The following points summarise OIW’s recommendations from both the RtW and RtW2 projects.
- OIW would like to see children in special schools being awarded access to a wider range of accessible mainstream books. We would particularly welcome books with symbols. Such books would show that the UK book industry recognises that some children need extra help to access and understand stories. It is interesting to note that – whilst abridged versions might lose something in the reduced text – the addition of symbols as an overall concept proved very popular amongst almost all those involved in the project. Both projects suggested that such an addition could even be perceived to be a 'USP' and something to be celebrated, not hidden.
- OIW recommends an increased awareness of the many ways in which signs could be added to a book or supplied in a supplementary resource. OIW believe books should be available in as many formats as possible including offering signing on accompanying CDs, online and through app’s and e-books.
- OIW would like to see more books including signs and symbols ‘naturally’ and in a contemporary and stylish way.
- The RTW2 workshops involving deaf children underlined the absence of British Sign Language (BSL) in the mainstream book landscape. Whilst ideally some books could include BSL throughout, the deaf children consulted stressed the value of simply including a glossary of terms at the end of a book.
- OIW would like to see the inclusion of braille in some mainstream books, ideally also supported by tactile/embossed images or braille descriptions of images. Braille must be appropriately sized, spaced and projected from the page to allow the desired audience to read it.
- OIW would like to see mainstream publishers working with specialist manufacturers or disability charities to create accessible versions of books to supplement mainstream editions.
- The RtW2 project showed that the accessibility of any mainstream picture book can be enhanced and supported in vast range of different ways, for example using sensory props, puppets and drama. OIW would like to see more resources available to support and inspire, offering ideas and activities.
- The project proved that there is a need for a more diverse variety of approaches to including disability in stories and pictures. Some of the innovative styles and approaches identified in this research were considered to help increase the book’s general viability and appeal whilst also providing a new way of viewing disability and inclusion.
- More positive images of disability are unarguably in need within the children’s book landscape. Historically, disability tended to be depicted in a negative light, with disabled characters being associated with evil, unfortunate or unpleasant traits. It is also worth noting that we all have a natural 'negative bias' meaning that anything of a less positive nature has a greater effect on our processes than the same levels of positive or neutral matter. More recently, many books may have tended therefore to 'go the other way', that is glamourising disability, presenting disabled characters as having exceptional powers or always the ‘hero’. As such, in a desire to present a positive and inclusive picture of the disabled child, the children’s book landscape risks failing to show reality. Books, in the UK in particular, may have been seen to 'play it safe'. OIW would point out that we need to continue to ensure a real variety of inclusive books, and avoid dismissing those books which have something constructive and informative to offer the understanding of disability issues.
- The RTW2 project also noted many challenges in terms of the depiction of disability, for example that historically books often ‘problemise’ disability and have tended to involve characters needing to be ‘helped’.
- The project noted the need for books that ‘usualise’ disability as opposed to either ‘problemising’ or glamourising it. The project noted the importance of books that empower disabled characters (without necessarily making them the ‘hero’) and also books that show disabled characters as equals.
- The project findings underline the importance of avoiding stereotyping. Many of the most convincing depictions of disabled people identified through this project were written from personal experience or after having clearly undertaken extensive research. OIW recommends book creators undertake appropriate levels of research and consultation to ensure convincingly depicted characters and authenticity. Books need to avoid sensationalising conditions such as autism or showing only extremes. The landscape must reflect a range of different 'experiences' of any condition, to ensure that readers see a spectrum of different views and experiences, as opposed to a 'single story'.
- The importance of the quality of the translation cannot be stressed strongly enough. It was noted that while all the translations obtained specifically for this project were of a suitable quality for our purposes, those which were translated by a professional translator were naturally much stronger. As such, investing in experienced children’s book translators is crucial. The translation process must also involve giving careful thought to the important matter of disability-related language, terminology, cultural references and inferences.
- Finally, on a general note, it is important to stress that this piece of qualitative research should be seen as a starting point. This small-scale project (using focus groups and sets of books as case studies) could usefully be expanded into a range of follow-up activities including broad publisher surveys large-scale trials of books in different settings and creative workshops to further investigate some of the titles (and some of the issues raised in this project) in mainstream and special schools and with families.