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Access to information for knowledge has been key concern of libraries serving the general public including those who cannot read conventional ink print or computer output. To advocate the right of access to information, this paper reviews Declaration and Programme of Action of the United Nations World Summit for Social Development, United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and UNESCO Public Library Manifesto 1994 with special attention to blind and other disabled people living in less industrialized countries.
Access to information for knowledge has become a major concern of libraries serving the general public including those who cannot read conventional print materials due to vision problems, physical handicaps, dyslexia, or other disabilities.
Referring the Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right of access to information has been identified as one of key factors of fundamental human rights. As globalization in all aspects of the society make people increasingly rely on information, access to information for those people with print disabilities has become more and more crucial for full participation in the society. After the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons, in late 1993, the UN General Conference approved the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization for Opportunities of Persons with Disabilities which refers the role of libraries among other cultural and educational organizations.
At the same time, IFLA was also working out the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto 1994 upon request of UNESCO with an intention to attract policy makers' attention to library developments. The Manifesto was approved by UNESCO in 1994.
As early as in 1990, the Section of Libraries for the Blind/IFLA started the discussion on a statement Access to Information for All which was approved by the IFLA General Conference in Barcelona, 1993, as its professional resolution. The resolution deals with the fundamental rights on access to information of the blind and other print handicapped people and claims that the right of access to information should be clearly stated in specifically copyright related legislation of all levels to the effect that copyright protection should not prevent the access to information of people who require alternative access systems such as braille, talking books, tactile graphics, or electronic formats. In 1995, United Nations World Summit for Social Development approved its extensive Declaration and Programme of Action with participation of major international disability organizations. We librarians proudly know that Danish libraries including Danish National Library for the Blind held a special exhibition for the Summit.
United Nations World Summit for Social Development reaffirmed the rights contained in international instruments and declarations, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Declaration on the Right to Development, with the recognition of the fact that more than one in ten, are people with disabilities, who are too often forced into poverty, unemployment and social isolation.
One of the commitments declared by all gathered at the Summit was to "promote access for all to education, information, technology and know-how as essential means to enhancing communication and participation in civil, political, economic, social and cultural life, and ensure respect for civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights".
The Summit also recognized that the new information technologies and new approaches to the access to and use of technologies by people with disabilities and/or living in poverty can help in fulfilling social development goals. And therefore the Summit recognized the need to facilitate access to such technologies to those people.
In the Programme of Action of the Summit, governmental responses are identified to include "Promoting the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and developing strategies for implementing the Rules; governments, in collaboration with organizations of people with disabilities and the private sector, should work towards the equalization of opportunities, so that people with disabilities can contribute to and benefit from full participation in society; policies concerning people with disabilities should focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities and should ensure their dignity as citizens".
In order to implement and monitor the Programme of Action, at the national level, appropriate measures and mechanisms for implementing and monitoring the outcome of the Summit are to be adopted. At the international level, it was decided that the United Nations General Assembly should hold a special session in the year 2000 for an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the Summit and consider further actions and initiatives. The World Blind Union delivered a joint statement on behalf of international disability organizations including World Federation of the Deaf, International League of Societies for Persons with Mental Handicap, Rehabilitation International, and Disabled Peoples' International as follows:"All the themes of this Summit are highly relevant to us. We are the poorest of the poor in most societies. Disability increases poverty and poverty increases disability. It is women who bear a particular burden of poverty, both as carers and as disabled persons. Two thirds of disabled people are estimated to be without employment. Social exclusion and isolation are the day to day experiences of disabled persons. Too many must live in institutions. We cannot and we will not tolerate such conditions any longer. Disabled people must be included in the decisions, and above all, in the follow-up of the implementation of the plan of action of this Summit..."
Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities is a United Nations resolution adopted on 20 December 1993. With good reasons, the UN Standard Rules stresses the crucial importance of access to information services and documentation. Definition of the equalization of opportunity emphasizes the concern on accessibility to information.
