Organisations for visually impaired protest against ‘apartheid era’ copyright law

Blind and disabled march the streets of Tshwane over ‘experiencing a book famine and the criminalisation of braille and other accessible formats of information, preventing them from building livelihoods’. Photo: Reitumetse Mahope

Government needs to fast track the bill so blind people can access knowledge, the organisations have argu

Organisations representing visually impaired people say an old ‘apartheid era’ copyright law is preventing essential books and materials from being made available in braille.

Visually impaired and disabled Pretoria residents marched to the Union Buildings on Thursday to demand that an old “apartheid era” copyright law be revoked so that more books be made available in braille.

Several organisations took part in the march.

Blind SA CEO hold memorandum with braille writing to be handed over to the presidency. Photo: Reitumetse Mahope.

They included Blind SA, South African Disability Alliance (SADA), South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB) and South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu).

“Government still using the copyright law passed in 1978 is discriminatory against the blind and visually impaired community,” said Blind SA CEO Jase Nair.

Blind and disabled march the streets of Tshwane over ‘experiencing a book famine and the criminalisation of braille and other accessible formats of information, preventing them from building livelihoods’. Photo: Reitumetse Mahope

“The bill is an apartheid legislation, which is outdated. It doesn’t have any exceptions and limitations that will allow blind people to transcribe books into braille, audio and large print.”

Nair said this was despite parliament passing a new copyright bill in 2019.

“This new bill has been with the president for about a year and two months, awaiting his signature.”

“This new bill has been with the president for about a year and two months, awaiting his signature.”

Blind and disabled march the streets of Tshwane over ‘experiencing a book famine and the criminalisation of braille and other accessible formats of information, preventing them from building livelihoods’. Photo: Reitumetse Mahope

He said on 16 June, the president referred the bill back to parliament.

“As a result of this, the book famine continues for blind people. Parliament is violating the rights of blind and visually impaired people,” said Nair.

He said the government needed to fast track the bill so blind people could access knowledge.

“For over 10 years we have called for the right to make braille accessible copies of copyrighted materials and to purchase braille materials internationally, in line with the Marrakesh treaty and international human rights instruments.”

Nair said the right to access and share educational materials according to internationally recognised principles of fair use outlawed piracy.

“The president must sign the Marrakesh treaty or find another way to find published work for blind people.”

He said the bill was important for the youth as a large population did not have access to braille books.

“Only in March, this year, has the education department started printing textbooks.

“Our learners are dependent on people who can read large print, which is a disadvantage to them as their education suffers,” Nair said.

This article was republished from Rekord East with permission

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