eKitabu will present at CIES 2024 learn more
February 20, 2024
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The impact of digital educational materials in sign language to the acceptance and recognition of sign languages as official languages

Mon, March 11, 9:45 to 11:15am, Hyatt Regency Miami, Floor: Third Level, Pearson 1

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


According to the World Federation of the Deaf’s survey on government recognition of sign languages, deaf people around the world have faced (and continue to face) discrimination in regard to the use of their national, regional and local sign languages, including barriers to language access as well as not having equal and real time access to information and communication in their daily lives. This is particularly acute in educational settings for deaf and hard of hearing learners. The lack of meaningful official sign language recognition legislation or similar policies at the national or state level is a violation to the fundamental rights of the Deaf around the globe. In order to achieve meaningful recognition of their sign languages, a right that all countries who have ratified the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) have an obligation to promote, it is critical for resources, including materials and language documents, to be made available and accessible in sign language to show policy makers and other stakeholders that the local sign languages are, in fact, actual languages and that they are critical to the personal, educational, and community success of deaf and hard of hearing members of society.

Several of the countries our presenters work in have achieved legal recognition of their national sign language, including Kenya and The Philippines. Other countries, like Malawi, have not yet made sign language official but are working towards it and we have seen the impact that having accessible digital content (i.e., sign language video) has made on progress towards achieving this milestone.

Given the experiences of the presenters, the organizations they represent and the local organizations of persons with disabilities in the countries they work in, we want to present our findings to members of CIES to emphasize the importance of this work. We also aim to inspire more organizations to work towards making sign languages official in the countries they work in so we can ensure that people around the globe are recognizing their rights as laid out in the CRPD.

eKitabu is a pioneer in digitizing and adapting digital content for learners with disabilities in Africa. Building on open standards, eKitabu creates accessible ebooks with multiple adaptations for deaf learners, blind and low vision learners, learners with intellectual disabilities, and learners with multiple disabilities. eKitabu has adapted and created content in 6 different sign languages and has seen the impact this material has on the recognition of sign language. With accessible digital content in sign language, teachers are able to teach to the curriculum with complementary teaching and learning materials and also further develop their own knowledge of the sign language, bettering the chances that the sign language will be used as the language of instruction.

eKitabu has also observed the importance of a dictionary with a country’s sign language in being helpful in making sure that the national sign language is available more broadly, documenting regional variations of signs, and encouraging government recognition of the sign language as official with benefits for all, not just the Deaf community.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is the world’s first and largest technological colleges for deaf and hard of hearing students. A winner of the All Children Reading: Grand Challenge for Development, RIT has been able to implement early grade projects in several locations in Southeast Asia that have led and reinforced the official recognition of sign language. RIT’s World Around You (WAY) is the world’s first crowdsourcing storybook authoring platform where accessible digital multilingual and multimodal content (i.e., sign language videos, images, written texts) are created collaboratively anytime and anywhere. The platform also includes game templates to promote bilingual learning activities for deaf learners as well. Those multilingual features in WAY show the need for deaf learners. WAY makes learning accessible for all children through the creation and distribution of multilingual web-based storybooks and games.

RIT believes accessible multilingual storybooks, games and other resources promote the importance and mobilization of governmental recognition of sign languages as a language of instruction/learning for all children, deaf and hearing alike. Research has shown many benefits of sign language for deaf and hearing children as it provides a channel for people to learn visually.

Malawi National Association of Deaf (MANAD) believes in creating a society in which deaf people enjoy the highest quality of life. While Malawi is a signatory to a number of local and international instruments, such as the UN CRPD, Malawian Sign Language (MSL) is not recognized as an official language nor as a language of instruction for deaf learners. As a result of the lack of recognition, there is very little accessible content in MSL. However, MANAD believes that in advocating for recognition of MSL in the Constitution, it is important to show how sign language accessible materials, such as video books, an MSL Dictionary, and teaching using MSL as a language of instruction, are critical elements to this recognition. MANAD will present on how the creation of accessible digital content has helped their efforts in having MSL legally recognized.

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