DRIVE (Digital Reading for Inclusivity, Versatility and Engagement) is one of 24 new networks funded by UK Research and Innovation’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), under its Digital Innovation for Development in Africa (DIDA) strand. The networks bring together academics, industry, NGOs, policymakers and practitioners from Africa with UK partners to maximise digital technologies to address development challenges including health, energy and accessibility to online resources. The DRIVE project will run from May 2020 to April 2021 and the main partners are Bournemouth University (UK), CUEA (Kenya), CHUKA university (Kenya) and Worldreader.
Due to the impact of COVID-19 we have had to adapt our original timetable and planned events and at the outset of the project all activity will now take place online and be subject to change at short notice. We will also now include consideration of the impact of COVID on readers and reading as part of our ongoing discussions.
Digital Reading programmes have demonstrated the potential for new technologies to provide solutions for developing countries where the logistics around access and upkeep of print books may be hindering the growth of robust reading cultures. Programmes have also been designed to specifically target population groups ‘left behind’ because of cultural norms and stigmas specific to the local context. Nevertheless, most research and the main focus of digital reading initiatives in developing countries has been on classroom-based situations, meaning that the wider social impact of digital reading on readers’ lives is barely discussed.
The proposed new network will bring together researchers, stakeholders and policy makers from multiple nations, academic disciplines and knowledge bases, to work closely with readers in some of the poorer parts of Kenya. Focusing specifically on promoting gender equality and social inclusion for people living with various kinds of disability, the network will examine current provision and best practice and work with readers and providers to identify gaps in provision and social and cultural barriers to engagement to ensure that future provision takes a more holistic and responsive view of the role technology can play in enhancing readers’ lives.
The first part of the project will focus on gender equality and digital reading, engaging with participants from Worldreader’s Ana Soma project, and bringing together experts on gender equality in the region with stakeholders and policy makers to work on identifying measures to ensure that future provision is focused on sustainable solutions and building resilient reading cultures and communities. Following on from this, the network will examine how assistive technologies already available can address the specific needs of readers with various kinds of physical or learning disabilities, minimising the risks of social isolation and enhancing their life opportunities. The workshop will include contributions from organisations working with disabled groups in the region, as well as from end-users, and will reflect on the importance of an intersectional approach to gender and disability.
In the final segment of the project, readers who have participated in the earlier discussions will be invited to work with DigiTales, a participatory media company, to create and produce short multimedia films reflecting on their experiences of using digital devices and the impact this has had on their lives. The stories will be available on YouTube and the project website once completed.