Adapting eBooks for Accessibility Across Open Publishing Platforms in Africa
Serving children with disabilities with resources in local languages.
According to data from the Kenyan Ministry of Education, deaf children represent a majority of all children with disabilities in Kenya. These children are not only an underserved group of students with disabilities but also a distinct language minority that uses Kenyan Sign Language as their native language.
In response to the lack of accessible reading materials in local languages available to these Kenyan children and others like them, organizations across Africa are working together to source, publish and adapt new multilingual storybooks under open license agreements or as EPUB e-books. This makes it possible for other groups around the world to affordably adapt their stories for use by students with disabilities, closing the gap on both local languages and accessibility.
Drawing on Communities for Help
Saide’s African Storybook initiative, launched in 2014, addresses the lack of educational materials through community sourcing of openly licensed, multilingual storybooks. This makes it possible for schools, libraries, and programs to write, adapt, translate, print and distribute local language stories. One of the core goals of African Storybook is to encourage community-based expansion to new languages and contexts by stimulating storybook creation and adaptation by local community members themselves. However, prior to 2017, African Storybook had not sought to adapt their digital content for accessibility; so, one language minority that had not been reached was the community of Deaf people in Africa using signed languages.
Bringing Accessibility into Focus
Enter Studio KSL, a project of Kenya-based eKitabu, an organization that seeks to deliver accessible digital literacy content to educators and students at a low cost. Inspired by a need from teachers and an opportunity to align with and support the new Kenyan Inclusive Education Policy, eKitabu saw technology as a solution for lowering costs and increasing accessibility of existing literacy materials for use by students who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Studio KSL was launched in 2018 with the partnership of Deaf Ability Initiative and The Kenya Society for the Deaf Children. Their aim is to empower the local Deaf community to integrate visual KSL storytelling into early grade readers and storybooks.
A Partnership Begins
In 2011, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision and the Australian Government formed All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD). This is a series of competitions that leverages science and technology to source, test and disseminate scalable solutions to improve literacy skills of early grade learners in developing countries. In May 2017, representatives of eKitabu and African Storybook connected at the “Leveraging Technology to Improve Early Grade Reading in Africa” workshop hosted by ACR GCD, the Global Book Alliance, the Mobiles for Education Alliance and the Pearson Institute of Higher Education-Pretoria Campus and found they had complementary goals.
With support from All Children Reading, Studio KSL had the resources and community support to begin adapting local language materials into visual storybooks in Kenyan Sign Language. Collaboration with African Storybook gave Studio KSL access to a library of multilingual storybooks. For African Storybook, a partnership with Studio KSL presented an opportunity to expand their readership, scale their reach to students with disabilities, and increase sustainability through the growth of a community of practitioners and creators around the African Storybook platform.
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In 2019, eKitabu was one of the three finalists of the All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development Sign On for Literacy prize competition. So far, eKitabu’s Studio KSL has adapted 23 storybooks into Kenyan Sign Language.
This partnership between two organizations promoting the use of ebooks across the African continent demonstrates the many ways in which partnerships can support the use of open-source, openly licensed educational resources. Partnerships like this have the potential to increase reach and scale of projects, reduce the cost of materials, accelerate the adaptation of existing resources for accessibility and promote the development of sustainable learning communities around digital platforms.