On September 14, Commissioner Michel Barnier presided over the singing of an agreement to provide greater access to books. Dyslexic, intellectually disabled and partially sighted people face a ‘book famine’ in today’s world, as only approximately 5% of books are converted into accessible formats.
These formats include large-type, audiobooks and braille for the blind. This agreement, ‘The Memorandum of Understanding’, sets out the principles under which publishers can allow dyslexia and blind organisations to share their accessible book collections across the EU.
The agreement was signed by the European Dyslexia Association, The European Blind Union along with the Federation of European Publishers.
Although before this agreement, all EU Member States had already put in place exceptions to copyright for the benefit of dyslexic or visually impaired readers, these exceptions varied and made cross-border access complicated.
The ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ aims to alleviate this situation. It will utilise a system of distribution through Trusted Intermediaries, which could be institutions such as NGOs, libraries and special schools.
The Memorandum also sets up a system of ‘mutual recognition’ among trusted intermediaries. This means that registered persons will be able to access books from all over the EU and not just their own country.
The agreement, although not legally binding, marks the beginning of a movement to increase the production and availability of accessible books.
Most books that are made accessible are produced by non-profits. Examples of these are RNIB in the UK, Dedicon in the Netherlands andn Once in Spain.
The signing of the memorandum coincides with International Literacy Day on the 8th of September. This day, organised each year by UNESCO aims to remind the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning across the world.