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Sruti disAbility Rights Centre
sruti.darc at gmail.com
Tue Sep 21 03:55:38 EDT 2010
Stevie Wonder strikes chord in UN appeal for disabled
By Peter Capella (AFP) 5 hours ago
GENEVA ‹ Blind US soul music star Stevie Wonder struck up a singalong at a
UN agency Monday as he urged countries to unlock access to copyrighted
material that disabled people need for their education and livelihoods.
"What I would like to do today is launch what I call the 'Declaration of
freedom for people with disabilities'," he told delegates at the opening of
the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) assembly in Geneva.
"It's a call to action, a plan that will empower the independence of people
with disabilities by providing them with the tools to learn and grow," he
Wonder said millions of intellectually capable disabled people are being
deprived of information and knowledge essential for their education and
The Motown legend struck a chord with the grey-suited diplomats and legal
experts, eliciting humming and hesitant singing to classics like "I Just
Called to Say I Love You", "My Cherie Amour" and "You are the Sunshine of My
"I gave the example with the songs, people know the songs because they were
able to hear them," he told journalists afterwards.
"There are people who have probably even far more to offer than myself who
are locked into this kind of prison because information is not available to
them," he said.
WIPO's 184 members are at loggerheads over broader access to copyrighted
material for people with disabilities that would allow it to be copied more
readily into braille for the blind or provided in an accessible digital and
About 314 million blind or visually impaired people alone stand to benefit,
according to the agency.
One of Wonder's aides estimated that five percent of printed materials and
books are available in a readable form for the blind or visually impaired in
industralised nations, and just one percent in developing countries.
African nations, Latin American countries, the European Union, and the
United States are among those that tabled different approaches for an
agreement at WIPO. The agency first put the issue on the table 16 years ago.
The World Blind Union endorsed Stevie Wonder's call, backing a proposal by
Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay as the "best hope for a speedy solution
to eradicate the book famine."
Wonder told the assembly: "I promise you, if you can (agree) between now and
next year this time, I'll come back and do an incredible celebration
concert: it's on you, do what you have got to do."
The US performer said he was making a serious bid to drive broader
improvements for disabled people motivated by the opportunities he enjoyed
in the United States.
"It represents something that I have felt for so long," the 60-year-old
said, explaining that he became aware of the plight of others while
travelling the world during his performing career.
Of his own situation, he said: "Musically it wasn't so difficult, I really
started music by ear."
"As to information, because of the system in the United States I was able to
learn braille, study and go to school as normal children do."
"At the age of 13 I was accepted into the Michigan School for the Blind
where I ... had a teacher who travelled with me when I was on the road,"
said Wonder, whose first recording contracts came at the age of 11.
"He really made information accessible or available to me. I will never
forget that on my birthday, when I was like 15, he would help me up the
stairs all the way up to the top of the Statue of Liberty."
Wonder drew a parallel between the needs of the disabled and affirmative
action that allowed African-Americans in the United States to gain equal
access to "quality" education.
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