Literacy for Life: Inclusive Education for Students with Disabilities

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Over 1 billion people live with some form of disability. Students with print disabilities who cannot access the written word– because over 90% of written materials are locked in printed form– are denied the basic human right of access to knowledge and information. This critical gap in educational and economic inclusion can be bridged through a proven approach, leveraging existing technology, content, and support. Benetech and DAISY seek to enable inclusive education for students with disabilities across Africa through a digital library of culturally diverse, accessible books in 30 languages, paired with wraparound training and support to bring that collection of books into classrooms and homes across the continent. We will directly impact over 10 million people in Africa and influence long-lasting positive societal change by providing education and opportunity for people with disabilities.

Problem Statement

Imagine trying to learn without access to the books used by the rest of the class. One billion people, 15% of the world’s population, live with disabilities and 80% of this group resides in low-income countries [1]. Disabilities such as blindness, low vision, cerebral palsy and dyslexia severely compromise a person’s ability to participate in traditional educational structures. Students with disabilities (SWDs) are marginalized and often lack access to the basic human rights of information and education. Where data even exists, SWDs in African countries complete school and demonstrate learning at lower rates than students without these challenges [2,3]. Only 5% of children with disabilities worldwide have completed primary school [1]. Worldwide, including in Africa, less-known disabilities such as dyslexia have a dramatic impact on students’ learning but are not counted in these statistics. These children deserve to learn. Despite progress towards universal primary education, SWDs do not have needed materials in formats they can use, such as braille, audio or large print, even when they are able to attend school. According to the World Blind Union, less than 10% of published materials worldwide are available in formats that are accessible for SWDs. This is in spite of available technology to deliver those materials – it is simply not reaching the students who need it. Reading is a doorway to social inclusion, civic participation, financial literacy, and employment, currently denied to millions of young people with reading barriers. We’d like to change that across Africa.

Solution Overview

Our solution will support millions of students with disabilities to take the first step toward education and economic inclusion by enabling access to the text and materials they need for learning. We will eliminate barriers for these students to pursue their education across the African continent.Technology, content, and support for inclusive education will bring lasting change. The Bookshare library delivers books in specialized formats– electronic text, synchronized text and audio, and braille– putting accessible books directly into the hands of students with reading barriers. The library collection will grow to include each country’s local curricula for subjects including STEM in the language of instruction. Training in schools and teacher education programs will support educators to integrate these resources into inclusive education environments. Students with print disabilities need access to technology resources, access to the same educational content as their peers, and access to instruction that encourages these supports. Progress for this project means a robust collection of locally-relevant school materials, widespread usage of the accessible platform, and integration of these tools into classrooms and homes. Secondary beneficiaries are local organizations that will use this training to support more people with disabilities, as well as students’ families, whose futures are linked to the success of this project. When someone with a disability has opportunities for education and economic independence, the trajectory of an entire family can change forever. By working deeply to solve this specific, but foundational, piece of the inclusive education puzzle, we will see broad impact across Africa.

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Project Funders

  • United Nations 2015 - 2019
  • United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs 2008 - 2019
  • USAID/AustraliaAID 2015 - 2017

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