Stevie Wonder Works toward Pro-Visually Impaired Global Copyright Laws

Children’s literacy is one of the most important issues facing us today. Fortunately, many groups, organizations, and individuals are dedicated to reversing the staggering statistics. However, as hard as people are working to get kids reading, there are some kids—such as the visually- impaired ones—who get left out.  Thanks to Stevie Wonder, though, visually-impaired literacy is getting some of the attention it deserves.

Stevie Wonder recently appeared before the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) of the United Nations urging for global copyright laws to be changed to the benefit of the 300 million print-reading-disabled global citizens, to whom millions of books are inaccessible to them as audiobooks due to the current copyright system.

According to the Huffington Post, the way the system is currently set up requires that many audiobook versions of the same work be produced, which carries a higher cost, the burden of which falls on the visually-impaired public. What’s more, some poor countries can’t even afford to make their own versions of works, so that they’re not available at all to their blind citizens.

Here is part of Wonder’s address, courtesy of The New Yorker:

“While I know that it is critical not to act to the detriment of the authors who labor to create the great works that enlighten and nourish our minds, hearts and souls, we must develop a protocol that allows the easy import and export of copyright materials so that people with print disabilities can join the mainstream of the literate world.”

“According to the AFP,” reports The New Yorker, “aides to Wonder said that just ‘five percent of printed materials and books are available in a readable form for the blind or visually impaired in industrialized nations, and just one percent in developing countries.’”   You may wonder, as I certainly did, how come such a small amount of books get translated into formats accessible to the visually-impaired, such as Braille and audiobooks. Ian Crouch of The New Yorker interviewed Paul Schroeder, the Vice President of Programs and Policy at the American Foundation for the Blind to find out more about this issue.

According to Shroeder, while several developed countries have different copyright laws allowing books to be reproduced in Braille, audio, and electronic or large print, the materials must fulfill two limitations, first that the books only go to those who are unable to read print books due to a disability, and secondly that the books are made by “specialized format producers who work with people with print-reading disabilities.”

In the U.S. the copyright provisions, also known as the Chafee provisions after former Senator Lincoln Chafee, allow these specialized producers to reproduce books in formats that are accessible to people with print-reading disabilities. A problem arises, however, with the fact that the provisions don’t allow for export outside the U.S., a law that other counties have in common with us.

According to Shroeder, “We definitely want to see a treaty or other mechanism that allows books to be shared across borders for use by people with print disabilities.” Stevie Wonder’s advocacy work is in alignment with this goal.

It’s an inspiration to see other artists working on behalf of children who aren’t typically represented in the children’s literacy issue.  After visiting with the bright children of Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf on my East Coast book tour, I released Danny the Dragon Meets Jimmy, the first book of my children’s book series, on DVD with a sign interpretation, and the profits are going to the causes of literacy and education. Now the DVD has been released by iStorytime, of Dreamworks and Shrek Forever After, as an app for the iPhone, iTouch, and iPad. I hope to see other artists and individuals follow in Stevie Wonder’s example by championing causes that are special to them, and I look forward to seeing progress in developing a global system whereby the millions of visually-impaired are able to enjoy the books we ourselves are lucky to have access to.

Tina Turbin


Posted in Apple, Apps, Books, Children's Author, Children's Book, Childrens' Literature, iPad, iPhone, literacy, reading, Sign Interpretation Available
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20 Responses to Stevie Wonder Works toward Pro-Visually Impaired Global Copyright Laws

  1. Daysia says:

    I remember coming across this before on one of your websites and I’m still shocked by how difficult it is to make audiobooks. But I wonder…what about Braille? Does anyone out there know about the translation rate into Braille or if there are copyright laws that stand in the way of that too? That would be interesting to know.

  2. Gillian says:

    This really filled me with a whole new level of respect for Stevie Wonder. It is so inspiring when artists and celebrities use their power and fame to bring awareness to issues that are not only important but meaningful to them, just as you’ve done with celiac disease and deaf literacy.

  3. Melissa Hart says:

    WOW! 300 million print-reading-disabled people in the world! That’s just too many people for there to be copyright issue like this. This needs to be resolved like now! I wonder if there’s a petition we could sign or something.

