RIT/NTID’s ‘World Around You’ platform chosen for Inclusive Education award

Project’s goal is to increase global literacy for deaf children

Stephen Jacobs

Deaf children in the Philippines use the World Around You multilingual educational platform. The platform was selected as the winner of the Inclusive Education award by the mEducation Alliance.

World Around You, a multilingual platform created by a team at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, was selected as the winner of the Inclusive Education award by the mEducation Alliance.

The goal of World Around You, or WAY, is to increase global literacy for deaf children by providing greater access to sign languages, early-grade reading materials, vocabulary, reading instruction, and digital games.  

“World Around You is a library of storybooks about different topics, including COVID-19, folktales, deaf experiences, cultural items and foods, and sign language genres,” said Christopher Kurz, a professor in NTID’s master’s in secondary education program and the project lead. “WAY promotes community inclusion and engagement by allowing deaf and hearing contributors to create, publish, and distribute multilingual signed stories with written text collaboratively across the Internet. WAY reinforces global literacy for deaf children and global sign language documentation of local, regional, and national sign languages by deaf people.”

Along with development partner Second Avenue Learning, and RIT’s School of Interactive Games and Media and MAGIC Center, Kurz and his team worked to create interactive stories in six signed languages—Filipino, Indonesian, Somali, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Samoan.

“WAY was created as a free and open source software platform for publication and distribution of Creative Commons licensed content,” said Stephen Jacobs, director of Open@RIT and a co-principal investigator on the project. “This allows anyone around the world to use it, work with us to improve it, or create their own version of the books available in WAY, or even the entire software system, for their own uses.”

Tory VanVoorhis, CEO of Second Avenue Learning, was delighted with the collaboration. “Second Avenue and NTID have collaborated on this project to produce a result where the whole of the collaboration is greater than the sum of the parts. This reflects what a more inclusive, accessible society represents: people being stronger when banding together than when alone, or worse, excluded. We continue to look for opportunities where we can do the same thing,” said VanVoorhis.

Members of the mEducation Alliance, a representative body of bilateral and multilateral donors, NGOs, foundations, private sector partners, and academic researchers, reviewed nominated programs. This year's categories included Literacy; Youth and Workforce Development; Crisis and Conflict; Numeracy and S.T.E.M.; Inclusive Education; EdTech Researcher Extraordinaire; and Policymaker EdTech Champion.

“The mEducation Alliance Annual Award Show is a new tradition established this year that is meant to celebrate extraordinary edtech champions making learning possible and education accessible to all,” said Tony Bloome, executive director and founder. “We are pleased to honor the creators of World Around You for their commitment to inclusion and accessibility.”

The full list of categories and winners is on the mEducation Alliance website.

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