When Aldous Huxley was going nearly blind, he said in mood of black humour that one of the advantages of being visually challenged was that one could read books in braille in bed without getting his hands cold by keeping them under the quilt. It is an “advantage”, however, which is available to very few since the World Blind Union estimates that of the million or so books published worldwide every year, only five per cent are accessible to the blind. Although the numbers of the latter are as high as 340 million, the publishing industry still does not seem to be interested in them.
This callous indifference may become a thing of the past when the treaty signed by 150 countries, including the US, in Marrakesh recently to make books available to the visually impaired comes into force. The town in Morocco, where the World Trade Organisation was born, made history once again by hosting the countries which promised to come to the aid of the blind, visually impaired and print disabled persons. Now that an international agreement has taken note of the plight of an unfortunate segment of the world’s population, it is up to the governments which signed the document to take the next step of ensuring its implementation.
The initiative is necessary because experience says that a formal pledge is not always enough, especially in countries where civil liberties are neglected because governments are tardy about fulfilling an assurance. Since the blind, like the other disabled, are not always able to make their voices heard if there is discrimination against them, their plea for justice, even if legally valid, can fall on deaf ears. Since India has a large population of the blind, 15 million, there is a need not only to implement the treaty, but also ensure that the eye banks have an adequate stock so that the numbers of the sightless can come down.