World Around You, a multilingual platform created by a team at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, (RIT/NTID) is a Zero Project 2022 award recipient for its work to improve accessibility, the school announced on its website. The platform is one of only 76 awardees from 35 countries for the Innovative Practices and Policies prizes. Winners will receive their awards at the Zero Project Conference 2022 in Vienna.

The goal of World Around You, or WAY, is to increase global literacy for deaf children by providing greater access to sign languages, early-grade reading materials, vocabulary, reading instruction, and digital games. The platform is a library of storybooks about different topics, including COVID-19, folktales, deaf experiences, cultural items and foods, and sign language genres.

“WAY storytelling opens the world to deaf children, one native signed story at a time,” said Christopher Kurz, a professor in NTID’s master’s degree program in secondary education and the project lead. “WAY reinforces global literacy for deaf children and global sign language documentation of local, regional, and national sign languages by deaf people.”

Along with development partner Second Avenue Learning, and RIT’s School of Interactive Games and Media and MAGIC Center, Kurz and his team have worked with deaf people in the Philippines, Indonesia, Somalia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Samoa to create interactive stories in their languages and conduct family visits with families of young deaf children for shared reading.

“World Around You owes much of its success to the open-licensed nature of the content and the technology, which allows for crowd sourcing of the books now, and the creation of a community team to work on the technology side of the platform by the end of next year,” said Stephen Jacobs, director of Open@RIT and co-principal investigator on WAY. “It’s another example of how open-licensing academic work can support its growth and lead to increased impact and translation.”  

Victoria VanVoorhis, CEO of Second Avenue Learning, was delighted with the collaboration. “Second Avenue is honored that our work as a partner to NTID has been recognized as a Project Zero Awardee,” she said. “Together we were able to innovate, create, impact, and improve lives. We look forward to continuing our work together, learning from this brilliant world-wide community.”

The Zero Project, the flagship program of the Essl Foundation, is committed to supporting the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) by researching, identifying, communicating, and supporting innovative practices and innovative policies globally and across all sectors of society.

After the announcement of the awardees, the Zero Project will present and promote the awards during the Zero Project Conference 2022 at the United Nations Office in Vienna.

Source: RIT/NTID