The issue of accessibility of public libraries to people with disabilities (PWDs) is an issue that is considered worldwide. In India, it has received an impetus in 2012 after the Copyright Amendment Act was passed by the Parliament. Post the 2012 Amendment, Section 52 of the Copyright Act enables libraries to convert their collections into formats accessible to PWDs free of cost. In this context, 20 disability rights groups wrote to the Ministers of Culture, HRD and Social Welfare requesting the Government to take action in removing the barriers PWDs face in accessing public library facilities and collections. Their letter can be accessed here.
The letter notes that as there are approximately 150 million people who are suffering with disabilities in India and as public libraries are critical for the education and dissemination of information and knowledge to the citizens of India, the Government must take steps to make library materials accessible for PWDs. Moreover, India has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities. Under Articles 4, 9 and 30 of the UNCRPD, India has the responsibility to take all appropriate measures to ensure that there is minimal or no discrimination to PWDs and that PWDs enjoy access to libraries. The Ministry of Culture has also constituted a High Level Committee under the National Mission on Libraries to look into the revamping of the library structure in the country. This, along with the Copyright Amendment Acts of 2012, makes for an ideal opportunity for the Government to make the public library facilities in the country more disabled-friendly.
A long list of suggestions for improvement has also been provided by the 20 disability rights groups. These suggestions have been provided by them after conducting research into the issue and are therefore, comprehensive and reasonable. They include increased accessibility by making structural modifications to library buildings such as ramps, handrails, elevators as well as making public conveniences such as toilets and drinking fountains. They also ask for larger and more visible signs and boards as well as installing the signs in Braille as well. Other suggestions include that the library materials must be digitized and be catalogued in accessible formats. The public libraries must function as a distribution centre for such materials. Libraries should also provide the assistive aids and equipment required by PWD’s. In addition to giving adequate training to library staff about interactions with PWD’s, there must also be staff and other personnel with a background in disability for assisting and guiding PWDs in the libraries. Such assistance is integral in order to make PWD’s comfortable with using the library materials and facilities even if they are present in accessible formats.