Now that the Copyright laws have been amended, the blind community is calling for immediate access to over 700,000 books.

Executive Officer of the Blind Welfare Association Kenneth Surratt told a Joint Select Committee earlier this week that the books can become available by the National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS) once the government signs a Memorandum of Understanding allowing for the legal conversion of the books.

He said if this is done, hundreds of visually impaired and blind people from T&T will benefit and excel in their academic studies.

“The Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago amended the Copyright Act to make printed material accessible for the print disabled (persons who are blind) in 2020. 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 seven hundred thousand books in an accessible format,” Surratt said.

Saying it is a human right 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 five hundred thousand books available.

“Today it is over seven hundred thousand 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 has also been a problem coupled with a lack of parental training in using computers and other devices needed for virtual teaching/learning.

Surratt said 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 and how to access and use such without challenges. The lack of resources available for each student to have at home to facilitate virtual learning for students with Visual Impaired. Screen time is also an issue especially for students who have glaucoma and/or cataract,” 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.