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Blindness increase a concern

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Disability Action Council secretary-general Em Chan Makara speaks at a workshop at the Phnom Penh Hotel on Monday. Hean Rangsey

Blindness increase a concern

At a workshop on Monday, government officials and civil society organisations expressed concern over the increase in the number of people suffering from blindness and visual impairments, with blindness being the most common form of disability in the Kingdom.

The workshop on the “Marrakesh Treaty”, attended by nearly 200 participants at the Phnom Penh Hotel, focused on people with reading disabilities and aimed to raise awareness and provide information to help amend the law related to implementing the requirements of the treaty.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation-administered Marrakesh Treaty makes the production and international transfer of specially-adapted books for people with blindness or visual impairments easier. It does this by establishing a set of limitations and exceptions to traditional copyright law.

Signed in Morocco in 2013, the treaty came into force in 2016 and has been signed by 80 countries, with 88 states having ratified it.

The Marrakesh Treaty provides an effective legal framework to accelerate the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Cambodia ratified in 2012.

An issue brief released by the UN Development Programme in August 2017 said Cambodia was one of only two Asean countries to have signed the treaty but was yet to complete the ratification process.

The treaty allows for copyright exceptions to facilitate the creation of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works for visually impaired persons.

It sets a norm for countries ratifying the treaty to have a domestic copyright exception covering these activities and allowing for the import and export of such materials.

Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Vong Soth – who is the head of the Disability Action Council (DAC) – said institutions should look at immediate solutions and clear-cut measures to reduce the difficulties facing people with visual impairments.

“We want to implement the Marrakesh Treaty soon because it can help people with disabilities and contribute to improving Cambodian society.

“This treaty is very important, especially for Cambodia because a high percentage of people with disabilities suffer from visual impairments,” he said.

DAC secretary-general Em Chan Makara said large-print and Braille documents should be produced and websites designed with the visually impaired in mind.

“We have conducted research and realise that the amount of visually impaired people is increasing every year.

We don’t yet have exact statistics but the research team found that two or three people out of every 100 suffer from visual impairments,” he said.

Cambodian Disabled People’s Organisation coordinator Sloth Vanda said providing documents that can be easily read by visually impaired people was increasingly important.

“People with disabilities have the right to participate fully in society. The relevant parties must work to ensure their needs are met so they can access public services in the same way as able-bodied people.

“We don’t have Braille documents yet and we also need voice assistance technology so people can access information,” he said.

A DAC report said a survey conducted by the Ministry of Planning in 2013 showed that of the 2.1 per cent of the Cambodian population with disabilities ­– some 300,000 – 35 per cent were visually impaired.

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