One of the best ways to ensure that the work we’re doing meets real needs is to get it in front of the people who will be using it and find out their thoughts.
Back in April, when SIL LEAD was announced as a winner of All Children Reading’s “Book Boost: Access for All Challenge,” it provided a great, well, boost to our efforts to increase access to books for some of the world’s most vulnerable readers.
Limited access for the visually and otherwise impaired is a huge problem that requires the concerted effort of a broad coalition of organizations. So through Book Boost and in partnership with ACR GCD, USAID, the Australian government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Pearson, and Project Literacy, we’ve been working to upgrade Bloom with the addition of accessibility features and system support services, creating an online dashboard system to track title use, training materials, and a Bloom library website that meets accessibility standards.
The best way to know how to improve it is, again, to run the new features by the people who’ll actually be using them.
Most recently, SIL LEAD executive director Paul Frank attended the East Asia conference for the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI), held in Manila from October 16 to 18, with the theme of “Rights-Based Education and Sustainable Development Goals for Persons with Visual Impairment.” That’s quite a hefty title (what can we say—we’re word people), but at the heart of it is a concerted effort to make sure that everyone, everywhere has access to good education and to books, because we’re committed to the belief that every person has a lot to offer and that words are the vehicle that can help them move themselves out of poverty.
Paul was given a two hour session during the conference to introduce Bloom, to share our work so far, and to get feedback from the participants on how to improve it.
As it was a “concurrent session,” Paul expected only a few people would show up, and was not surprised when only a few trickled in at the start. Then he was informed there would be seven more. As Paul asked people to introduce themselves, the room kept filling up. Some just popped in to see what the session was about, but many stayed. Attendees included people connected with universities, a couple of optometrists, school teachers, and Resources for the Blind scholars—some of whom were pursuing Masters degrees.
As Certified Bloom Trainer consultants Liz Pfeifer and Manny Tamayao worked to install the Bloom software on the attendees’ computers, Paul introduced Bloom and took them through the creation of a short book. As participants tried out Bloom for themselves, Paul asked what could be done to improve accessibility for the visually impaired. And when Paul introduced the Talking Book Tool, the level of excitement in the room noticeably increased. Participants recorded the texts of the books they themselves were making and added image descriptions. They learned how to convert their books into two-language books, and how to change the Bloom interface into other languages.
The workshop was an illuminating experience for everyone involved. Attendees got an introduction to the possibilities Bloom affords them, and Paul, Liz, and Manny gained valuable insight into how the visually impaired use their computers, how to modify training workshops for the visually impaired, and what needs to be done to increase accessibility for the visually impaired to use Bloom themselves (not just for others to make materials for them).
Manila is a long way from our offices in D.C., but it’s through hands-on workshops like these that we are able to ensure we’re meeting the real needs of educators and students around the world.