Access to Foreign Works, for reading disabled persons

Today Meredith Filak and I filed comments with the LOC Copyright Office and the USPTO on the importance of access to foreign works for reading disabled persons. A pdf of the comments are on the web here.

The comment is filed with a lot of data, including, for example:

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, among people aged 5 and above in the United States, 47 million people speak a language other than English at home. This constitutes 18 percent of the population, an increase from 14 percent in the 1990 census and 11 percent in the 1980 census. While over 300 languages are spoken in the United States, Spanish is the most pervasive non-English language, and is spoken by 28.1 million people. Among the other significant populations speaking languages other than English are 2 million Chinese speakers, 1.6 million French speakers, 1.4 million German speakers, 1.2 million Tagalog speakers, and one million each speaking Vietnamese and Italian.

According to a February 2006 survey prepared for the Director General for Education and Culture, the language most commonly spoken in Europe is English. Some 13 percent of Europeans speak English as their first language, and another 38 percent speak English as a second language. Together 51 percent of Europeans speak English. The most commonly used language in Europe by mother tongue (18 percent), and second most common by total speakers (32 percent) is German. The next most used languages in Europe are French and Italian, spoken by 26 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

Fifty six percent of Europeans speak a language other than their mother tongue. Twenty eight percent have mastered two languages other than their mother tongue. Eleven percent have mastered three or more languages excluding their mother tongue. Additionally, it is estimated that one in five Europeans are active language learners.

The European Commission’s studies on the topic suggest that language skills are correlated with education, employment mobility and higher incomes. In fact, some 83 percent of Europeans surveyed believe that knowing foreign languages is or could be useful for them personally, and 53 percent consider this to be very useful. Sixty seven percent of Europeans surveyed reported that languages’ teaching should be a political priority.

The analysis also discussed three areas in which a treaty on international exceptions for accessible works would greatly benefit reading disabled people:

First. The sharing of works between countries that have a common dominant language will improve the availability of accessible works for their reading disabled citizens. For example, works that are published and made accessible in the U.K. would, for the first time, become available to reading disabled persons residing in Australia, Barbados, Bangladesh, Canada, India, Hong Kong, Kenya, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda, United States, New Zealand and other countries where English is spoken. Citizens of smaller nations with fewer resources to create accessible works are particularly affected by current restrictions on the export and import of accessible works. These reading disabled individuals have little to no access to accessible works available in other countries with which they share a common language.

Second. The global sharing of accessible works would expand access for persons whose mother tongue is different from the official language of their country of residence. A treaty providing for the global distribution of accessible works would allow an Arabic speaker living in London greater access to accessible works in Egypt and other Arabic speaking countries. A native Spanish speaker who lives in the United States and is reading disabled could enjoy access to the collection of more than 20,000 accessible Spanish language works managed by the Argentina based Tiflolibros.

Third. Access to libraries of accessible foreign language works would benefit those reading disabled persons who speak foreign languages in addition to their native tongue. Fifty six percent of Europeans speak one or more languages excluding their mother tongue. In fact, 38 percent of Europeans are non-native speakers of English. Language skills are considered useful for business, education, travel, entertainment and personal satisfaction. Global sharing of accessible works would provide reading disabled persons with foreign language skills the opportunity to avail themselves of valuable multilingual resources and participate more fully in the global environment. For example, accessible Spanish texts would be invaluable to a reading disabled businessman who seeks to successfully operate a business in Latin America.