Welcome to Outside In World, the organisation dedicated to promoting and exploring world literature and children's books in translation.
- The project demonstrated the value of thorough research in terms of evaluating books, particularly where the subject of disability is concerned. Our in-depth assessment and focus groups ensured different perspectives: including academic opinion, children’s views, disabled people’s views and different cultural perspectives.
- OIW recognised that the views of the many participants in this project were all 'subjective' and feel it was important to note that there were – and will continue to be – very differing views on certain books, sometimes linked to the individual’s own 'relationship' with disability, or simply their own views, tastes and beliefs.
- Whilst there is clearly a real need for books which offer positive depictions of disability and 'casual' inclusion of disabled children, we are also able to conclude from our feedback that books depicting the 'challenges' should not be dismissed. In the case of some such books, often some focus group participants were cautious or less enthusiastic, perhaps seeing a book focused on the challenges as 'negative' in terms of the way the disabled character was presented. Yet other participants (often but not always disabled experts and parents of disabled children) were keen to stress how pleased they were to see this aspect of disability reflected – noting that they identified with the challenges and negative attitudes they had encountered themselves. Such books may also help people to understand historical (and in some cases continuing) negative perceptions of disability, and models such as the social and medical models of disability.
- Both historically and in a contemporary context, books featuring disabled characters can tend to 'problematise' the disability. Many books show people who are perceived to be different but who then 'redeem' themselves in some way or who find simple (perhaps over-simplified) solutions. OIW concludes that this 'formula' has been rather over used, both within the UK and internationally.
- The risk of stereotyping arose often in discussions. Through the evaluation process, we explored the difference between making a particular form of a disability recognisable and creating a stereotype. For example, our focus groups involving parents of children on the autistic spectrum concluded that one of the answers lay in authenticity. The images of the autistic character in one book (Tamer’s Own World) were enthusiastically embraced by all the parents of children with autistic disorders who found the behaviour highly convincing. However, this accuracy must be complemented by a 'real' personality, with characteristics which define that character as individual in his or her own right, as opposed to being defined by disability.
- One of the areas in which OIW were particularly interested in embarking on the project was that of how the UK might be seen to 'perform' compared with other parts of the world in terms of production of inclusive and accessible books. On completing the project, we were able to make some observations in this respect. The research suggested that the UK displays a genuine interest in reflecting disabled people appropriately. At times this urge to 'get it right' may perhaps result in 'playing it safe' where some countries appear to have been more adventurous in approach. Likewise, where accessible books are concerned, our stringent safety testing hinders the production of many more creative tactile books.