RIT/NTID wins coveted prize to create accessible books as part of global reading initiative

The college, which is among four international winners, will develop children’s books in six sign languages

Mike Guinto

Professor Christopher Kurz will help lead the charge to create 200 leveled sign-language books in six sign languages on behalf of RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, as part of a global reading initiative.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is one of four international innovators selected to create cost-effective packages of high-quality accessible children’s books in languages children use and understand. The initiative, from All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development and the Global Book Alliance’s Begin With Books, enables the prize winners to collectively create thousands of leveled books in seven underserved spoken languages and nine sign languages, serving regions of the world where children have few or no books for preschool or kindergarten. 

RIT/NTID will create 200 leveled sign-language books in six sign languages (Filipino, Indonesian, Somali, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoan), for a total of 1,200 books. Seventy percent of the books will come from existing free and open source libraries. Working with local disabled persons organizations, 30 percent of the new stories created will be about the deaf experience or include deaf characters. RIT/NTID and partnering countries also plan to adapt or create 40 books with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) content.

“Children’s stories are often not accessible for the large majority of deaf children due to the lack of signing models who are native in their local sign languages,” said Christopher Kurz, professor at RIT/NTID and one of the project’s principal investigators. “This international collaborative project aims to address this by providing accessible books in multiple signed languages. Shared stories in which the main characters who happen to be deaf help make the world become more inclusive and connected.”

Prize winners will create the accessible e-books in stages over the next two years. Completed titles will be uploaded to the Global Digital Library, a web-based platform that offers free, high-quality early learning resources in more than 40 languages. Many of the books will be adapted from other open source content already available on the GDL and other platforms, while new books created will be open source to allow for adaptation into other languages or contexts.

In addition to book creation, the prize winners will join the organization’s new Sign Language Storybook Cohort consisting of other awardees and their partners from local disabled persons organizations to determine standards for sign-language storybook production in underserved languages.

“Millions of children around the world have little to no access to any books in a language they use and understand, thereby limiting their basic human right to literacy and education,” said Kerin Ord, global sector education lead for World Vision International. “The creation of these engaging, accessible books for children in some of the lowest-resourced regions of Africa, Asia and the Pacific will empower and support them on their journey to literacy and future success in school, health, employment, and society.”

RIT/NTID’s Begin with Books project will scale the effective work of its World Around You platform—created with funding from the Sign On For Literacy prize—to five additional contexts. The platform enables communities to create books and learning content in local and national sign languages that can be shared via an open content digital library of folktales. The 200 books created will also be packaged and uploaded to the Global Digital Library. 

“We are all thrilled that we’ll be able to continue the work with World Around You,” said Stephen Jacobs, professor in RIT’s School of Interactive Games and Media and a MAGIC Center affiliate. “Doing our first training in Manila, it was exciting to see how quickly deaf students, parents, and teachers took to the platform. We ended up with 10 storybooks in just a weekend-long workshop. All of the participants, deaf and hearing, from teenagers to senior citizens, truly felt empowered by the tool.”

“We are very proud of the work that Dr. Kurz and his team have done to create this much-needed resource for deaf and hard-of-hearing children throughout the world,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “I applaud them and the other winners of the Begin with Books Prize.”

Three other Begin With Books Prize awardees were selected.

“Serving the literacy and education needs of children with disabilities in low-resource contexts is core to the mission and heart of the All Children Reading Grand Challenge,” said Shelly Malecki, program manager for the All Children Reading Grand Challenge and Begin With Books prize lead. “Through the SLSC, we’ll develop standards for the creation of sign language books for the Global Digital Library and a toolkit for creating sign language storybooks that we hope will change business models among book producers to incorporate accessibility features at the onset of book development.”

The prize is valued at $200,000.

Recommended News