Reducing deaf illiteracy in low resource nations

World Vision in partnership with USAID and Australian Aid asked my organization to guide a call for, and selection of, a $500,000 prize that they were awarding to technology based projects aimed at reducing deaf illiteracy in low resource countries. We designed and facilitated a workshop for stakeholders to focus their problem statement on an area that would have the biggest impact for reducing deaf illiteracy.

Role: Survey development + Interviews with stakeholders + Design and facilitation of a one-day workshop
Outcome: Revised problem statement + judging criteria


  • We began with an extremely broad statement that had to be narrowed not just to create a big impact but also so that World Vision did not get too many applications. This was not an easy task as it was possible to focus the award based on multiple factors such as geographic region, technological access, different agents (deaf children, parents, teachers, mentors, doctors, government actors, etc), early deafened or later deafened cases, deaf, deaf blind or hard of hearing cases, or places with documented sign language or not. Each of these created different ramifications that had to be considered in the award's design.
  • The workshop included deaf and deaf/blind leaders from all over the world as well as hearing stakeholders. This meant that we had to adapt the workshop to be inclusive of communication differences between four languages (American Sign Language, International Sign Language, Tactile Sign, and English) .

Survey Development + Interviews: First we needed to define the starting point for our workshop. We worked with World Vision and USAID to develop participant surveys and conduct interviews designed to identify key areas that would focus the workshop. 

Inclusive Design: We modified exercises and the room space to facilitate inter-lingual and visual dialogue, created predefined groups to ensure effective cross-lingual and cross disciplinary interactions, and advised on technology to facilitate communication.

Workshop: We began the workshop by having groups create personas (with predefined contexts based on survey and interview responses) and then used these personas to work through a journey map. Typically we would have recommended an exercise called "Find Issues, Uncover Needs" which requires participants to act out short sketches of the user experience. However, we recognized that this would be difficult for deaf-blind participants and instead opted for the journey map where stickies could be accurately interpreted. The journey map allowed participants to think through existing trajectories and contexts for the deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf/blind (DHHDB) individual. The goal was to illustrate the bigger picture while highlighting existing gaps throughout the DHHDB’s journey. After participants finished, they surveyed their journey maps, identified gaps and identified a problem the group agreed was important to dive into further through the 5 Why's exercise. Next the facilitators identified a list of themes that was understood from the group share backs. We then used this framework for a group discussion where we developed a refined problem statement and a list of “must-have” and "nice to have" prize components. 

Results: Our process allowed participants to uncover many gaps that exist in helping a DHHDB individual in a low resource country learn how to read and what is needed to bridge these gaps and make the prize succeed. We discovered that we needed to focus on the development of, and access to, documented sign language. This is because literacy is strongly tied to social situations and practices. However, if a DHHDB child lacks access to a primary language to communicate with others, they loose the ability to learn an initial language to apply when learning how to read and also the ability to participate in social situations. World Vision used the insights that we gathered in the workshop to develop a final call for prizes and judging criteria for prize selection. 

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A poster advertising the competition (produced by World Vision).

Journey Map Guidance (revised)

The President of the World Deaf Federation and Nyle DiMarco's mother (and foundation representative) watch as a participant explains an insight. 

The President of the World Deaf Federation and Nyle DiMarco's mother (and foundation representative) watch as a participant explains an insight.