All Children Reading Announces eKitabu and SIL LEAD as Winners of Book Boost: Access for All Challenge

Two years ago, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development, Pearson, and Project Literacy saw a key opportunity to serve the literacy needs of a major segment of the global population: the estimated 19 million children who are blind or have low vision and millions more with disabilities that impact their use of printed materials.  

Like most innovations, the process started by asking a bold “What if?” Knowing current technologies provide the potential for publishers to produce books accessible to everyone including those with print disabilities, this partnership asked, “What if accessibility could be addressed at the onset of book development?”

The result was our Book Boost: Access for All Challenge, which sought business models that are rooted in optimizing and increasing the number of accessible books in the title development phase of the book value chain. As the title development process involves multiple actors including authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers, the challenge invests in winning innovations that provide cost-effective solutions for accessibility throughout the book value chain.

In many cases, accessibility in publishing is a costly afterthought. Making books accessible to all readers, including those with print disabilities, often involves retrofitting books already created into accessible formats, resulting in inefficiencies and additional expenses.

Thus, innovation that spurs inclusive publishing is vital for improving access to books for children with disabilities and boosting demand for children’s books worldwide.

ACR GCD is pleased to announce two winners of the Book Boost: Access for All Challenge—eKitabu and SIL LEAD:

eKitabu: Driving Local Development of Born Accessible Titles in Kenya

eKitabu’s winning solution will facilitate a transition to a sustainable, born accessible book chain in Kenya, resulting in the availability of more quality accessible book titles. The Nairobi, Kenya-based company’s project plan will result in the production of 700 accessible titles over four years (75 in year 1; 125 in year 2; 200 in year 3; and 300 in year 4).

“We have great opportunities and great challenges in realizing inclusive education in Kenya today,” said Matt Utterback, co-founder of eKitabu. “The Government of Kenya’s groundbreaking Digital Literacy Programme has distributed 1.2 million tablets and laptops across all 21,000 of Kenya’s public, primary schools. Yet, few accessible materials exist for students with disabilities. Our Book Boost innovation aims to close that gap by empowering local publishers to develop born-accessible materials, dramatically lowering costs for content accessible to all learners.”

eKitabu’s strategy for achieving these results through Book Boost leverages the Accessible Digital Textbook prototype developed with UNICEF in Kenya, as well as an accessibility toolkit for content developers and publishers to build their own accessible titles in local languages. The company also proposed to launch a Content Development Challenge to incentivize local authors and publishers to utilize the toolkit.

“Through our Book Boost innovation, local content developers can adapt open standards and tools to save time and money, ensuring that teaching and learning materials leave no one behind in SDG #4—inclusive and equitable quality education for all,” said Will Clurman, CEO and co-founder of eKitabu.

SIL LEAD: Enhancing Bloom Software to Boost Accessible Books for All

SIL LEAD’s winning solution includes enhancing its Bloom software with accessibility features, enabling users to create born-accessible reading materials in underserved languages. Bloom’s system support services will also be enhanced, resulting in an online dashboard system to track title use, training materials and a Bloom library website that meets accessibility standards.

“Creating accessible books is a logical next step for Bloom since it already records audio and exports books as ePUB documents,” said Paul Frank, executive director of SIL LEAD. “We’re excited to offer this new capability and reach even more readers in underserved language communities.”

The free Bloom software makes it simple for speakers of underserved languages to create books or translate existing books into their language. The winning solution of ACR GCD’s Enabling Writers competition in 2016, Bloom has since been used by numerous organizations and governments to develop student learning books, decodable readers, and leveled readers. SIL LEAD’s enhancements through Book Boost will build on Bloom’s success by enabling users to optimize and boost the number of accessible books in the title development phase of the book value chain.

“The enhanced Bloom software, known as Bloom Enterprise, will be the tool of choice for creating quality accessible titles for local communities and large international corporations alike,” said Henk Prenger, business development consultant for SIL LEAD. “It will be by far the most cost-effective and easy to use solution available.”

ACR GCD also recognizes the following two semi-finalists of the Book Boost: Access for All Challenge:

The Asia Foundation: Accessible ePubs for Developing Asia

Building on its launch of Let’s Read! in Indonesia in 2017, the Asia Foundation proposed upgrading the accessibility of its Let’s Read! library, as well as the implementation of a series of training workshops aimed at creating a cadre of current and future publishing professionals with hands-on experience creating accessible e-publications.

World Education, Inc.: Reading Equality with Accessible Design (READ)

World Education, Inc., proposed leveraging the existing Enabling Writers Workshop Program to build a cost-efficient model for developing new titles that incorporate accessibility at the onset of book development.

As eKitabu’s and SIL LEAD’s winning solutions are implemented over the next year, ACR GCD will be sharing the results and learnings. In the meantime, we encourage our colleagues in global publishing and related fields to integrate accessibility into the content development process.  

The path to inclusive publishing requires all players—including authors, illustrators, editors, designers and producers—to ask the daring “What if?” of the Book Boost: Access for All Challenge. Each has a role in recognizing the promise of inclusive publishing for millions of children with disabilities. Only when accessibility becomes ingrained at the onset of book production can we begin to advance the collective goal of providing all children the fundamental right to literacy and education.  

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