Kenneth Surratt, Executive Officer of the Blind Welfare Association. Photo courtesy Kenneth Surratt.
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Calls are being made for a Memorandum of Understanding to be signed with the Attorney General and several other agencies to allow for the legal conversion of 700,000 books for the blind and disabled community.

Executive Officer of the Blind Welfare Association, Kenneth Surratt, told a Joint Select Committee earlier this week that if the MOU is signed, many disabled and blind students will be able to benefit.

“In 2020, the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago amended the Copyright Act to make printed material accessible for the print-disabled—persons who are blind.  This gives the national library (NALIS) the license to convert any printed book to an accessible format for persons who are blind without having to get permission from the author or publishers,” he explained.

“This is in keeping with the Marrakesh Treaty to convert printed material in an accessible format for the print-disabled,” Surratt said.

However, he noted that there is another part of this Treaty that needs to be completed.

“That is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Attorney General’s Office and NALIS, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the Accessible Book Consortium (ABC) so that persons who are blind could have over 700,000 books in an accessible format,” Surratt said.

Saying it is a human rights issue to have access to printed material, Surratt called on the government to sign this MOU as soon as possible, so that students and adults who are blind could have access to printed material.

“When Trinidad and Tobago signed the Marrakesh Treaty there were 500,000 books available,” he told Guardian Media.

“Today it is over 700,000 books.  Please don’t let it reach one million books without the MOU being signed,” Surratt said.

He also told the Committee that the hybrid learning system has not worked for disabled children.

“In some instances, students in the primary school system are not even having video contact with their teachers; their work is being sent via WhatsApp and Google Classroom.  Where the need to have physical contact arises, it is just not happening,” he said.

He noted that a lack of connectivity also has been a problem coupled with a lack of parental training in using computers and other devices needed for virtual teaching/learning.

Suratt points out that continuous support was needed for parents, caregivers, and students.

“This will allow engagement in learning of various assistive technologies available for students with Visual Impairment, as well as how to access and use such without challenges.  A major issue is the lack of availability of such resources for each visually impaired student to have at home to facilitate virtual learning.  Screen time is also an issue, especially for students who have glaucoma and/or cataracts,” he explained.

Surratt also called on the government to reopen schools for students who require physical contact with learning materials.

“The present hybrid system needs to cater for secondary school children who are blind/visually impaired and require the use of tactile learning to understand higher-level concepts,” he said.

“If the MOU is signed and provisions are made for physical or tactile learning resources to be used by students who are blind or visually impaired in secondary schools, they will have a greater chance of success,” Surratt added.