Dr Rebecca R Butler discusses reports on new Outside In World research, Reading the Way: Inclusive Books from Around the World.
In November 2015, Outside In World reported on the findings of ground-breaking research, Reading the Way: Inclusive Books from Around the World, which was undertaken in 2014/15.
Outside In World is an organisation that promotes children’s literature in translation, and lessens cultural divides. The Reading the Way project was led by Alexandra Strick and Deborah Hallford, with the aim of identifying outstanding books published in languages other than English that were either accessible to all children including disabled ones, and/or which featured characters with some kind of physical or cognitive disability – for instance they were autistic, visually impaired, or wheelchair users. These books were then translated into English, and shown to focus groups to give their views.
There is a distinct lack of books accessible to disabled children, and so Reading the Way was particularly interested in finding books supporting their needs, for instance through language, symbols, Braille, or tactile illustrations. Children with disabilities are also under-represented in children’s literature, but disabled children gain higher self-esteem reading about disabled characters who are not depicted as helpless victims, and children who are not disabled can broaden and deepen their understanding of disability. Books need to improve the way disability is described too, avoiding terms like ‘suffers from’ or ‘wheelchair-bound’, which suggest passive endurance on the part of the disabled person. Books in translation widen the pool from which constructive texts can be chosen.
Over thirty books were translated into English from nine different languages and they were presented to the focus groups either in the form of pdf files or, in the case of books accessible to disabled children, as mock-ups. The focus groups included academics – of which I was one – children with visual impairments, children with complex needs and their teachers, children with autism and their parents, and publishers. The groups were then asked to discuss a number of issues including how positively disabled people were depicted in the books, whether the books filled a gap in the market, and whether they would be commercially viable if published in the UK.
The project met with a very positive response, and reinforced Alexandra Strick and Deborah Hallford’s belief in the real need and desire for inclusive and accessible books in translation, and the value of such books for children and families.
For more information about the research, and the books selected, please email info@OutsideInWorld.org.uk