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Call to enact legislation make life easier for people with disabilities, blind

A man reads braille. Section27 and Blind SA called on government to speedily enact legislation which would make life for the blind a little easier. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

A man reads braille. Section27 and Blind SA called on government to speedily enact legislation which would make life for the blind a little easier. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Dec 6, 2021

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Pretoria - As the country celebrated International Day for Persons with Disabilities on Friday, a day dedicated to raising public awareness around the rights and welfare of persons with disabilities, Section27 and Blind SA called on government to speedily enact legislation which would make life for the blind a little easier.

Blind SA chief executive Jace Nair said South Africa needed to empower people with disabilities.

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"It is crucial that they are afforded equal opportunities to participate in our communities and be equipped and empowered to do so,” Nair said.

However, as things stand, less than 0,5% of published works are available in accessible formats in the country, which has led to a so-called “book famine”.

In an effort to address this problem, Blind SA, represented by Section27, took (amongt others) the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition to court in September and challenged the Copyright Act for the way it discriminated against persons who are blind or visually impaired.

Under this act, any person who wanted to convert a book into an accessible format such as Braille or Large Print, had to obtain the permission of the copyright holder first.

This placed an enormous and costly burden on persons who were blind and visually impaired and limited the way they were able to access books in a format they could use.

A process to replace the Copyright Act has already started, and Parliament has already drafted a solution in draft legislation called the ‘Copyright Amendment Bill’.

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Section 19D of the bill specifically creates exceptions for persons with disabilities so that they no longer require the permission of copyright holders if they want to convert published works into accessible formats.

It is said that it would, however, take several months before the entire bill is approved and becomes law,

In the hearing in September, Blind SA asked the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria to declare the Copyright Act unconstitutional, as well as declare that section 19D be immediately included in the Copyright Act, so that persons who are blind and visually impaired can start to benefit from this provision. The court subsequently ruled in Blind SA’s favour.

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However, the struggle is not over. Although the Copyright Act now reads as if it includes section 19D, the Constitutional Court must first confirm this. Blind SA has lodged its application for confirmation, which is still pending.

In addition, in order for section 19D to take practical effect, Minister Ebrahim Patel must make regulations explaining who precisely is authorised to make and supply accessible format copies of works to persons with disabilities, without the permission of the copyright holder.

Nair said without these regulations, section 19D cannot operate practically and persons who are blind and visually impaired will continue to be excluded.

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Only the minister can make these regulations and Section27 has already urged Patel to start this process and indicate the time frames in which the regulations will be published.

Section27 said to date, the minister has not yet responded to them, and they are concerned about the delay in giving effect to the court order.

Nair said: “The minister’s delay will have a devastating effect, as his failure to publish regulations that give meaning to section 19D keeps persons who are blind or visually impaired imprisoned in a book famine which continues to deny them equal access to knowledge”.

Nair added that education is the key to success and Blind SA is calling for equal learning opportunities for all.

“Sighted, blind or visually impaired, we all have a right to education,” he said.

Pretoria News

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