Amare Leggette, an energetic eight-year-old from Eastover Elementary School in Charlotte, North Carolina, will compete against nine students in the Apprentice age group at the 2016 National Braille Challenge.
“Amare is a fast reader and eager learner,” says Holly Jeffries, his teacher of the visually impaired. “He has a natural ability to skim, comprehend, make contractions, and knows when to reread text. He also loves new vocabulary words and enjoys putting them on our school braille word wall. I know he is prepared for the competition and is ready to take home the prize!”
Blind since birth, Amare has read since the age of two thanks to his mother, a teacher, who worked with him. His teacher says, “He has incredible recall and memorized his math tables at an early age.”
Now in second grade, Amare reads above grade level and is studying fifth grade math. In the national competition, he will perform a series of high-level skills in spelling, braille contractions, timed reading, comprehension, proofreading, and answering questions.
Ms. Jeffries, a seasoned educator who has taught children (K-5) who are visually-impaired and homebound, says, “Amare is wonderfully bright! In his first week of school, he read twelve braille books – that is one third of our entire school collection. He has already completed all of his third grade reading assignments. Bookshare supplies an excellent resource of knowledge. Using the online library, Amare gets the books he wants to read quickly, and I’ve timed him reading at over 150 words per minute!”
Bookshare, a Key Braille Resource
In Bookshare, English language books can be accessed in contracted or uncontracted braille, in either Unified English Braille (UEB) or English Braille, American Edition (EBAE). Jeffries says, “When you have a student like Amare, who can read a book in just one night, our job is to meet that demand. With Bookshare, we can readily download unlimited accessible books in braille, audio and large print formats.”
Amare is not the only one of Jeffries’ students who is a high performer. They all attend general education classes and are expected to be on par academically using similar curriculum materials. Jeffries says, “Students with disabilities possess such character, determination, and courage. We must set high expectations for them as early as possible so that they can master braille literacy for a strong foundation.”
A college professor encouraged Jeffries to explore Bookshare which is free for U.S. students with qualifying print disabilities. In 2008, she introduced the online accessible library to her district to find curriculum resources in braille, audio, and large print. Several teachers wanted to learn how to use the library at that time. “We signed our school up for an Organizational Membership and then signed students up for Individual Memberships,” says Jeffries. “Today, our school is not hindered by needing a book in braille and not finding it, or having to wait weeks for a copy. School braille books also get worn out, and pages aren’t fresh and crisp. Additionally, it’s not so easy to purchase them in local stores at $30 or $40 each. Students don’t want to carry heavy volumes around because it makes them stand out.”
When Amare isn’t reading or studying math, his teacher selects books and adds them to Amare’s Reading List so that he can relish in them over the summer. One of his favorite stories is Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Dicamillo. He also enjoys books about space, weather, trains and holiday traditions.
Reading Braille at an Early Age
Amare’s parents read to him at an early age and believe in early intervention. They say their son knows his way around a braille book and can quickly scan the index, table of contents and bookmarked chapters. He also likes to present book reports on biographies and create posters. Mrs. Leggette says, “Bookshare has been a great learning tool for Amare to explore and excel.”
Amare’s parents, along with his grandparents and Ms. Jeffries, will attend the competition and are excited to watch him compete. Jeffries says, “The National Braille Challenge is always motivating! We know that Amare will do his very best. He has already made me, our school, our state, and his family so proud.”
The Bookshare team would also like to congratulate Amare Leggette for his accomplishments. We wish him and all the 2016 contestants much luck and success in the challenge and in all that they aspire to do. Read about the fifty finalists.
About the National Braille Challenge®
The Braille Challenge® is an academic competition designed to motivate blind students to emphasize their study of braille, while rewarding their success with fun-filled, but challenging, local and national events. Any visually-impaired student who reads braille is eligible to participate in the preliminary Challenge contest events, which are held from January through March throughout the U.S. and Canada.
This year, (2016) the preliminary Braille Challenge was held in forty-six sites and proctored by eighty individual teachers of visually-impaired students. Each contestant received a certificate of appreciation in braille and feedback on their performance. The top fifty contestants are then invited to Los Angeles for two days of competition, camaraderie, and fun. Braille Challenge categories include reading comprehension, braille speed and accuracy, proofreading, spelling, and reading tactile charts and graphs.
The 2016 National Braille Challenge is June 17-18th, 2016, at the Los Angeles Center, 741 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029.
Many thanks to Kate Owen at Thetford Academy for sharing her advocacy of Bookshare and for training more teachers to be proponents of accessible ebooks.
As an educator and librarian, I have always worked to build an inclusive library service to meet the needs of all learners. This year, over one-third of our students are eligible for extra services according to their IEP or 504 plans. Many of these students qualify for Bookshare. The online accessible library has become an integral part of building an inclusive library to accomplish my goal.
Not So Long Ago…
When I first became a school librarian, serving students with print-based disabilities meant surmounting some very real hurdles. The process to obtain accessible formats was tedious and often a barrier to the adoption of accessible materials. Lots of paperwork was given to parents and their child’s physician. Once enrollment was complete, we had to hope that the book assigned to a class was available in audio format. Wonderful volunteers read many books aloud, but even so, it was not uncommon to find that the book we needed simply was not available.
If there was an audio recording it could only be played on a special playback machine. If you were serving more than one or two students in a class, logistics became even more challenging. Once, we had to buy special headphone splitters, which meant a trip over an hour away to the nearest Radio Shack. Bookshare has transformed this process for schools, educators and librarians.
