Three innovators to field test solutions to improve literacy outcomes for deaf children in developing countries

Kenyan child participating in eKitabu's Studio KSL program.

Sign On For Literacy prize finalist eKitabu films a sign language video for its Studio KSL platform, which documents Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) in a visual glossary and produces KSL videos for integration into accessible books. Photo credit: eKitabu

Three innovations have risen to the top of a global competition to source technology solutions that increase access to local sign languages and advance language and literacy outcomes for deaf children in developing countries.

Today, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) is pleased to announce that eKitabu, Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID) and Manos Unidas will advance as finalists in our Sign On For Literacy prize competition. The three finalists will receive additional funding and the opportunity to pilot and test their innovations in Kenya, the Philippines and Nicaragua, respectively.

The Sign On For Literacy prize competition received more than 100 applications from innovators in 39 countries. In June 2018, ACR GCD announced funding to five semi-finalists to refine their prototypes and later pitch before a panel of judges comprised of education and technology specialists in Washington, D.C. Based on those pitches, the three most promising innovators were chosen to advance to field testing their solutions. The innovative ideas selected are:

eKitabu’s Studio KSL

Nairobi, Kenya-based eKitabu will receive $150,000 (in addition to the $25,000 in seed funding they were awarded as semifinalists in 2018) to continue developing and implementing their Studio KSL platform, which documents Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) in a visual glossary and produces KSL videos for integration into accessible books.

With the additional funding from ACR GCD, eKitabu will produce and distribute Studio KSL storybooks, promote the storybooks as a resource for parents of deaf children, and research the impact of Studio KSL content on language and literacy outcomes.

“Advancing in the Sign On For Literacy competition puts Studio KSL on a path to distribute KSL storybooks to all Kenyan special needs schools and reach out to all learners in Kenyan public primary schools, leveraging the infrastructure of the Government of Kenya’s Digital Literacy Program,” said Matt Utterback, co-founder of eKitabu. “It also enables us to continue exploring how Studio KSL can grow in other countries of Africa, including Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda, where we have ideas and relationships.”

RIT/NTID’s World Around You

Rochester, N.Y.-based RIT/NTID will receive $150,000 (in addition to the $25,000 in seed funding they were awarded as semifinalists in 2018) to pilot their World Around You platform in the Philippines. World Around You documents, collects and shares local sign and written languages through an open-content digital library of folktales offered in an interactive bilingual format.

The additional funding from ACR GCD will enable RIT/NTID to work with Second Avenue Learning, a local company in Rochester, N.Y., to develop technology that enables the creation and implementation of stories and language games. RIT/NTID will also continue working with the deaf community and partners in the Philippines on story creation, demonstration and testing.

“We are looking forward to working with different communities—Filipino deaf, deaf students, teachers of the deaf, parents of deaf children, and technical experts—while we develop and field test World Around You,” said Dr. Christopher Kurz, professor of a graduate program for deaf educators at RIT/NTID. “The goal of our project is to provide access to literacy for deaf children in their own sign languages in the Philippines, and eventually all around the world.”

Manos Unidas’ Señas y Sonrisas (“Signs and Smiles”)

Storrs Mansfield, Conn.-based nonprofit Manos Unidas will receive $75,000 (in addition to the $25,000 in seed funding they were awarded as semifinalists in 2018) to further develop their Señas y Sonrisas (“Signs and Smiles”), which will create a corpus of Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL) including videos and Spanish translations, a language-learning mobile app with downloadable lessons, and a literacy outreach program to train parents of deaf children.

The additional funding from ACR GCD will support Manos Unidas’ full development of the NSL app and field testing with families of deaf children in Nicaragua.

“We have deepened our relationships with deaf educators in multiple cities in Nicaragua—including many of the first deaf teachers to become certified in the country—in preparation for launching the app,” said Marie Coppola, founder of Manos Unidas. “This award will allow us to solidify our ties with the Nicaraguan deaf community and promote interaction and collaboration among deaf leaders across multiple locations in Nicaragua.”

Learn more about the Sign On For Literacy finalists

Learn more about inclusive education for children with disabilities

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