The term "equalization of opportunities" means the process through which the various systems of society and the environment, such as services, activities, information and documentation, are made available to all, particularly to persons with disabilities. In spite of its importance, so far UN Standard Rules is not yet well recognized among librarians. However, the UN Standard Rules give strong support for efforts to make library services accessible to people with disabilities. The following is the most important part of the Rules related to information provision.
Libraries are identified in the Rule 10 as follows:
States will ensure that persons with disabilities are integrated into and can participate in cultural activities on an equal basis.
"Freedom, prosperity and the development of society and of individuals are fundamental human values. They will only be attained through the ability of well-informed citizens to exercise their democratic rights and to play an active role in society. Constructive participation and the development of democracy depend on satisfactory education as well as on free and unlimited access to knowledge, thought, culture and information." (UNESCO Public Library Manifesto 1994)Unesco Public Library Manifesto, which was prepared by the IFLA, clearly states one of key issues of current information society, in which availability of information may limit or expand the potential role of a person in the community. With the recognition of this key issue, the Manifesto identifies the roles of the public library as follows, I quote from the Manifesto:
"The Public library is the local centre of information, making all kinds of knowledge and information readily available to its users. The services of the public library are provided on the basis of equality of access for all, regardless of age, race, sex, religion, nationality, language or social status. Specific services and materials must be provided for those users who cannot, for whatever r eason, use the regular services and materials, for example linguistic minorities, people with disabilities or people in hospital or prison."As one of IFLA officers who took part in the discussion for the preparation of the Manifesto on behalf of the Section of Libraries for the Blind, I should extend an interpretation of the Manifesto from the viewpoint of serving the blind and other print-handicapped.
"Specific services and materials" includes provision of braille, talking books and other special format materials or access systems. The reason why IFLA did not specify each disability was simply the limited length of the text of Manifesto. The Manifesto ought to be short as much as we could so that it may be read through by decision makers of national and local governments. It was strongly requested that the text ought to be simple and with some "punch". If we identified each category of disability which should be taken note of in the text, the text could be much longer.
In addition, I should draw your attention to the fact that the current text of Manifesto is the third edition. It shows that implementation of the Manifesto will take more than 10 years. When we look back 10 or 20 years, we find many disabilities and special needs which were not well recognized in those days. The awareness on specific needs of people with disabilities subject to change according to the social development. With those considerations, we agreed upon the general description on special needs so that we may include any target groups of people with disabilities in this context. The Manifesto is neither an international convention nor a treaty. As you have noticed, the implementation of the manifesto relies on efforts of those who support it. The Manifesto is an international measure to improve and secure access to information through libraries for all general public including people with disabilities. Although the Manifesto is titled "Public Library Manifesto", the basic concept of the Manifesto is shared by all libraries serving the general public including those with disabilities. Within the IFLA structure, we have the Division of Libraries Serving the General Public consisting of Sections of Public Libraries, School Libraries, Children Libraries, Multicultural Services, Services for the Disadvantaged in the Society, and Libraries for the Blind. The specialty of the Section of Libraries for the Blind exists in expertise on special systems such as braille and talking books to be added on top of common basic library services to the general public to meet the needs of people with print handicaps.
When we have reviewed international instruments related to provision of access to information for knowledge, we find that responsibility of states, international organizations, NGOs and libraries have been already sufficiently identified. Those countries which have already developed library services to the blind and print handicapped will be most encouraged by those instruments to achieve the equalization of opportunities in the area of information provision.
It must be not too much difficult for any library or organization serving the people with print handicaps in less industrialized areas to draft a wish list based on those international instruments which we discussed. It will be a good start to list up those wishes. However, when it comes to building up stable systems to provide people with information efficiently, we need to have expertise, resources and support from users of the system relevant to those areas. We often found that a model in industrialized areas couldn't be a relevant model in developing areas. We need to be most creative to meet the needs in less industrialized areas.
