Hawas project: making cartoons accessible for blind children

1.1 Hawas
Aseel Shaqra, the founder and CEO of Hawas. The Hawas project provides Arabic audio description for movies and TV series for blind and visually impaired children between the ages of six and 15. (Photos: Hawas)
Children with visual impairments face many challenges, from learning in school to performing simple everyday tasks that require sight. But 25-year-old Aseel Shaqra noticed another difficulty, one you might not think of at first. Visual impairment raises a huge barrier for children to enjoy cartoons, affecting not only their access to entertainment, but also their social relationships, as they may not have the same associations with on-screen “heroes” as their peers. اضافة اعلان

“A mother of a blind girl told me that her child does not sit with (the family) when they are watching TV, because she does not know what is happening in the movie,” the young woman explained. “This made her feel bad.”

While accessibility options do exist in multiple languages, Shaqra was surprised to find a lack of Arabic content and materials on the internet for blind children. This inspired her to found Hawas, a project that provides Arabic audio description for movies and TV programs targeting young children.

“I saw a platform that provides films and series for blind children, but in the English language, and it was not available in Arabic. I searched for content in Arabic, but it is not found in all the Arab world,” she said.

“I decided to be the first person to provide these series in the Arabic language.”

In audio description, a narration track fills in the silences between conversations by summarizing what is happening on the screen, without interfering with the experience of other viewers. Through these descriptions, children who are blind or visually impaired can access TV programs and movies, “seeing” their favorite shows through their ears as they listen to the actions being described on-screen.

Even children with no visual impairments can benefit educationally from audio description, as it allows them to connect what they see on the screen with new vocabulary. However, “the project is especially for blind children, so that they can imagine and visualize the scenes in a more accurate way,” Shaqra told Jordan News.

The Arabic word “Hawas” means senses, and the founder said she chose this name in order to draw attention to the five human senses and their importance, to inspire other projects and initiatives to support those who have impairments related to the senses.

In 2019, Hawas started providing Arabic audio description of movies and series for blind and visually impaired children between the ages of six and 15. In this way, said Shaqra, the children can absorb and imagine the scenes and the characters whose voices they know well.

Hawas project has an integrated team: Shaqra writes the audio description and records it in her voice, and a proofreader checks the content. The team also includes a producer and a blind child who provides feedback on the content. To produce the audio, the Hawas team uses audio equipment and editing programs.

 “Through the Hawas project, blind children are able to enjoy imagining scenes in series and movies. Before, this was a big problem for them,” Shaqra said.

 Hawas broadcasts Arabic films and TV on a YouTube channel called “Hawas Kids”. The videos it features, such as the Kalila and Dimna series, teach children the Arabic language, according to the founder.

Furthermore, Shaqra shares a trailer for each episode through Hawas’ social media platforms to keep her audiences interested and interacting.

 The young founder has organized several initiatives in cooperation with the Association for the Blind. She has received awards from Haya Cultural Center, the Jordan River Foundation, the Ministry of Youth, and Queen Rania Center for Entrepreneurship.

“After the first initiative, when I saw blind children smile and enjoy these films, this encouraged me to continue with this project,” she reflected. “In the future, I hope to build a center for blind children.”

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