The Ara initiative supports blind and visually impaired children, by facilitating the production of accessible Arabic content, to help them learn and integrate better into society. Its objectives reflect the mandate set out in the 2013 Marrakesh Treaty, on the availability of books in accessible formats, for the blind, the visually impaired, and those who have print disabilities.
Ara as a programme exists to help develop capabilities in literacy by providing reading content in formats including print braille, large print, audio and accessible EPUB books. It also works to educate publishers in born accessible technologies and workflows.
A main concern expressed by blind and visually impaired youngsters and their educators, is a dearth of available and accessible Arabic literary content. A regional survey conducted across 20 countries in 2018 and 2019, has evidenced a need for children’s stories, as well as books on history, the sciences, the arts and foreign languages. Up to the end of 2020, Ara facilitated the production of 30,000 accessible books, 5,000 of which have been distributed, locally, regionally and internationally.
We seek further to build formative networks and partnerships, to allow for the sustained production of content. Our cooperative agreement with the Accessible Book Consortium for example, means that we are the first organisation in the region to facilitate training and technical workshops for Arab publishers, enabling them to produce books in accessible EPUB3 formats. The benefit in this technology includes the likes of read aloud functionality and compatibility with text-to-speech programmes, interactivity with text, built in bookmarks, navigation through tables of content, and flexibility in its use on a variety of electronic devices.
Another complimentary purpose in Ara is to raise public awareness on visually disabled children in communities across the Middle East, North and East Africa, to support integration. In this regard, Kalimat Foundation dedicates considerable resources for the development of baselines, benchmarks and case studies to aid policymaking, in the local, regional and international context, to better serve blind and visually impaired youth.