Sign On For Literacy Prize

All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development is a series of grant and prize competitions that leverages science and technology to source, test, and disseminate scalable solutions to improve literacy skills of early grade learners in developing countries.

Of the estimated 32 million deaf children around the world, 80 percent do not have access to education, and only two percent receive education in sign language. This is particularly true in areas of the world with few resources, profoundly affecting children who already face tremendous barriers to economic and social advancement opportunities. Without early access to language, children fail to develop social and cognitive skills at the same rate as their peers, hindering their ability to learn to read and write and isolating them from society over the course of their lives.

Screenshot of Millicent Simmonds Sign of For Literacy videoThe Sign On For Literacy global prize competition seeks technology-based innovations to increase sign language and literacy outcomes for deaf children in low resource settings. Innovations should provide greater access to local sign languages, early grade reading materials, and/or reading instruction by engaging families, schools, and communities. The competition is led by ACR GCD in collaboration with the World Federation of the Deaf, the Nyle DiMarco Foundation, and Deaf Child Worldwide.

Exposure to natural and accessible language at an early age is paramount for early childhood development and promotes cognitive and literacy development. The Sign On For Literacy Prize seeks technology-based innovations to increase access to sign languages and literacy interventions for children who are Deaf in low-resource contexts. These innovations will assist parents, educators, communities, and governments in enhancing early childhood development outcomes, improving access to local sign languages, and increasing literacy outcomes of children who are Deaf. For this prize, a technology-based innovation includes a broad range of information and communication technologies and video media. These can include: hardware, software, Internet and mobile applications among other technologies and platforms.

In some countries, the local sign language may not be documented. This does not mean that a sign language is not used, but rather that there is no dictionary or catalog of signs and/or documentation that enables sign language resources to be created, curated, and distributed to those who want to learn the language.9,10,11 As a supplement to the knowledge transferred by Deaf adults fluent in the local sign language, documentation is a critical first step to enable the creation of resources to provide greater access to sign language for children who are Deaf. In contexts where there is no documented sign language, innovations are sought that, through technology, involve the local Deaf Community as an integral part of efforts to document their language including all signs and sign variations. Solutions must document the local language and not import other widely-used sign languages such as American Sign Language. Solutions that operate in such a context and provide both the capability to document sign language and create resources for learning in that language are encouraged. Solutions should also link sign language learning to the early grade reading resources. Ideally, these resources will be used in the classroom and at home.

Even in countries with a robust and well-documented sign language, many communities still have limited access to sign language resources. Family awareness, educational resources, community engagement, and learning tools are limited or lacking. There is also a challenge in ensuring parents identify their children’s hearing levels at the earliest possible age and a gap in medical practitioners’ knowledge on the importance of sign language learning. To optimize first language and written literacy outcomes for children who are Deaf, they must have access—the earlier the better—to the local sign language, a supportive community with adult Deaf role models, and skilled educators fluent in the local sign language. The more of the aforementioned elements a solution involves (e.g. sign language, adult role models, skilled and fluent educators), the more effective the solution will be in providing an inclusive, holistic, and successful approach to sign language and literacy for children in the community.

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