Stevie Wonder and the Marrakesh Treaty

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Leah Smith

As many of you have probably heard by now, at last week’s Grammy Awards Ceremony, Stevie Wonder proudly announced that, “We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.” However, many probably did not realize that this was not just an isolated idea that happened to strike Stevie Wonder spontaneously. Rather, this was a very intentional, deliberately planned political statement that Stevie Wonder was making.

While Stevie Wonder has been a life-long advocate for accessibility, this particular comment was very carefully placed. Perhaps he might have begun planning this statement as far back as 2010, when he spoke before the United Nations committee that was deliberating whether to move forward with the Marrakesh Treaty. According to Perkins School for the Blind, this treaty “allows people who are blind, low vision or have print disabilities to access books or other materials in accessible formats” by loosening copyright laws so that specifically authorized agencies can convert intellectual property into accessible formats and distribute them to people that have been verified as needing them for access, without first obtaining copyright permissions and without making any sort of profit off of the transaction. Widespread adoption of this treaty would mean these reformatted, accessible books could be shared across international borders to some of the most marginalized people in the world, helping them to improve their education and quality of life.

In 2013, President Obama, along with 80 other countries showing their support, signed the Marrakesh Treaty. However, in order to make the treaty legally enforceable, at least 20 of those countries need to ratify the treaty. Ratification is the process by which a government agrees to hold itself accountable to the terms of a treaty. So far, thirteen countries have done so for the Marrakesh Treaty. Although President Obama signed it, supporting the treaty in principle, The United States is not currently one of the thirteen nations that has actually ratified the agreement. For that to happen, two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote in favor of ratification.

So, it is no coincidence that it was at the Grammy’s, held on February 15th, that Stevie Wonder made these statements in regards to making everything accessible to every disabled person, because just five days before, on February 10th, the Marrakesh Treaty had been introduced to the United States Senate so that they could consider voting on its ratification.

Stevie Wonder was more than hinting at the idea that this treaty deserves, in fact, needs, our country’s support. Certainly, he was subtle when making this statement about the treaty at the Grammy Awards, but he was much clearer at the Marrakesh Treaty Press Conference where he said, “I will not be done with my commitment until my life is done. I will not be happy until everyone on this planet is able to see in the various ways they are able to.”

Contact: Leah Smith