...one afternoon and sparked an idea, they made sure it happened. That was April 2014.
Two years on, the two gutsy ladies, Lee Seow Ser and Hidayah Amin, along with illustrator Tan Ai Khim, have launched two books into the children’s literary market featuring an integration of conventional reading formats for sighted readers, special fonts for dyslexic readers and Braille for visually-impaired readers.
They are literary creations imbued with the principles of Universal Design.
Two inclusive books in two years—a tremendous feat nonetheless—achievable only through unyielding resolve and steadfast commitment. It earned them praises from the former Minister for Education, Mr Heng Swee Keat, and a collaborative partnership with a mainstream primary school.
“The idea was to try and create one and the same book,” the Team says, “to seat groups of readers of different physical or sensory abilities in the same space and have them read the same book.”
The “Little Kids, Big Ideas” book series that evolved, came about after Hidayah’s trip to Malaysia where she met her literary/publishing counterparts. There, Hidayah learnt that the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) had put together a travelling collection of outstanding storybooks, in various forms, for young persons with disabilities. Some included Braille and textured materials like velvet. Inspired by this, the Team decided to give a shot at creating their very own Singaporean version, building upon Seow Ser’s idea for the needs and desires of the visually-impaired readers to be better integrated with, rather than segregated from, the needs and desires of everyone else to access and enjoy quality picture books.
These books allow the sighted to read alongside the visually-impaired and foster bonding through this shared activity. With such books, parents would now be able to read to a visually-impaired child while his or her little fingers explore the Braille and the textured surfaces.
Our society is going to need such passion and initiatives, and more so than ever because of the recent inclusion of children with special needs in the Compulsory Education Act. But with increasing demands in all aspects of our lives, this quest is going to be one bumpy ride.
The Team is realistic about their To S.I.R (Socially Inclusive Reads) With Love Project and explained that one limitation is the extent of children’s picture books that could be included due to the high cost of producing the required Braille and sensory features. The Team explains, “A short print-text paragraph, when transcribed to Braille, becomes many times lengthier. So in some cases, it may be more pragmatic to produce a separate Braille volume, alongside the regular format print-only volume.”
But this isn’t the end of the road. In fact it’s far from it. For now the Team has consciously created S.I.R picture books of no more than 160 words in order to maintain financial viability of their production. As technology improves, Seow Ser and her team are hopeful that the word count would increase as costs of production fall.
Undaunted by the constraints, the Team makes it a point to transcribe their lengthier books into a separate, white-dots-on-white-paper Braille volume with a single-page embossed illustrative book cover, such as Hidayah’s “The Mango Tree” and “Mina Meets Cambridge”, and of Seow Ser’s latest work “The Rain Tree”, due to be published in mid 2017.
It is worth noting that following the Team’s footsteps, a book-grant system could be established to advance the cause for Socially-Inclusive Reads based on a suitable word count. The Team hopes for more support from government bodies and businesses to the S.I.R Project.
Meanwhile, Seow Ser and her team remain hard at work in expanding the S.I.R Project and creating a Made-In-Singapore “Travelling Trunk” that would bring the precious roving trove of socially-inclusive books to schools, organisations and communities and avail them to all children.
About Project To S.I.R (Socially Inclusive Reads) With Love
The Socially-Inclusive Reads are captured under a series called “Little Kids, Big Ideas” and comprises four books. The first two, “Hang Nadim And The Garfish” and “Si Ma Guang And The Giant Jar” are already out in the market and two more are in the pipeline: “Siti Wan Kembang and the Kijang”—an Asian folktale about a little orphan princess doing good despite her circumstances, and “Razia and the Elephant”—an Asian folktale about a little girl in Delhi whose courage and leadership saved her kingdom.
In January 2017, “Si Ma Guang and the Giant Jar” was selected as an “IBBY Outstanding Book for Young People with Disabilities 2017”, among other outstanding books published around the world that is for or about people with special needs, and encourages inclusion at every level. This prestigious collection, compiled by the Switzerland-based International Board on Books for Young People, has over 4000 multilingual books. Titles selected this year will be premiered at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy from 3 to 6 April 2017.
If you would like to win a copy of the inclusive publications under the Project To S.I.R With Love, look out for our update on Special Seeds SG Facebook page to stand a chance to win your very own copy!
Read more about about this book here.