More than a billion people in the world today experience disability (source: WHO website). These people generally have poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty. This is largely due to the barriers they face in their everyday lives, rather than their disability.
One hundred and fifty million people live in Bangladesh among whom at least 2 percent are visually impaired and almost 35 percent (BBS, 2015) are illiterate. Together, these marginalized populations comprise the print disabled.For both partially and completely visually impaired students, the government and the private sector provide a range of school services including five dedicated government schools for the visually impaired, 64 integrated schools and also Inclusive education program. But there was a lack of accessible reading materials.
Toward a solution
Bangladesh, one of the first few countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that recognizes access to assistive technology as a human right and calls for international cooperation to improve its access (Article 32), is taking some bold steps in research into frugal, sustainable, and relevant assistive technologies.
Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), a social development organization, had been reaching out to various user groups through Digital Talking Book technologies since 2005. These audiobooks can be heard on standalone DAISY players, computers using DAISY playback software, mobile phones, DVD and MP3 players. But the digital content was very limited and prepared to fulfill requirement of specific development projects targeting a specialized group of beneficiaries.
YPSA saw the unique challenges facing the print disabled population of school-going age (including 215,429 children having some difficulty with seeing and 46,105 children having severe difficulty seeing or are completely visually impaired). These challenges include unavailability of braille printed books for the national curriculum, inadequate number of teachers specialized in teaching visually impaired children, skewed focus towards textual form of education etc.
With the previous experience of using text-to-speech technologies for converting written materials into audible works, YPSA had to come up with a combination of technologies that could overcome the drawbacks of the previous method and ensure quality products for the final users. But neither did YPSA have the resources to develop a complete prototype, nor the liaison with government bodies required to roll-out the final product across the nation.
Between April 2013 and December 2015, over 2 separate phases of 12 months each, YPSA engaged a team of volunteers and its own staff to convert all (105 books in total) the national curriculum textbooks from Grade-I to Grade-X into these formats. From the very early stages of this intervention, the Department of Social Services (DSS) under Ministry of Social Welfare has been monitoring its progress and providing their necessary feedback.
Through concerted efforts and policy-level advocacy from a2i, the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) – the key public authority deciding on what gets printed and distributed to students all across Bangladesh – saw benefit in including the accessible reading materials in the national curriculum.
A study has been undertaken by IER of the University of Dhaka on a sample of 136 students in 10 schools (5 experimental schools where students were provided with these accessible reading materials and 5 control schools where the students continued receiving conventional form of education) to assess the effectiveness of reading materials for visually impaired students in studying three subjects – English, Bangla (the local language) and Mathematics. After 6 months of experimentation, it was revealed that, in the assessment tests, the control group scored just about 33% on average for all 3 subjects while the experimental group scored more than 55%.
The ownership of NCTB ensures that whenever there is any modification to the national curriculum that will be integrated in the accessible reading materials thus ensuring availability of updated content to the print disabled population.
Thanks to the use of open source technology, the process of developing and producing the full-text and full-audio multimedia books, Braille books accessible e-books etc. through the use of DAISY is easily replicable.
But to attain maximum leverage from this innovation, it is necessary to continuously come up with innovations that complement the overall learning environment for the print disabled population. In this regards, a2i’s i-Lab can play a vital role as an initiator and incubator of innovative solutions.
Countries/ territories involved: Bangladesh
Supported by:UNDP, NCTB, DSS
Implementing entities: a2i,Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES).
Project status: Completed
Project period: April, 2013- December, 2015
URL to the project: http://www.daisy.org/daisypedia/daisy-digital-talking-book
National Consultant – Accessibility