The campaign to make picture books accessible to visually impaired children

Dapo Adeola (Dapo Adeola)

Mr. McGregor chasing Peter Rabbit from his crops. The curved talons and bright orange eyes of the Gruffalo. The very hungry caterpillar munching its way through a colorful meal. Picture books have given many of us our most evocative childhood memories, but for around 37,000 blind and partially sighted children in England and Wales, the chance to browse brightly colored pages in different worlds is simply out of reach.

Picture books are not published in a format accessible to visually impaired children. Although braille books exist, there is no way for children to appreciate the illustrations unless they are elevated and created in 3D, a process that remains rare in the publishing industry. . That’s why award-winning illustrator Dapo Adeola spent eight months campaigning to have his books adapted.

This year, millions of children have read We will find a monster, written by Malorie Blackman and illustrated by Adeola. The story was chosen as a BookTrust Time to Read in November and every child of foster age in the UK received a free copy.

However, aware of the lasting impact storybooks can have, Adeola is pushing for even more access to her books so that as many children as possible can enjoy her drawings, including those with visual impairments. .

After launching the campaign in March, Adeola – who was named British Book Awards Illustrator of the Year in 2022 eventually achieved his fundraising goal, raising enough money to turn several of his books into tactile audio-visual experiences.

Living paintings (Living paintings)

Living paintings (Living paintings)

Adeola knew little about the experience of visually impaired children before Living Paintings, a charity, contacted him with the aim of adapting his books. “I thought the books were available in Braille, and that was enough, I didn’t have the knowledge or the education on the visual imparity spectrum. I didn’t know about it,” he says.

Now, however, the illustrator doesn’t understand why more isn’t being done to fix the problem. “How is this not the norm?” Why do we even have to fundraise for this? he questions.

Leaning into picture books and immersing themselves in a story gives children their first glimpse of different worlds, as well as a better understanding of our own; illustrations and words work together to tell the story. This hybrid experience of literature and artwork helps improve children’s literacy skills and vocabulary.

This is something visually impaired children, who rely on touch and sound to interact with the world around them, are currently missing.

Living Paintings, a charity that transforms picture books through art and sound to make them accessible, is working to solve the problem. They take each illustration from a book and turn it into a raised tactile item so kids can experience the story and the artwork. themselves, rather than just reading it to them.

We will find the monster (Dapo Adeola)

We will find the monster (Dapo Adeola)

The process begins with volunteers tracing each illustration. These are then carved out of wood by another volunteer to create the masterpieces. After that, a heat press is used to create the plastic relief images before they are hand painted.

Braille is added and an audio guide is recorded to accompany each book, which tells the story and tells children how they feel on each page. Stars like Imelda Staunton and Ethan Hawke have lent their voices to the cause.

Together, these elements are all essential to creating an engaging reading experience for visually impaired children as well as their family members.

“[We] give them that experience of reading a book and being together. It’s also a benefit for the family,” says Nick Ford, marketing manager at Living Paintings. “I think every parent has this image in their mind of sitting down and exploring picture books together during story time. It allows them to do that.”

Each of these accessible books, of which there are around 200, are freely available through the charity’s online library. Titles include My monster and me, my pants, Tiddler, and classics like Spot the dog, the snowman, and Elmer.

Living paintings (Living paintings)

Living paintings (Living paintings)

A child, Teddy, has been borrowing books from Living Paintings since he was a baby. Now, at age six, he is able to read Braille thanks to the skills he learned while playing with tactile picture books.

Ford recalls the day those at Living Paintings first saw him reading on his own: “It was a really proud moment for us because we’ve been providing him with books since he was a young boy.

He developed a love of books that many blind children miss. “There might be this kind of misconception that picture books aren’t for them,” Ford says.

Adeola adds: “So many of us who didn’t have access to it growing up, who aren’t even visually impaired – it’s had an impact on how we grew up. So I can only imagine what it’s like for kids who have that extra hurdle to overcome. As much access as possible is extremely important.

“As adults, we become conditioned to belittle things like children’s books, ‘it’s for children, what does it matter?'” he says.

“It’s a huge deal. It’s a big problem for children, so it’s important.

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