August 30, 2022
In Malawi, access to teaching and learning materials in Malawian Sign Language for children who are deaf and braille materials for learners with visual disabilities is key to opening education for all children. The lack of accessible teaching and learning materials in local languages has been a persistent barrier for all learners with and without disabilities. At present, Malawi has 210 inclusive schools and 7 special schools for the deaf across Malawi’s 28 districts. However, none of these schools have the needed devices or visual learning materials required for this population, the majority of teachers are hearing, and Sign Language fluency in Malawi is very low, particularly for hearing parents of children who are deaf.
With support from All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD), a partnership of USAID, World Vision, and the Australian Government, eKitabu held a four-day, hands-on workshop in May in Blantyre to provide training on developing and using accessible digital content in Malawian Sign Language, Tumbuka, Chichewa, Yao, and Lomwe languages to support inclusive education in Malawi. The multi-stakeholder training brought together ecosystem participants including Malawian publishers, teachers, organizations of persons with disabilities, and Malawian government officials.
“We have the publishers, writers, illustrators, and editors,” said Lucy Magagula, Deputy Director for Inclusive Education, Ministry of Education, Malawi, during the opening ceremony as she welcomed participants. “Let us all work together to remove barriers experienced by persons with disabilities.”
During a workshop presentation, Sekerani Kufakwina, Advocacy Committee Chairperson for Malawi National Association of the Deaf (MANAD), said, “For a long time ‘accessibility’ issues mainly dwelt on physical accessibility, bypassing other key aspects of accessibility and use of one’s first language. The workshop opened eyes for many producers, publishers, and curriculum developers, and I hope it will accelerate more production of accessible digital materials on the principle of leaving no one behind.”
ACR GCD Senior Program Manager Michelle Oetman said during her opening remarks to all participants: “ACR GCD is absorbing the risk associated with innovation with the hope that new solutions will emerge to support everyone working to strengthen child literacy. Digital content is a complementary approach to print and can increase access to content for all children, especially for learners with disabilities. When you create and provide access to quality, accessible books, children will be eager to engage.”
During the workshop, the eKitabu team trained over 50 local publishing representatives, equipping them with tools developed by eKitabu, and available in eKitabu’s open source Accessible EPUB Toolkit (toolkit.eKitabu.com/malawi), to incorporate accessibility into their products and publishing practices. This resulted in building skills and relationships for a more sustainable Malawian publishing ecosystem, addressing gaps in born accessible content for all learners, strengthening the system through integration and collaboration, and building an in-country network for sustainability. The workshop positioned the Malawi National Association of the Deaf (MANAD) and Malawi Union of the Blind (MUB) as essential collaborators with book publishers and the Ministry of Education. During the four-day workshop, participants developed five accessible EPUBs following the steps in the Accessible EPUB Toolkit.
“It was a great moment of learning and sharing knowledge on how to create accessible learning materials for children in our schools,” said Odala Banda, Senior Education Specialist, USAID Malawi, during the stakeholder roundtable discussion. “I look forward to the continued support towards improving the expertise of Malawian publishers, writers, authors, illustrators, designers, and editors to ensure the production of quality reading materials.”
During the same roundtable, Maureen Masamba, President of the Book Publishers Association of Malawi (BPAM) and editor at Dzuka Publishing, said: “Capacity can only be measured if given the opportunity to show what has been gained. Moving towards developing accessible ebooks, we believe, is exciting, something everyone will look forward to, and will breed inquisitiveness in everyone to want to read more.”
eKitabu, in collaboration with BPAM and organizations of persons with disabilities in Malawi, is supporting publishers in developing born accessible digital content locally and sustainably. The accessible digital content workshop was organized as a central pillar of eKitabu’s work as an awardee of ACR GCD’s Begin with Books competition. It was designed to build on the Malawi book development training launched by the Global Book Alliance In Action (GBAIA) to strengthen book supply chains and ensure inclusive access to quality, accessible books for all children
“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Amon Kibet is the Digital Media Manager with eKitabu