  4. Gloria says:

    So impressed with your DVD and app! I heard about it from my son’s teacher, who read the class Danny the Dragon. Austin (my son) became a huge Danny fan so I got him the book and the DVD. We are looking to get the iPad 2 and I’m so excited to order this app and your future apps as well!

  5. Britney Stryker says:

    I had no idea about this issue WHATSOEVER before reading this post on your blog. It’s funny that I read this because our next door neighbor who just moved in has a legally blind daughter. It really opens up my eyes that there are so many visually impaired people out there and such few audiobooks. That’s a shame. I wonder how many books have been translated into Braille? I bet the classics have been but what about contemporary books? There are so many important contemporary books, especially non-fiction, that everyone should have access to.

  6. Darlene says:

    WOW this app sounds great. SIgh…yet one more reason to get an iPad 2, huh? I really wanted an iPad for a while but then I heard that there was another one coming out so I waited. I’m glad I did:)

  7. Hilary Jackman says:

    What an important issue. There are so many things going on in the world that I feel so ignorant about! Ever since I’ve been reading your blog I’ve definitely felt more “in the loop” so to speak, and I have learned about all sorts of topics, including gluten free eating and celiac disease. Thanks for your work!

  8. Flora says:

    Hi Tina this was some interesting news. I believe I ran across this elsewhere online too, perhaps it was on your other blog at or another blog who knows…I read so many these days. Who needs TV anymore? LOL

  9. Fifi says:

    Wow the statistics are crazy I can barely believe them. Well, isn’t there Braille at least to translate these books into? I mean, audiobooks are great I’m sure and I’d probably prefer to hear books than read them in Braille.

  10. Kitty says:

    I didn’t even know Stevie wonder was so active in helping blind people. I had literally not heard of this before. I am always so relieved when celebrities get involved in charities and issues that mean a lot to them because what else do you do when you’ve made your own dreams come true. It’s time to take responsibility for others and the world you live in. Glad to see you’re doing this yourself too Tina!

  11. Danielle Williams says:

    I just love how amazing Stevie wonder is towards others around him even though he can’t see them; he can still hear every beautiful voice that surround him

  12. Megan Crox says:

    Hi Tina this was incredible to read and very inspiring. My sister-in-law’s step-sister (if you can follow that!) is visually impaired and yet at the same time widely read, it seems, but it could be in classics and not in contemporary works. Next time I see her at a family function I’ll ask her about this issue.

  13. Megan says:

    Stevie Wonder is a very talented musician and an inspiration to artists everywhere. I didn’t know that he was so passionate about helping other visually impaired people, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit. Once you’ve attained power in your respective field, it’s so important to reach out and help others get to where you’re at.

  14. Fran Wysse says:

    I’m so happy to hear about your iPad app. We haven’t yet bought an iPad, but we’re planning on doing so later in the year. Danny the Dragon will certainly be one of the first apps we buy for it.

  15. Greta says:

    My daughter Kyra is such a huge Danny fan and loves your app and learning sign language. She is really good now at signing things even when I’m just reading the book to her. She has memorized most of the story in ASL! She also plans on bringing it to school and doing sign language with the book as part of a show and tell-type school project. We can’t wait for the next books in your series to come out!

  16. Faith says:

    Hi Tina you are such an inspiration for helping not only with literacy,which I know is one of your passions and one of the many issues you advocate for, but helping kids with special needs with their literacy. All because of your trip to a deaf children’s school, amazing!

  17. Samantha says:

    There is actually a large number of books in Braille so I was a little confused by how come blind people can’t just read books in Braille? I haven’t heard of a copyright issue existing for reprinting books in Braille, but I’m also highly uneducated on this subject. Samantha

  18. Linda Hammon says:

    I just wanted to point out for the people wondering about Braille, that “just ‘five percent of printed materials and books are available in a readable form for the blind or visually impaired in industrialized nations, and just one percent in developing countries” -taken from the post above. Braille is included in this figure.

  19. Lucy says:

    Hey Tina my sister and I discovered you on and had no idea you were such an important children’s author! We just ordered your books, a copy each, for our families and look forward to reading them. I can tell from the Danny icon alone on this website that we’re in for a treat!

  20. Norma Barry says:

    Hi Tina OMG I had no idea this was an issue. Looking at the date–this was back in March–I thought maybe more news has come out regarding handling these copyright laws. How’s it going, does anyone know? I’d love to find out. What an interesting topic!

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