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How the D&AD Impact Fund is supporting a project helping toddlers to communicate

Baby BSL: Where is the Bird? Founder Victoria Forrest tells us about her Future Impact Pencil-winning project

Baby BSL: Where is the Bird? by Jo Hounsome

The children’s book Baby BSL: Where is the Bird? is a new form of immersive publishing that uses augmented reality to empower the parents of deaf and hearing children, aged up to three years, to use British Sign Language (BSL) in the home. Having won a D&AD Future Impact Pencil in 2020, the project went on to receive £9,700 from D&AD’s Impact fund — development grants that are available to award-winning Future Impact Projects.

We caught up with Founder Victoria Forrest who told us about the inception of her idea, how she’s using AR for good, and how she plans to use her Impact Fund grant to develop her project.

Using AR for impact

Forrest tells us that she’s using AR in a unique way to help make pre-speech communication between babies and adults a reality. One of the most impactful aspects of this, is that it enables deaf and hearing children to enjoy books on an equal level by replacing the human voice by animating the page. Turn the pages of Where is the Bird? and you’ll wake up illustrations that pop-up out of the pages as colourful 3D animations, before being paired with video demonstrations of a BSL sign. This brings the pages of the book to life for deaf children, in the same way that a hearing child might enjoy their parent reading them a bedtime story by sounding words out.

“Reading a bedtime story in the hearing world is the foundation for literacy,” says Forrest, “that's how children begin to understand the concept of reading because reading letters are based on phonics. If a deaf child is profoundly deaf, understanding phonics is really abstract, so a book is sadly quite a static and boring object because there's no mechanism to make it spring to life.”

Baby BSL: Where is the Bird? by Fra Beecher

Sign language can combat the “terrible twos” in hearing children

Forrest says she arrived at the idea for this book when she was teaching her (hearing) child sign language and realised that there weren’t enough British Sign Language books available in the market. She says that the book can be used by parents to help them deal with the dreaded “terrible twos”, by equipping toddlers with tools to communicate where their language hasn’t caught up yet.

“Deaf children don't get the terrible twos it seems, it's only within the hearing world that the terrible twos happen. This is widely believed to be because of an incompatibility with the complexity of a child's thoughts around the age of two and their ability to say or express them, and so they get locked in with these thoughts,” says Forrest. “They cannot say what they want, even though they are absolutely sure that they know what it is, and that results in tantrums and throwing food.” Teaching a hearing child sign language then, gives them that ability to communicate and stops the tantrums.

Next steps for the Impact Fund grant

Forrest received £9,700 from D&AD, as the Judges loved how much she had achieved so far and felt she had proven the business capable of succeeding within a new market. The money will go towards the development, illustration and print of a 24-page zine-style activity book for the 3-12 year-old market. Forrest got this idea while diving in Thailand. “Sign language is used by divers underwater and is the only way that you can communicate,” she says. “The lack of ability to speak for an adult while learning to dive is very similar to being locked in as a two year old. If it was more ingrained into our culture, then there are certain situations where the hearing community could really benefit from having sign language. I'm trying to introduce children at an early age to the situations in which the hearing community benefits from sign language.”

Forrest's new book, Where is the Fish?, will introduce children to life under the sea, and Forrest hopes the next one will be aimed at children playing with their grandparents at the end of life when they start to lose their hearing.

Baby BSL: Where is the Bird? by VIKA Books

Advice for professionals wanting to make an impact

Forrest said she entered the D&AD Awards because she felt her project had the potential to do social good, and left us with some parting thoughts for professionals wanting to ​​enter the Awards saying, ask yourself, “Is your idea for social good? Are you using your creativity to improve the world around you? Will it improve the lives of the people around you — especially people who are marginalised? That’s what impact is really about isn’t it?”

Two other projects that received a grant from the Impact Fund in this round: Get Better Books (£12,000, 2021) — A series of interactive books designed to help paediatric patients understand their journey through treatment and stages of recovery. And Breathe (£3,300, 2020) — A smart chest binder that uses shape memory materials to allow the wearer to digitally customise the tightness of the garment on-the-go.

The D&AD Impact Programme is a 12-month package of mentorship, training and visibility that supports project owners with the ideation, launch and early growth of their work. It’s available to anyone shortlisted in the Future Impact category. D&AD’s Impact Fund is given to award-winning Future Impact Projects that have participated in the Impact Programme. Find out more about entering the Impact category at the next D&AD Awards here.

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