'Reading the Way': Inclusive Books from Around the World was an innovative research and development project undertaken from April 2014 – October 2015 funded by Arts Council England, The Unwin Charitable Trust and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
The aim of the project was to help bring exceptional international books to UK audiences; titles that stand out specifically in terms of being 'accessible' to all children, including disabled children and/or 'inclusive', i.e. including disability or disabled characters within the story.
Over the course of the project OIW conducted an extensive consultation to collect 'recommended' books from around the world. In sourcing books for consideration we used a wide method of approaches including attending book fairs, social media, the OIW website and personal contacts. Qualitative methods were then used to carry out research on the books via focus groups comprising of disability experts and organisations, teachers, librarians, publishers, parents and young people – both physical and virtual, as well as individual consultation meetings to collect data. Sample sizes varied from individual one-one sessions to groups of up to twenty in the various focus groups.
- 60 books from around the world were assessed.
- 15 countries including: Brazil, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Italy, Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Syria.
Of these 60, eight titles were rejected in the initial assessment process; 38 titles were included in the 'discussion' within the report and a further 14 titles were subject to less specific feedback and not dealt with in detail.
Our focus groups consisted of a Virtual Focus Group of experts; Schools and Organisations; consultation meetings with specialists in the disability field and a publisher focus group. A total of 18 'physical' focus groups and consultation meetings were carried out. We genuinely consulted children, including children with a range of different needs holding focus groups in both mainstream settings and special school settings.
OIW believe we have been able to demonstrate how much interest there is in this field, (both in the UK and internationally), and that there is a very real need for inclusive and accessible books, particularly a good range of high-quality accessible and inclusive books.
The project identified:
- A valuable list of international books relevant to disability.
- A powerful picture of the way disability is approached around the world.
- Several 'gems' in terms of really exciting books and excellent models of good practice.
- Books which, whilst not 'exceptional', could be considered of real value in terms of relevance to disability.
- Important learning points or simple ideas that could work well in books including the pitfalls to be avoided.
- Common ground by opening up dialogue between international publishers, writers, translators and UK publishers.
Our key findings included:
- The value of thorough research in terms of evaluating books, particularly where the subject of disability is concerned.
- Recognition that there is always a degree of subjectivity involved in different individuals’ assessment of a book. This is why, crucially, our project sought feedback from a wide range of different sources and also then also used OIW’s own judgement and expertise to assess all these and draw conclusions.
- Disability is very clearly still an underrepresented theme in global children’s literature. This is concerning in many ways, clearly limiting the scope of children’s perceptions. Some specific forms of disability are especially scarce, the result being that children are highly unlikely to be exposed to these and where they are, will only see one experience of that disability.
- Concluding from our feedback that whilst there is a need for books which include disabled characters naturally and casually, books which depict the 'challenges' should not be dismissed.
- Quality of translation is of great importance. While the translations were of a sufficient quality for the project’s purposes, those which were translated by a professional translator were much stronger.
- A number of books might not be considered commercially viable by a UK publisher and yet would clearly offer something very valuable to children in the UK.
All parties (both within and outside the UK) are encouraged to take note of the many findings and learning points identified in this project, particularly in terms of the need for more accessible and inclusive books and the specific suggestions for ways in which these needs could be addressed.
In response to the project findings, some of our key recommendations include:
- UK publishers are encouraged to consider some of the titles identified by this project for possible publication. By doing so, the UK book landscape could be enriched both in terms of increasing the number of books in translation but also the number recognising and including disabled children.
- All book creators are encouraged to keep in mind ways in which any book could be made more accessible from the outset, for example by taking on board basic accessibility guidelines to ensure good readability and by ensuring an audio version is planned.
- Book creators are encouraged to look into working with existing specialists such as ITV Signed Stories, the RNIB Library, Living Paintings and Access2Books to find ways to ensure that, once published, books continue to be made available to as many audiences as possible through BSL signing, large print, braille and tactile versions.
- More inclusive books are needed and this must include both casual, natural positive inclusion, but also books which do not shy away from the challenges that can be faced by disabled people.
- Book creators are urged to continue to seek out more innovative ways to explore the subject of disability, to ensure that a diverse range of different views, perspectives and forms of disability can start to be included within the children’s book landscape.
- There is a real value in actively involving children in assessing manuscripts and finished books and all parts of the book world are urged to consider identifying appropriate means of gaining feedback from children and young people.