The tactile books of the “A spasso con le dita” project
To publish and distribute tactile books to promote the integration of blind, partially sighted and sighted children was the aim of the project launched in November 2010 by the National Federation of Institutions for the Blind (a non-profit organisation) and supported by Enel Cuore. As part of the initiative, six tactile books have been provided free of charge to public libraries, paediatric wards and institutions involved in the promotion of reading in order to facilitate scholastic and social integration of partially and non-sighted children all over Italy, from the Aosta Valley to Sicily. Each of the six books had a print run of 1,000 copies, a significant undertaking, given that tactile illustrations are thicker than the page and are made entirely by hand using materials that, when touched, can evoke the objects being referenced. The books also require handmade bindings that enable them to be opened fully when laid on a flat surface in such a way as to allow both the reader’s hands to explore the text (printed and in braille) and the illustrations simultaneously. Furthermore, sufficient spacing between each page needs to be ensured.
The fact that the books are so costly and complicated to produce means that it’s essential to find funding that can help reduce these costs. And this is where the contribution to the “A spasso con le dita” (“Strolling with our fingers”) project, which helps the spread of tactile books all over the country, is so important. The six titles published so far are: Giorgetto l’animale che cambia aspetto (Little George, the Animal That Changes Appearance), Soffio di vento (A Gust of Wind), Ho un po’ paura (I’m A Bit Afraid), Versi tra versi (Verses Between Verses), Tutt’altro (Completely Different) and Settestella (Seven Stars).
Tactile books represent a useful tool, not only for introducing children to reading, stimulating curiosity and developing perceptive exploration, but also for promoting dialogue and integrating non-sighted children and parents with their sighted peers.
The traveling exhibition
In light of the success of the tactile books, the project was expanded in 2013 with a traveling exhibition featuring multisensorial illustrations created by famous artists on the theme of “The Words of Solidarity.” Enel undertook this project, which redefines the concept of solidarity, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its commitment to social causes. It takes the form of a small, child-friendly tactile museum with works to touch and handle, which also serve as inspiration for a series of educational and recreational workshops designed to introduce the public to the potential of multisensorial illustration. Thanks to 16 illustrators of children’s books, the exhibition has been shown in 28 venues across Italy since 2013 and, after taking a break due to the pandemic, it is gearing up to start where it left off.
The traveling exhibition now extends past national borders, beginning its journey in Europe with a presentation in Brussels, in collaboration with the Italian Embassy in Belgium and Coscit, during the Week of Italian Language and Culture in the World.
The evolution of the project and where to find the traveling exhibition
Thanks to our support, the project is now in its third phase, which includes a complete restyling of the exhibit, as part of the celebrations for the hundredth anniversary of the Italian Union of Blind and Partially Sighted People, and the publication of a new tactile book. The seventh title in the collection is Grande gatto e piccolo gatto (Big Cat and Small Cat): a lovely book for young readers’ first tactile experiences and winner of the best book for early childhood at the fifth edition of the Italian publishing competition for tactile books called “Tocca a te!” (“It’s your turn!”).
“The Words of Solidarity” will start off again in Lecce on September 27, 2021, and it will then make its way to Reggio Emilia, Palermo, Foggia, and Perugia; it will also make a special stop at the Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital at Palidoro, in Rome. These cities will also host a pilot project: a new training course for elementary school students, which they can take and share online on the dedicated remote learning platform. Two elementary school classes were selected in each of the five cities involved; these classes, which include blind or visually impaired students, were already being pedagogically assisted by the Federation’s Centri di Consulenza Tiflodidattica (blindness and education support centers). Students will receive a kit with everything they need to create simple audio-tactile stories: a blank book, cutting and creasing devices, tactile materials (paper, balsa wood, fabric, rubber, etc.), a Braille tablet to imprint the text, and an instruction manual on how to create tactile images and audio content. Instead of sharing the experience in person by reading, creating, and handling the materials together (which has become problematic during the pandemic), an innovative remote learning journey will be available in its place.
The project involves two illustrators, Élodie Maino and Laura Cattabianchi, who are experts in developing audio-tactile story techniques; they will present a common narrative path for the classes involved in the pilot project. A professional actress will accompany the artists’ work, reading the stories presented to the kids and creating simple tutorials on reading and acting techniques. All the material will then be shared among the participants; the entire experience will be documented by the Federation and will be available on the dedicated website. The audio-tactile books created and the tutorials will in turn become a part of the traveling exhibition “The Words of Solidarity,” with an in-depth section illustrating this phase of the project.
The traveling exhibition is also getting ready to cross Italy’s national borders. The Italian School Committee (Co.Sc.It) has in fact asked to exhibit the project in Brussels on October 18-24, 2021, on the occasion of Belgium’s Italian Culture Week: it will be a chance to present a new inclusive educational approach to teachers abroad.
The health emergency became an opportunity to develop new paths for school inclusion and to create an archive of audio-visual content. In particular, this enables the Federation’s “Tactile Publishing” sector to test new educational tools and strategies, which are shaping up to be actual startups with future projects for kids, teachers, and families.
Location: all of Italy
Association: Federazione Nazionale delle istituzioni pro Ciechi- onlus (National Federation for Institutions for the Blind, a non-profit organisation)
Intended beneficiaries: Blind or partially sighted children, public libraries, paediatric wards, institutions for promoting reading.
Total contribution destined for the organisation: 410,000 euros