By Jim Fruchterman, CEO, Benetech
We stand on the threshold of ending the global book famine for people who read differently due to blindness, low vision, dyslexia, or a physical disability that interferes with reading. A bill to ratify and implement the Marrakesh Treaty was just introduced in the United States Senate by the chairs and ranking members of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. This bipartisan bill makes it possible for organizations such as Benetech to create accessible versions of books for all types of readers and to share them across borders through a copyright exception. As a result, millions of people worldwide will be able to read in ways that work for them.
The bill represents a consensus effort that involved all of the key stakeholders, from authors and publishers, to libraries and the organized blind, diplomats, copyright experts, and our Congress. We especially want to acknowledge the efforts of Scott LaBarre and the National Federation of the Blind for continuing to push for the Treaty’s adoption, and those of Professor Justin Hughes who led the U.S. delegation that negotiated the Treaty and played an important role catalyzing consensus.
Momentum is on our side. Europe as a block already committed to complete the ratification process this year. With the United States acting now, the Marrakesh Treaty is poised to play a pivotal role in solving the global book famine.
At Benetech, we are especially excited about this prospect. The Treaty will enable a true global library for the blind and other people who read differently. Benetech just released a Marrakesh Treaty implementation guide, which shows how our pioneering Bookshare model could solve the global book famine once and for all with relatively modest amounts of funding given the enabling policy environment created by the Marrakesh Treaty.
We’re looking forward to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on April 18th as we move one step closer to making sure all people around the world have access to books that work for them!
Children need and deserve books that reflect themselves and the diversity of the world around them. In addition to people of color, people with disabilities are underrepresented in the popular media. For many children and teens with disabilities, it is difficult to find books with accurate portrayals of disabilities. With this gap in mind, Bookshare has assembled four new collections that feature characters with learning disabilities and visual impairments, because everyone has differences and abilities and representation matters.
Books that Feature Characters with Learning Disabilities
For middle school readers (20 books for ages 8-12/grades 3-7):
- Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff – Sam must solve the mystery of who he really is, but he has trouble reading the clues he finds in the attic and turns to his friend Caroline for help.
- Dyslexia is My Superpower (Most of the Time) by Margaret Rooke – In more than 100 interviews, children and young adults reveal their personal tips and tactics for honing the creative benefits of dyslexia, enabling them to thrive in school and beyond.
For Young Adult (YA) readers (18 books for ages 13+/grades 8+):
- Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt – Fourteen year-old Doug just moved to a new town and struggles to rise above being an outcast and find friends who appreciate his talents and intelligence.
- Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt – Even though sixth grader Ally is smart, her dyslexia makes school a lonely and unsuccessful place until a substitute teacher helps her see herself beyond a label.
Books that Feature Characters with Visual Impairments
All of the novels in these two collections feature a character who is blind or has a visual impairment.
For middle school readers: (25 books for ages 8-12/grades 3-7)
- As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds – Two brothers spend the summer with their grandfather who is blind and learn what it means to become brave and own up to what you will or won’t do.
- A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel – After her family moves from Seattle to Sinkville, Alice finds herself floundering until she enters an essay contest and proves that blindness is just a part of who she is, not all that she can be.
“I was born with albinism and a visual impairment and don’t remember ever reading about a character with my issues. Most movies and books get it wrong or they mock it. This book got it right. I love how the story revealed Alice’s strengths to herself as well as to the reader. When your normal is different, you can feel weak and unselfconfident.” – Elizabeth Tetley (from reader reviews of A Blind Guide to Stinkville on Amazon)
For YA readers (25 books for ages 13+/grades 8+):
- Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom – Parker Grant is a high school girl who doesn’t want different treatment because she is blind. As she tries to navigate her life after her father’s death, she learns that everyone has blind spots, whether they are visually impaired or not.
- The Heart of Applebutter Hill by Donna W. Hill – Baggy is 14 and in a strange country with his camera, his best friend Abigail, and her guide dog Curly Conner. They uncover a secret about the Heartstone of Arden-Goth in this fast-paced adventure mystery.
Even More Books
- Schneider Family Book Award winners – books that embody the disability experience
- Deaf Special Collection – 150 books by and about members of the deaf community
- Deaf-Blind Special Collection – 73 books by and about members of the deaf-blind community
- Heroes with Disabilities – books about the experiences of children with a variety of disabilities
Special thanks to Emily Nostro who contributed to this blog.
