Raising academic performance to meet the mandates of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a
critical mission for school leaders, yet finding solutions to accommodate diverse student populations across districts and schools can be overwhelming and costly.
Students with learning disabilities or visual impairments, for example, have difficulty reading print books. Often, they need accommodations like audio, large print, or braille to make classroom and homework materials accessible.
The effort and resources required to produce accessible educational materials (AEM) is significant. Teachers and librarians struggle to find textbooks and Common Core materials in accessible formats. Parents stress about support for their children. And students who do not get the support they need fall behind in their classwork, sometimes leading to frustration, behavioral issues, and a decline in academic performance that can impact life during and after school.
In U.S. public schools, an estimated 2.4 million students* have a learning disability, like dyslexia. Add to this large population students who are visually or physically impaired, and the goal to provide equal learning opportunities for students with disabilities becomes far reaching for school administrators. Fortunately, there is a solution.
Bookshare: A Proven, No Cost Reading Solution for U.S. Schools and Districts
To address the needs of students with print disabilities, thousands of U.S. schools and districts have signed up for Bookshare, a free resource funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education.
Bookshare is the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks with over 450,000 titles in accessible formats that lets students read in ways that work for them. Members can listen to words read aloud, follow along with highlighted text, read with large fonts, and read in braille.
With a deep and diverse collection, Bookshare is an invaluable resource for teachers and librarians serving students with disabilities across an entire school or district. They can save precious time and effort getting textbooks, Common Core materials, children’s and young adult books, bestsellers, college prep materials, and more. In so doing, educators can provide equal learning opportunities to students who need reading accommodations.
To join Bookshare, students must have a qualifying print disability that prevents them from reading print books. Qualified U.S. students and schools/districts can sign up for free and unlimited access to Bookshare. They also get free reading tools they can use on computers, Chromebooks, tablets, and smartphones.
Change the Future for More Students Like Laura
“Bookshare has opened a world of knowledge and academic achievement for my daughter and
thousands like her,” said Judie Gutierrez of Redwood City, California.
Laura Gutierrez dreaded reading. For years her family agonized about her reading decline. Then they discovered accessible ebooks through Bookshare.
“Laura’s comprehension and fluency skills increased,” said her mom. “She is happier and learning. Her teachers say that she is well on her way to grade-level reading. Accessible ebooks changed her future!”
Successful Readers Become High Achievers
School leaders who encourage the use of accessible ebooks to promote reading equality and overall reading skill improvement can make a world of difference academically and socially for more students with print disabilities.
These students will read comprehensively and have a better chance of reading on grade level, reading
independently, participating in general education, and reading for a lifetime.
Why not start today by scheduling a discussion with your teaching, special education, and curriculum staff about the value of accessible ebooks and Bookshare?
This online library can be an effective educational resource that administrators, educators, school boards, PTAs, students, and their families can get behind.
*Source: National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD)
Our son, Rosdom, is very smart and brave. We recognized these characteristics early in his childhood, but we also saw some unusual behavior that held clues that he would not grow up as a typical child.
In preschool, specialists told us that Rosdom would not be able to read, write, or function socially. This information led to many exhausting nights and conversations with teachers, researchers, scientists, and parents who live with similar circumstances. We worried about his education and future. We explored learning environments, resources, and strategies to support children with multiple disabilities. We found Bookshare and assistive technologies.
Accessible Ebooks and Technology with Text-to-Speech Help Rosdom to Excel Academically
In third grade, with a diagnosis of dyslexia and autism, Rosdom was placed in special education. He was given an Individual Education Program (IEP) with reading accommodations. This included an individual membership to Bookshare which enabled him to receive educational materials in digital accessible format and read them with assistive technology devices.
I must thank the reading tutors and a teacher’s aide who learned about Bookshare and text-to-speech. This capability empowered our son to quickly distill information at and above his grade level with his sharp comprehension and recall skills. Through text-to-speech he could reread and relisten to information through highlighted words on screen accompanied by audio. His comprehension soared! By fourth grade, Rosdom did all his own coursework independently, including assignments in literature and history, two of his favorite subjects, in addition to mathematics.
By ninth grade, he took honors classes and received high grades. His ACT scores placed him in the upper 25% to attend a top-ranking college and he now speaks of attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We also just learned that an essay he wrote on To Kill a Mockingbird was chosen as a finalist in the Facing History and Ourselves contest at his school. This is a wonderful accomplishment for a child with neurotypical issues.
