We All Have a Right to Read

A women sits at a desk in front of a text magnifier machine. She puts an open book face-up on the machine, which reflects the text onto a monitor in large print. She is able to read the large text on the monitor screen.
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In Peru, books in accessible formats are so scarce that many blind people need to transcribe their own books in Braille using a stylus and slate. If this were the case of a ten year old girl, we would have to wonder why she has to do this exhausting task for herself. At her age, she should enjoy her free time. Given that the Peruvian State provides resources to enable children attending public schools to receive textbooks, the girl in our example is Peruvian like the other children and has a right to read like the other children. Also consider the example of an adult who can no longer see due to advanced age. He confesses that he has been in love with Isabel Allende’s novels his whole life. All he wants is to re-read his books. This is an old man who worked and paid his taxes like any Peruvian but he cannot access these books.

These instances should not happen in the 21st century when technology has helped blind people immensely through the creation of braille equipment, text reading machines, and other devices. Access to information is essential: We rely on these tools to lead an independent life, so that blind children can read like the other children, and the elderly continue to enjoy culture like any other citizen.

This made me wonder why we do not have these types of services in Peru. I realize that, frequently, it is not necessarily a lack of resources but, rather, a lack of political will. What’s missing is that we need to see the needs of everyone and claim them as our own responsibility. Disability accessibility needs to be seen, not as something remote from our experience, but rather as a reminder of our social commitment that all services are really for everyone.

I think that as a disabled person, one must be part of the solution because we are the people who live with inaccessibility. So, through internet research and a recent visit to the United States, I sought to learn about new technologies and the way blind people receive books in accessible formats in other countries. While in Washington, D.C., USA for a conference, I visited a public library where they have an accessibility center, and seven of their ten staff have disabilities. In this center, users are taught to use different reading formats. This is very important for me because the disabled person must know different formats and be the one to choose which format to use. For example, if I read a novel I prefer audio or digital but for short text I prefer braille.

In my country, we’ve made some recent advances in this area. We now have a library that provides books in accessible formats. Our new national literacy plan is taking into account the needs of children who are blind or have low vision. Our government made a commitment to increase access to books in alternative formats by ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty.