First ever children storybooks published in Somali sign language

A team of RIT/NTID innovators is collaborating with Somali National Association for the Deaf to publish the video storybooks

First ever children storybooks published in Somali sign language

September is Deaf Awareness Month, and All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development is highlighting innovators who are developing solutions and tools to help ensure that children who are deaf and hard of hearing have access to books in the languages they use and understand.

A clip from the sign language storybook I Love my Mom

For the first time ever, children who are deaf and hard of hearing in Somalia will have access to storybooks in Somali Sign Language, thanks to a team of innovators being funded through the All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) Begin with Books prize.

Around the world, millions of children have little to no books in languages they use and understand, thereby limiting their access to education. For the more than 93 million children with disabilities, the shortage of books is even more severe, as resources, if available at all, often lack accessible formats especially for children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. 

Literacy is a key skill needed to succeed in education, and research shows that children experience greater reading success when learning in their local spoken or signed language. Providing engaging and accessible books in these underserved languages is essential to empowering and supporting these children on their path to literacy. 

And that’s what the team of innovators in Somalia are doing. The team is part of the Begin with Books (BWB) project, which is led by Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID) in collaboration with local disabled persons organizations in Somalia as well as Fiji, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Indonesia. The project aims to create hundreds of signed video storybooks in local sign languages using World Around You (WAY) software, which was funded during ACR GCD’s Sign on for Literacy Prize

The Somali team is collaborating with the Somali National Association for the Deaf (SONAD), who has been instrumental in providing advice and guidance in translating the children’s storybooks. Founded in 2006, SONAD promotes deaf education and Somali Sign Language and works to empower the Somali deaf community with education, employment and life opportunities. 

During production of the sign language storybooks

During production of the sign language storybooks

“Somali sign language is still a developing language, which has made it challenging for the Somali team to translate stories,” says Bakar Ali, a lecturer  at RIT/NTID. “However, with the help and guidance of SONAD, the team is making progress in translating stories. The Somali team created two groups that are working on creating stories. Team members based in the USA are working on creating Somali sign language stories with the collaboration of team members inside Somalia, enabling Somali team members to make progress on achieving their project goal.”

The team has also been receiving guidance from RIT/NTID Professor Christopher Kurz, who is director of the project and has been providing advice on proper translation, sign language grammar structure, and evaluation of the project. “The Somali team demonstrated exceptional commitment to the project and creating stories,” says Kurz. “They have overcome multiple challenges.”

Kurz also provides leadership for the Sign Language Storybook Cohort (SLSC), an online working group established by ACR GCD to promote co-learning and strengthen capacity among ACR GCD awardees as they create high quality storybooks in local sign languages. The cohort is developing Minimum and Gold Standards for sign language storybook production, which will be open source and available for global distribution to support inclusive education and the creation of more sign language teaching and learning materials.

Learn more about the Somali team’s project and the WAY platform. Access sign language storybooks in a variety of national and local sign languages on WAY.

All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development is a partnership between USAID, World Vision and the Australian Government.