with visual disabilities if Peru were to ratify it. We were also able to get the mass media to endorse this cause. To ensure the entry of the Treaty, we had to continue communications with the Foreign Ministry until the end of the ratification process (depositing the record at the offices of WIPO in Geneva).
To me the Marrakesh Treaty is an opportunity to improve access to reading for the visually impaired by not only receiving alternate format books from other countries but also promoting the adaptation of Peruvian books so we can share our literature with other countries.
My name is Elizabeth Francisca Campos Sánchez, at the agency Blind Women's Commission of Peru (CODIP), in Lima, Peru. I am Executive Director and the leader of the National Right to Read Campaign.
As Executive Director of CODIP and an active member of the Roundtable on Disability and Rights, which falls under the National Human Rights Coordinator, Ms. Campos is active in promoting the rights of people—particularly women—with disabilities in Peru. She conducts advocacy projects and coordinates work with other DPOs and human rights non-profit organizations, including the management of a recent BRIDGE module training. Ms. Campos has many years’ experience working for the rights of youth and adults with visual impairments, instructing on assistive technology and providing various forms of technical support. She is currently working to promote audio description and closed captioning for people with visual and hearing impairments. Ms. Campos has a special interest in inclusive education and effective empowerment of women with disabilities in all areas of society.