Implementation of Programme of Action of Social Summit, Standard Rules, and the Public Library Manifesto should include cooperation between industrialized and less industrialized areas. So far the Section of Libraries for the Blind has been undertaking international training seminars in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean respectively since 1980. I believe that such channel of cooperation for developing countries should be expanded in the framework of the Programme of Action of the Social Summit.
As IFLA is the single international nongovernmental organization dealing with provision of access to information for all, it will be most relevant for IFLA to set up a core programme for literacy and reading promotion in developing countries in the context of the Programme of Action of the Social Summit. At the same time we should encourage ODA (Official Development Assistance) authority in each member country of Development Assistance Committee of OECD, as well as the government of recipient countries, to recognize the importance of library services to the general public for the social development.
The UNESCO Public Library Manifesto 1994 Freedom, prosperity and the development of society and of individuals are fundamental human values. They will only be attained through the ability of well-informed citizens to exercise their democratic rights and to play an active role in society. Constructive participation and the development of democracy depend on satisfactory education as well as on free and unlimited access to knowledge, thought, culture and information. The public library, the local gateway to knowledge, provides a basic condition for lifelong learning, i ndependent decision-making and cultural development of the individual and social groups. This Manifesto proclaims UNESCO's belief in the public library as a living force for education, culture and information, and as an essential agent for the fostering of peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women. UNESCO therefore encourages national and local governments to support and actively engage in the development of public libraries.
The public library is the local centre of information, making all kinds of knowledge and information readily available to its users. The services of the public library are provided on the basis of equality of access for all, regardless of age, race, sex, religion, nationality, language or social status. Specific services and materials must be provided for those users who cannot, for whatever reason, use the regular services and materials, for example linguistic min orities, people with disabilities or people in hospital or prison. All age groups must find material relevant to their needs. Collections and services have to include all types of appropriate media and modern technol-ogies as well as traditional materials. High quality and relevance to local needs and conditions are fundamental. Material must reflect current trends and the evolution of society, as well as the memory of human endeavour and imagination. Collections and services should not be subject to any form of ideological, political or religious censorship, nor commercial pressures.
The following key missions which relate to information, literacy, education and culture should be at the core of public library services:
The public library shall in principle be free of charge. The public library is the responsibility of local and national authorities. It must be supported by specific legislation and financed by national and local governments. It has to be an essential component of any long-term strategy for culture, information provision, liter-acy and education. To ensure nationwide library coordination and cooperation, legislation and strategic plans must also define and promote a national library network based on agreed standards of service. The public library network must be designed in relation to national, regional, research and special libraries as well as libraries in schools, colleges and universities.
A clear policy must be formulated, defining objectives, priorities and services in relation to the local community needs. The public library has to be organized effectively and professional standards of operation must be maintained. Cooperation with relevant partners -- for example, user groups and other professionals at local, regional, national as well international levels -- has to be ensured. Services have to be physically accessible to all members of the community. This requires well situated library buildings, good reading and study facilities, as well as relevant technologies and sufficient opening hours convenient to the users. It equally implies outreach services for those unable to visit the library. The library services must be adapted to the different needs of communities in rural and urban areas. The librarian is an active intermediary between users and resources. Professional and continuing education of the librarian is indispensable to ensure adequate services. Outreach and user education programmes have to be provided to help users benefit from all the resources.
Decision makers at national and local levels and the library community at large, around the world, are hereby urged to implement the principles expressed in this Manifesto.
(The Manifesto is prepared in cooperation with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), November 1994.) United Nations document. A/RES/48/96 IFLA journal. Vol.19(1993)No.4. pp454-456 United Nations document. A/CONF.166/L.1 Seminars on library services to blind and other print-handicapped people in developing countries: what has been done by the Section of Libraries for the Blind/IFLA by Hiroshi Kawamura. (Paper for IFLA General Conference, Havana, 21-27 August 1994)