Today, I’m Brave Campaign – Rosdom’s Social Skills
On the social side, our son is now a brand ambassador for the Today, I’m Brave campaign, a heart-centered, socially-driven experiment that celebrates people performing brave acts every day. He has many friends. He studies Japanese and talks of becoming a writer, living in Japan, and working in the gaming industry. He loves to read Shakespeare and manga, a form of Japanese comic books, which he finds in Bookshare.
Our journey has not been easy. Over many years, Rosdom recognized his challenges and fought to not be different. Through the Today, I’m Brave campaign, he wants kids to know that you don’t just succeed with sheer luck, but with support and high expectations from parents and teachers, and with praise and access to resources, like Bookshare and technologies. To parents like us, we say, “Do not give up hope. Your child, like our son, now eighteen, can be destined to accomplish great things.”
A Note from Rosdom Kaligian
I produced the Today, I’m Brave video because I want more kids to know that while dyslexia is a pest, it is not a death sentence and does not have to define who you are. You can still excel in school and life.
To readers of this blog, I want you to know that I am smart and determined. I would like to hear more teachers and parents say to people, like me, who are different, “Wow, you had a lot of obstacles in your path, but you found ways to get beyond them and truly excel.” It would be great to hear these words of praise more often!
P.S. Today, Rosdom’s video has more than 13,561 views!
Special thanks to Barbara-Seda Aghamianz and Rosdom Kaligian for sharing their personal journey.
Sign Up for Bookshare Now… Before Back to School Begins!
Bookshare is the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks for people who cannot read printed books due to blindness, low vision, dyslexia, and other print disabilities.
Through Bookshare’s extensive collection of educational and popular titles, including K-12 textbooks, specialized book formats, and reading tools, the online library offers individuals who cannot read standard print materials the same ease of access that people without disabilities enjoy.
We encourage all parents of children with print disabilities to learn more about Bookshare and sign up for an individual membership. In addition, let your child’s teachers know about Bookshare so they can sign up the school for an organizational membership. Both memberships are free for qualified U.S. students and schools.
People will tell you that I like to consume information, but that was not always the case. For most of my life, I struggled with reading so badly I never thought I would be scholarly or have a successful career, but my fear of the printed word is no longer present. Once I discovered accessible books with reading technologies, my life changed. Bookshare is one of the resources that gave me a competitive edge.
Today, in my fifties, I will graduate from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, with a Master of Science in Health and Medical Informatics. The faculty will honor me as the student marshal for my class. This prestigious recognition is given to a student who goes beyond coursework to help their community. I tutor children with dyslexia and teach them about assistive technology. I talk with their parents about Bookshare.
I only wish the online accessible library had existed and my family had known about it when I was a child. If not for my parents, a few teachers, and my faith, I would not have the courage to write about myself today.
Dyslexia – Years of Hidden Pain
I know a thing or two about this learning disability. My childhood was filled with difficult memories. At eight years old, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I read slowly and poorly with almost no comprehension. It was frightening and debilitating. It raged a storm inside of me that almost knocked me down. I was suspended in school for bad behavior. I built up walls and pushed people away. I felt unworthy.
Some research studies suggest a correlation between depression and people with learning disabilities. People may show signs of withdrawal, aggression, poor self-concept, and unsatisfactory peer relations.
To parents and teachers, I say explore accessible resources and accommodations for your children. Try listening to words read aloud through digital accessible books and seeing them highlighted on a screen. This capability enables me to comprehend more content. I am able to keep pace in the learning process and be measured by my abilities rather than my lack of literacy skills.
I remember downloading my first book from Bookshare in 2007, The Preacher and the Presidents, a story of Reverend Billy Graham by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. In the book, Graham is reading, The World is Flat by Thomas Freidman. This was the second book I read.
Since that time, I have read hundreds of accessible ebooks, of all types, from novels and scientific health journals to religion, academia, and career development. My Bookshare membership allows me to take full advantage of the online library’s vast collection of over 446,000 titles, thanks to over eight hundred publishers who contribute their digital files to the library.
