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OTTAWA, ON – Unlocking 285,000 accessible books for Canadians with visual disabilities is one step closer to reality thanks to the concerted efforts of a visually-impaired woman from Manotick.


Diane Bergeron, a resident of Manotick and an Executive Director with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), has long been a champion of blind and visually impaired persons. She took Tuesday morning to celebrate the Royal Assent of Bill C-11 – which made Canada the 20th country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty, bringing the Treaty into force in September 2016 – at the used book sale at Watson’s Mill with local Member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre.


Only about 7% of books are available to the blind in audio, large print and Braille format. Digital books in audio format usable by blind readers are a solution, but they take a long time and a lot of money to record and produce. While there are hundreds of thousands of publications produced in other countries, they cannot be shared due to copyright laws. The Marrakesh Treaty changes that by amending countries’ copyright laws to allow books to be reproduced in accessible formats, such as Braille, large print, and audio books. Canadians will gain access to an estimated additional 285,000 books, at no additional cost to taxpayers, come September, now that 20 countries have ratified the Treaty.


“The passage of Bill C-11 and the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty is a historic event for Canadians with print disabilities,” said Bergeron. “We are now only a few months away from getting alternate format books into the hands of three million Canadians.”


This was no ordinary act of philanthropy for Diane – it’s personal. She was legally blind by age 10 and lost all of her sight by age 30. However, being blind has never prevented any of her achievements. She has skydived, participated in international dragon boat competitions, ran triathlons, and repelled down a 29-storey building. For her 50th birthday in the summer of 2015 she entered an Ironman competition in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec.


“I lost my sight as a child and I didn’t read very much,” Bergeron said. “Even though currently we only have access to about seven percent of books in accessible formats, the situation has improved considerably since I was a child. Now I read about five books a week. The Marrakesh Treaty will unlock access to even more books.”


Diane has become an inspiration to the blind community and brings her positive attitude to her role as the Executive Director of Strategic Relations and Engagement for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB).


Diane brought the importance of the Marrakesh Treaty to the attention of her local Member of Parliament, Pierre Poilievre, who was immediately on board. He has been a champion for the bill ever since the Conservatives first tabled it in 2015, and continued his support when it was re-tabled by the Liberals in March 2016. In fact, Poilievre successfully moved the motion in the House of Commons to push Bill C-11 through the House, with unanimous support from all parties late this spring. Unusual for any Member of Parliament, Poilievre was invited to the Senate testify in favour of immediate passage.


“Looking at the book market here today, we see perhaps a few thousand books,” said Poilievre. “These alone represent a decent market, but now we consider the opportunity of unlocking 285,000 books in accessible formats like Braille and audio books. It really is unlocking an entirely new world for blind and visually-disabled Canadians, and I am very proud of Diane for her perseverance and for impressing upon me the importance of this legislation.”