October 8, 2019
Compelled by statistics that show as many as 150 million children globally have a disability, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) made improving literacy learning among children with disabilities a key pillar of its competitions that source technology-based innovations.
Those competitions resulted in awarding three grants to projects focused on children who are blind or have low vision: Bookshare India, implemented in India; Lesotho Literacy for Young Visually Impaired Persons, implemented in Lesotho; and Reading Beyond Sight, implemented in the Philippines. Research firm School-to-School International analyzed the use of technology-based solutions—including DAISY Players, portable braillers, computers, printers, software and optical devices as well as various implementation approaches—in these multi-year pilots to understand the impact on literacy learning for children with sensory disabilities.
The goal of this research–which included Early Grade Reading Assessments (EGRA) at each project’s baseline and endline as well as qualitative interviews and scalability assessments–was to inform those considering integrating technology into literacy projects for children with disabilities. Similarly, this research provides a foundation for others developing innovations that open literacy and education to the roughly 90 percent of children with disabilities globally who are out of school.
Securing quality education and literacy tools for children with disabilities is a critical step toward realizing the spirit and intent of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) to provide equitable education for all children. Lessons from ACR GCD’s three Round 2 grantee projects provide six meaningful insights for future literacy projects focused on children with disabilities:
- Organizational capacity to support students with disabilities greatly impacts the quality of the intervention. While relevant for all projects, a lack of familiarity with the issues and possible solutions available to participants may present acute challenges during implementation to organizations that support children with disabilities. Organizations should engage technical advisors and experts knowledgeable of contextual challenges to design a comprehensive intervention that addresses the multitude of barriers facing students who have low vision or are blind.
- Organizations should find a close match between the technologies provided through an intervention and the needs of students with disabilities and their teachers. Students who have low vision or are blind and their teachers have unique needs and skills that differ depending on the context. Luckily, several effective hardware and software options already exist, although not all are readily available in developing countries. Needs and capacity assessments should be a critical part of project development, and implementers should select technologies that best fit their project’s specific circumstances. Projects should also invest heavily in developing teachers’ technology skills to ensure appropriate uptake among participants.
- Students appear to be willing and able to use technologies—and enjoy using them. While technology uptake with teachers was inconsistent, students in all three projects expressed a willingness to use new technologies to help them learn to read. Students also had fewer challenges than teachers when using technologies. As such, the provision of assistive technologies to students who have low vision or are blind has great potential to motivate and support them in their education.
- Engaged parents and caretakers are critical for success. There are significant social stigmas facing children who have low vision or are blind, and families are often unaware of how to mitigate these stigmas to support their children’s learning. In many cases, children with disabilities are sent to specialized schools where family engagement is limited or nonexistent. To achieve sustainable change and reduce the barriers facing these children, organizations should incorporate sensitivity and skills training for parents to ensure positive learning experiences and support extend into the home.
- Making material production possible at the school level can greatly impact student access to accessible materials. Many education systems lack sufficient learning materials for students who have low vision or are blind. These systems also may underutilize the perspectives of teachers, who often know the needs of their students best. Providing teachers with the technology to create materials efficiently and regularly enables them to more easily meet the literacy needs of students. With the right resources, students are better equipped to read books independently and attend classes with sighted peers.
- Engagement with government stakeholders can enhance project rollout and potential for future scaling. Organizations that implement projects for students who have low vision or are blind may be helped if the local government already recognizes and supports quality, specialized learning experiences for students with disabilities through official policy. However, in the absence of these conditions, organizations can play a key role in raising awareness of the challenges faced by students with disabilities and of the solutions that may help them. By engaging with government stakeholders during implementation, organizations can implement their projects more effectively and spur new opportunities for future scaling.
These recommendations are part of ACR GCD’s full summary report, Supporting Technology-Based Innovations to Improve Early Grade Reading Outcomes for Students Who Have Low Vision or are Blind, available now.