Reducing deaf illiteracy in low resource nations

World Vision (in partnership with USAID and Australian Aid) needed help guiding 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.

Role: Lead workshop design and facilitation (in conjunction with a co-facilitator that I hired)
Outcome: Problem statement and judging criteria for selection of $500,000 Award for technology based solutions to reduce deaf illiteracy in low resource regions.

World Vision tasked us with designing an inclusive-centered workshop for deaf leaders from across the world to inform the $500,000 prize. Our job was to help World Vision understand the causes and challenges for deaf literacy in low resource nations so that they could gain the necessary information to guide the challenge. This was not an easy task as it was possible to focus the award based on multiple factors such as geographic region, technological access abilities, agent (deaf children, parents, teachers, mentors, doctors, government actors, etc), early deafened or later deafened cases, deaf, deaf blind or hard of hearing cases, and places with documented sign language or not, places with electricity or not. Each of these created different ramifications that had to be considered in the award's design.


  • We started with an extremely broad topic which had to be narrowed in just a one day workshop. Yet the workshop also needed to ensure all problems, gaps, and opportunities were thoroughly explored. This meant we had to have the participants first think extremely broad and then focus this in a limited timeframe.
  • Our workshop had access only to experts and not members of the directly affected population.
  • Limited sign language interpreters made communication  between four languages challenging.
  • Adapting the workshop to facilitate inclusivity.  

Survey Development: We worked with World Vision and USAID to develop participant surveys and interviews designed to identify key areas that would later help define the starting point for our journey maps and personas. 

Inclusive Design: As a part of the workshop design, we created an inclusive space that accommodated the communication differences of the attendees. This included juggling four different languages - American Sign Language, International Sign Language, Tactile Sign Language, and spoken English - that often required multiple steps within translations (i.e. spoken English to American Sign Language to Tactile Sign Language). We modified exercises and the room space to facilitate interlingual and visual dialogue, created pre-defined 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 pre-defined contexts based on survey and interview response) and then used these personas to work through a journey map. Typically we would have recommended an exercise called "Find Issues, Uncover Needs" which required participants to act out short sketches of the user experience. However, we recognized that this would be difficult through the various language translations and instead opted for the journey map. This would allow 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 and identified gaps and identified a problem the group agreed is important to dive into further through the 5 Why's exercise. Through group discussion, 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 trying to learn to read and what is needed to bridge these gaps and make the prize succeed. Our main insight was that the biggest need was in the development of and access to documented sign language as this is a critical component in literacy development for the DHHDB child. 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).

Persona Development Guidance (revised).   

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.