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Stevie Wonder, Braille, and Accessibility

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A couple of weeks ago, one of my colleagues here at NLS, David Fernandez-Barrial, asked me if I had seen the Grammy award ceremony (which took place Monday, February 15, 2016). I had to admit I hadn’t; I was, uh, practicing my Hindemith songs.

Well, it turns out that Stevie Wonder, one of the presenters at this year’s Grammys, joked that no one could read the braille sheet in the golden award envelope he was holding. When the laughter died down a bit, he turned more serious and addressed the crowd, “I just want to say, before I say the winner, that we need to make everything accessible to every person with a disability.”

Now this shout out for accessibility is the thrust of the NLS slogan “That All May Read.” And the Music Section of course provides music accessible for the blind, braille music.  Our music banner proclaims “There’s More Than One Way to Read Music.”

In case you don’t know Stevie Wonder, he’s a world class musician who has won 25 Grammy awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1996. He lost his vision shortly after his premature birth, and his music has been pouring out since he was a child. The Library of Congress honored him with the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2008. And we could go on…..

His music is available in the Music Section’s collection. A collection of his songs from the 1976 album “Songs in the Key of Life,” for example, can be found at BRM26034. And we have just published, in braille, his song “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing” in the current issue of Popular Music Lead Sheets, #115, BRM36126.  (Yes, it’s not exactly timely, but better late than never.)

We are glad (happy, excited, ecstatic, even chuffed) to have such a braille reading musician speak out so prominently for accessibility, speak out for (exactly) what we provide: braille, audio, and large print music.

But wait, there’s more, as David reminded me. (David is the foreign language librarian at NLS, and was the NLS representative to IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations.)

Music, as you may realize, is an international language. Music notation, whether printed in ink or braille, can be read by anyone (who has learned it) anywhere.

In Marrakesh, Morocco, in 2013, an international treaty was negotiated “to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled.” The treaty includes music! And its passage would have enormous benefits for the Music Section and braille music people throughout the world.

Present were 600 delegates from the 186 members of the World Intellectual Property Organization. 51 countries signed the treaty when it was passed, and the signatories now number at least 79.

Stevie Wonder was asked to perform, in Marrakesh, to celebrate the adoption of the treaty. And he did — using the international language of music to celebrate an international agreement.

The treaty was sent to Congress for ratification just within the last few weeks. 20 countries are needed to ratify the treaty.

And, for those who might want to read the treaty, or put it to music, here is a link to it in braille, and here is one to a summary in electronic print.

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