Access to Library Services is a Human Right
Libraries as Promoters of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
On Sunday, August 17, two hours after the Opening Session of the WLIC 2014 in Lyon, the LSN Section held a session titled: “The UN Disability Rights Convention: What it means for Persons with Disabilities and Library Services Worldwide.” Almost 140 persons attended the event in the Auditorium Lumière.
Barbara Lison, member of the IFLA Governing Board, opened the session by welcoming and introducing the keynote speaker Professor Theresia Degener, German member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and internationally acclaimed expert in disability rights.
1. Keynote: The CRPD and its impact on library services – a perspective from the CRPD Committee
In her remarkable keynote, Mrs. Degener talked about the CRPD and its guiding principles, including non-discrimination, respect, equality, social inclusion, and accessibility. She explained the paradigm shift from the medical model of disability to the social and human rights based model. The latter views disability not as something that resides in the individual but as a result of the interaction between a person and his/her environment. Persons with disabilities are no longer seen as objects of charity, medical treatment, and social protection but as people with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights as well as being active members of society. The CRPD is the first international treaty that sets out binding human rights for people with disabilities. Countries that have ratified the convention are bound to include the rights in their own national law.
Particularly addressing the WLIC participants, Professor Degener highlighted the articles of the CRPD that are most relevant to libraries, e.g. Article 9 (Accessibility), Article 21 (Freedom of expression and access to information) and Article 30 (Participation in cultural life). She encouraged the audience to support the national implementation of the CRPD by providing equal and inclusive access to library services and holdings. Libraries could also advocate for accessibility and the development of “Universal Design” services and products, especially in the ICT field. Awareness raising campaigns would help change attitudes and behaviour towards persons with disabilities. Theresia Degener recommended that libraries cooperate with stakeholders at both the national and the international level, including disability advocacy organizations, National Human Rights Institutions as well as CRPD monitoring bodies at home or at the UN.
2. Implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Roles of Libraries and Librarians in Japan
In the second speech, Hiroshi Kawamura (The Nippon Lighthouse, Tokyo, Japan) talked about the recent ratification of the CRPD in Japan. He emphasized the importance of the convention’s provision on access to information during disaster situations. Subsequent to the Tsunami and earthquake in Japan in March 2011 new accessible web portals have been developed in order to provide information better and faster to persons with disabilities in disaster-hit areas.
3. Accessible and Inclusive Libraries: Some Examples of Best Practice in France
Marie-Noëlle Andissac, (Bibliothèque de Toulouse, Toulouse, France), presented best practice examples in French public libraries related to accessibility, right to information, or participation in cultural events. For example, the public library of Toulouse offers a huge range of information and material in accessible formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities, such as braille books, documents in French sign language, audio descriptive films, and an accessible website and newsletter. It also provides a free phone service in French sign language for deaf people. The library successfully cooperates with other cultural institutions to promote participation of disabled people at cultural events in the town.
In Paris, a network of four public libraries provides highly inclusive services for deaf people. Each member of this network holds a large collection in French sign language and offers cultural events accessible for deaf people. Deaf librarians are represented on the staff.
In rural areas, departmental libraries contribute to raising awareness and training on disability issues. All these programs run by French libraries support inclusion of disabled people in society according to the principles of CRPD.
4. The Role of Libraries in the Implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty for Persons with a Print Disability
The fourth and last speech of the session was presented by Francisco Javier Martínez Calvo (National Organization of Spanish Blind Persons (ONCE), Madrid, Spain). He informed the audience about the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, which was adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on 27 June 2013. The presentation analysed the links and the close relationship between the UN Disability Rights Convention and the Marrakesh Treaty. The new treaty creates an exception to copyright that allows “authorized entities” to produce, distribute and make available accessible format copies to persons with print disabilities without the authorisation of the right holder. It also allows for cross-border exchange of these copies. Member states that ratify the treaty agree to include limitations and exceptions clauses in their national copyright laws. The Marrakesh Treaty will enter into force three months after 20 parties have deposited their instruments of ratification or accession. Francisco Martínez : “The Marrakesh Treaty is not only a treaty by and for persons with print disabilities – it is also a treaty for libraries, for societies, to help them become more inclusive and fair”.