Reading Takes Discipline
I am the Executive Director of a diagnostic and radiology center in Florida. My responsibilities are to review contracts, oversee a large staff, monitor and manage purchasing, and execute strategic plans. I also work with a technical team. We are developing an app for physicians to receive patient diagnostic reports in real time. I learned how to develop an app using an iOS application book for dummies from Bookshare. I think my tech team really respected that.
For me, reading is a discipline. When I get ready to read a hefty contract or document, I gear up and focus on the task. To comprehend the context, I use Voice Dream Reader and am grateful to Winston Chen, the developer of the application. This reading tool is so easy to use with Bookshare.
Wonderful Feeling to Be Hooked on Knowledge!
It is a wonderful feeling to be hooked on knowledge and to know how really smart we can become. Digital accessible books and technologies have given me this freedom. To people living with a print disability, young or older, I say, fuel your passions and interests using digital accessible books and technologies. Your life will be more meaningful. There is nothing that can stand in your way, except your own motivation.
Special thanks to Davis Graham for sharing his personal story.
Bookshare is the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks for people with print disabilities. Through its extensive collection of educational and popular titles, specialized book formats, and reading tools, Bookshare offers individuals who cannot read standard print materials the same ease of access that people without disabilities enjoy. In 2007 and 2012, Bookshare received two five-year awards from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), to provide free access for all U.S. students with a qualifying print disability. The Bookshare library now has over 446,000 books and serves more than 400,000 members. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that develops and uses technology to create positive social change.
Special thanks to Laura Medcalf for her contribution to the Bookshare blog. We appreciate the mission of the Indiana Assistive Technology Act (INDATA) Project and Laura’s “on the record” testimonial.
“When you read my blog or listen to my podcasts for the Indiana Assistive Technology Act Project (INDATA), you will notice a common theme. I focus on one form of disability or assistive technology that benefits individuals with a single disability (e.g., visual impairment, hearing loss, autism, etc.).
Assistive technology is my passion and my goal is to educate Indiana patrons (“Go Hoosiers!”) and readers across the world who are interested in quality assistive technology resources.
Sometimes, through my research, I discover a resource that is a true gem because it can substantially and positively impact thousands of individuals with a myriad of disabilities, and Bookshare is one such gem.
The online accessible library combined with reading tools and apps are what I refer to as “evergreen” in the assistive technology world. The resource stands the test of time with a history of innovation and services that are more relevant and beneficial today, especially in educating K-12 youth and post-secondary students who qualify.
Six Reasons I Recommend Bookshare:
- Bookshare’s mission and functionality fit the description of what AT is meant to accomplish: improving the functional capabilities of people with disabilities.
- Bookshare benefits persons of all ages with print disabilities, including those who are blind or visually impaired, or those who have a physical or learning disability.
- The library helps people with print disabilities become independent and self-reliant.
- The collection has an abundance of digital accessible titles to satisfy diverse interests from academic to professional and self-development to leisure.
- Members can read accessible ebooks with various reading tools and apps to accommodate many learning and reader preferences.
- Membership is free for U.S. schools and students who qualify.
My longtime respect for Bookshare continues as does my hope that more people with print disabilities can truly enjoy a universal and equitable reading experience. I will continue to cover the evolution and benefits of the online library in my blogs and podcasts as I truly believe it can help to remove barriers so that more individuals can be recognized for their abilities rather than their disabilities. Giving the gift of this reading resource is truly a gem of an opportunity and we can all celebrate that.”
Visit the Bookshare website to sign up as an organization if you represent a U.S. school. For parents or caregivers, you can sign a child up for an individual membership. Both options are free for U.S. students who qualify. There is a minimal annual subscription for non-student and international members.
Laura Medcalf studied special education and creative writing at Ball State University. She is responsible for researching and writing content for INDATA and hosting the Accessibility Minute Podcast, a sixty-second podcast covering everything on accessibility which airs on Fridays.
Easter Seals Crossroads has been providing assistive technology solutions in Indiana since 1979. In 2007, it partnered with the State of Indiana, Bureau of Rehabilitative Services, to establish the Indiana Assistive Technology Act (INDATA) Project. Core services include: information and referral, funding assistance, public awareness and education, device demonstration, device loan, and re-utilized computers and equipment. The project is one of fifty-six similar federally-funded projects designed to increase access to and awareness of assistive technology. To find a similar project in another US state or territory, visit: www.RESNAProjects.org.
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.