Kenya Sign Language on Akili Kids

With young sign language interpreters, Akili Kids! brings Kenya’s most loved animated series to Deaf children for the first time.

Akili Network is proud to present ‘Our Time to Sign’, an initiative to make a portion of the content on Akili Kids! accessible to children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Launched on September 23, 2020, International Sign Language Day, the first iteration of the initiative is to provide Kenya Sign Language (KSL) interpretation for short segments of content on Akili Kids!, Kenya’s first and only dedicated free-to-air children’s TV station.

“It is not unusual to see sign language interpretation on local TV in Kenya. During the news and live government events, the media has been consistent in providing sign language,” explains Jeff Schon Co-Founder and CEO of Akili Network, “This works for adults. But for children, there is nothing accessible. Especially now that schools are closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, children across the nation are falling behind in their studies. That is why we are so proud about the content we provide on Akili Kids!. We ensure children remain curious and imaginative, which is an important part of knowledge development for children. Now, with ‘Our Time to Sign’ we hope to extend our learning, entertaining content to children who are deaf.”

Akili Kids! Partners with Ubongo Learning

Akili Network has partnered with Ubongo Learning, creators of the popular ‘Akili and Me’ children’s programme, to bring locally relevant animation to children who use sign language. Ubongo Learning provided two short segments for ‘Our Time to Sign’, one on how to control angry emotions and the second about the importance of sharing with friends.

“All kids are born with the capacity to develop themselves and their communities,” Christina Bwana Chief Product Officer at Ubongo Learning, “We create our edutainment content using iterative, human-centered design to ensure inclusive learning for all children across Africa. We need to ensure that children with physical, mental, and/or learning disabilities can learn through our content and have a positive media representation. We are extremely excited to start incorporating Kenyan Sign Language onto our content.”

It’s Important to See Children Sign

In addition to making content accessible, ‘Our Time to Sign’ aims to normalize sign language and inspire children who can hear to learn Kenya Sign Language. “When I was a child, a neighbour of mine was deaf. In order for us play together, I had to learn to sign,” Elizabeth Wanjiku, KSL interpreter and consultant on the project recalls, “It often takes an interaction with a Deaf person to spark interest. If more young people learn sign language it will reduce the isolation Deaf children can sometimes feel.”

“We were so lucky to be introduced to Grace and Ezekiel, our on-screen sign language interpreter,” says Kaburo Kobia Head of Production, “They are already so talented at such a young age and I know it will mean a lot for children to see other children sign.”

Grace is 11 years old. As a child of Deaf parents, Grace is fluent in KSL and is also a talented interpreter.

Ezekiel is a student at Kambui School for the Deaf. At just 10 years old he has already participated in two National Drama Festivals. Together, Grace and Ezekiel are featured in the very first segments of ‘Our Time To Sign’.

“It’s important to have young people sign children’s content. It makes the content less intimidating and more friendly to have a child providing the interpretations,” observes Hudson Asiema, Founder and CEO of Deaf eLimu Plus and a consultant for the project, “But we would also encourage content creators to think about accessibility right from the start. Superimposing sign language after the content is created is a great first step, but I’d like to see content created with Deaf children in mind right from the start. It’s a challenge, but I know it’s possible.”

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