Real-Time Access to Digital Books
Today, with Bookshare, I can instantly provide real-time reading for qualifying students. I can develop Reading Lists ahead of a semester and easily manage last minute curriculum changes.
Bookshare’s library collection is vast, including more than 400,000 titles and the latest versions of textbooks through a partnership with NIMAC. Almost every book we need is available in Bookshare too. Only once, have I requested a book. The process was easy and the title was soon made available.
Help a Student With a Print Disability Read for Life
I want every student to be empowered with tools such as Bookshare that help them become independent and self-directed learners. One way to accomplish this goal is to support classroom teachers by helping them to learn how to use Bookshare’s library effectively. If I am doing my job well, more teachers will become proponents of digital accessible materials and books, just as I am.
In the long run, when qualifying students leave our school with both a high school diploma and an Individual Membership, they can use the online library for a lifetime of learning.
I hope that all students, no matter where they live or the challenges they may face, can accomplish great things, including the freedom to read and explore every book available to mankind.
Are you a librarian or teacher who works with students with visual, learning or physical disabilities? Bookshare can open the world of reading for these students through accessible ebooks and reading tools. Remember, Bookshare is free for qualified U.S. students and schools.
- More books to read. Access over 400,000 titles for school, work, and fun.
- Easy reading. Read directly on an Internet browser with Bookshare Web Reader.
- More ways to read. Read on laptops, Chromebooks, tablets, smartphones and more.
- Better organization. Save books on Reading Lists.
- Easier sharing. Assign books with a Student Login and let them read on their own.
Note: Thetford Academy is the oldest continuously-operating secondary school in Vermont. It is a private school with a public mission — to serve as the high school for students in several surrounding towns. In 2019, the Academy will celebrate its 200th anniversary. Congratulations!
Special thanks to Adair Apple, a Librarian in Evans Elementary School, Corpus Christi, TX for sharing the reasons why she chooses Bookshare to support students with print disabilities.
“In our district, librarians are responsible for both print and digital accessible resources as well as adaptive technologies. Bookshare is one of the resources we use to support students with qualifying print disabilities, such as visual impairments and physical and learning disabilities that hinder reading.
For effective learning, and since many children are more tech-savvy today, we want to get reading resources and technologies into their hands as early as possible. Now, when teachers and students walk into our library and ask if a book is available for a student with a print disability, I’ll check the online accessible library.
As an elementary librarian, I appreciate that I can tap into Bookshare for children’s literature and required chapter books. And, by assigning logins to the students on my Bookshare account, I can give them immediate access to books. This saves students and teachers time and effort. Some of our school librarians have also begun to mark books with stickers to indicate that they are available in accessible formats on Bookshare.
On the Bookshare website, we have access to information to teach parents about accessible ebook formats and reading tools that help students. I like having the ability to go online and view the archived Bookshare webinars and training tutorials.
We are now exploring how Bookshare can be a beneficial resource not only for students who are blind or visually impaired or who have a physical disability, but also for students with a learning disability, such as dyslexia.
Additionally, in Texas, our schools can request on-site Bookshare training through the Accessible Books for Texas (ABT) program, which is funded by the Texas Education Agency. Through this state initiative, teachers, specialists, and librarians learn about the benefits of accessible education materials and how to establish Bookshare organizational and individual student memberships. We are taught how to manage books for students and how to create Reading Lists that make it easy for students to access books independently.”
Take the Next Step with Bookshare!
If you are a U.S. teacher, librarian, or parent supporting students with qualifying print disabilities, please spread the word about Bookshare, especially to your school’s administrators. You can share the key points in this blog about reading independence and emphasize that Bookshare is free for qualified U.S. students and schools. If you are a Texas K-12 public or charter school educator, contact the Accessible Books for Texas Outreach Coordinator in your region for free on-site training.
One of the things that makes Bookshare so special is the community of volunteers that we have the privilege of working with. In recognition of National Volunteer Week (April 10-16), we wanted to acknowledge their contributions and share just how much we appreciate each and every one of them!
The Bookshare volunteers are an amazing group of 182 individuals. Over the past year they have scanned, submitted, and proofed over 2,000 books for Bookshare, the world’s largest online accessible library for people with print disabilities.
Bookshare receives the majority of its titles in the form of digital files directly from the 850 publishers who partner with us, but our volunteers continue to build the library by scanning and proofreading titles unavailable to us, as well as books of personal interest.
Bookshare volunteers are a tremendously passionate, dedicated, and inspiring group. Carol James, Bookshare Digital Collection Development Manager, can’t sing their praises enough. “I’m so often delighted and amazed by what our volunteers are adding – they fill so many wonderful corners of our collection, and put so much love and care into the books they make possible for others to read.”
And she’s right. The Bookshare volunteers have played a key role in making Bookshare what it is today. We are eternally grateful for their willingness to donate their time and skills to helping us not only provide accessible reading material, but also become pioneers for accessibility and social change.
A group of volunteers working together.
Judy Stouffer, a Bookshare volunteer says, “Bookshare gave me back the ability to read what I wanted, when I wanted, including access to specialized technical books I never thought I’d have after becoming disabled. I volunteer because I want to help to open the world of books to other disabled readers the way it has for me.”
Bookshare Volunteers Rock!
Raised in Berkeley, California, Amaya has a background in neurobiology, anthropology and art. Today, she works in a project and community management role for Benetech’s DIAGRAM Center and also supports external partners and technical volunteers to develop resources for making digital graphic content accessible for people with print disabilities.