By guest author Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, PhD, ATP
What a great fortune it is to work in an environment where every student is issued a Chromebook in grades 1-8. This is a HUGE game changer in the delivery of AT. In working with students who require AEM (Accessible Educational Materials), we use Bookshare, a free service that provides hundreds of thousands of print materials to qualifying individuals.
Bookshare suggests many reading tools that have been selected by users. On the Chromebook side, we have been using the Bookshare Web Reader, which is integrated into Chrome. However, for some of the students I work with, the Chrome OS text-to-speech (TTS) voice is “very robotic,” “not natural,” and “bothersome” (I tend to concur, and would love a day when Chrome OS would deliver a Native TTS voice that is comparable to Apple’s Alex or to a human-narrated voice).
Until that day arrives, we’ve come up with a workaround that has proven to be effective with these students. By overlapping Read and Write for Google’s web-based TTS reader to read Bookshare books to students, it’s become a well received option to providing access to Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) for our students. Read and Write is an easy-to-use tool that students are familiar with, is provided to every student in our district, and has a nice variety of voices. Plus, the word highlighting is more pronounced.
To see how this works, I’ve created a brief video to illustrate the point:
Sometimes, a simple workaround is all that is needed to continue to provide access to content in a way that most makes sense for the end user. If you’re in need of a Chromebook option for a better voice for Bookshare’s Web Reader, consider using Read and Write in concert.
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, PhD, is a RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology Society of North America) certified Assistive Technology Professional (ATP), who specializes in breaking barriers to learning through the use of Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning. This blog originally appeared on Hillary’s website and has been reposted with her permission.
Teachers and parents share how Bookshare helps remove reading barriers for students
We love our members – and the teachers, parents, and other caring individuals who support our members. We celebrate every success of every student who overcomes reading barriers with the help of Bookshare and assistive technology. And, since good news is meant to be shared, here are some recent tweets that celebrate reading success.
Tweets from Teachers
From @allinreading: In recent days I’ve been sitting back watching my 6th graders log on to @CaptiVoice and @Bookshare independently. They are reading at home and in school. They are talking about books, and they can do it on their own. I can’t believe we got here.
From Christina: @Bookshare is a great resource. If your child has an IEP and needs access to audio or digital books, ask your school about it. #specialeducation
From Hillary: Today’s mashup: @Bookshare Web Reader + @BeeLineReader + @texthelp as TTS support = student responding: “I want to find more books to read on my #Chromebook!” #a11y #AEM #ilovemyjob
From Jane: Parents, does your child have a learning disability? They may qualify for @Bookshare which is a FREE, life-changing resource for struggling readers #Dyslexia #tlchat #educhat
From Janea: Best day ever! Empowered an 11th grader with these tools. Now sees college as an attainable goal. @DonJohnstonInc @Bookshare #ADEChat
From Christina: Bookshare removes reading barriers & is a fantastic toolbox for educators! A game changer for people with print disabilities. Bookshare is the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks. #Bookshare @Bookshare #Reading #Literacy #UDL
From Tiffany: Life depends on reading today. Kids want to read and be successful at it. We have to help them find their way to be successful. I have seen kids get the reading bug thanks to @Bookshare and @Learning_Ally
From Deb: @Bookshare is an amazing program that helps students with print disabilities get free access to audiobooks! Amazing!!
From Dyslexic Star: Every day I am so thankful for @VoiceDreamApp and @Bookshare #dyslexicessentials
Tweets from Parents
From Jessica: Bragging moment: after years of struggling daily to read at grade level my daughter makes high honors in 7th grade! #dyslexia #nevergivesup #hardworker #determinedchild #proudmom Thanks @Bookshare & all the other tools & teachers in her life! #sayDyslexia #readtothemdaily
From Susannah: Listening to books via @CELAlibrary & @Bookshare via @calgarylibrary using text highlighting in @VoiceDreamApp has been #1 best thing helping my dyslexic child improve reading fluency. Need to increase access & ensure teachers & students are aware of these services.
From Tamara: I’m absolutely LOVING that my daughter can read about #elizabethcotten thanks to @Bookshare @VoiceDreamApp #Nystagmus #NystagmusAwareness #AssistiveTech #lowvision
“I want to read Wonder right now. All of my friends have read it or are going to read it and I couldn’t. I want to read it when I am getting ready for bed tonight.” From student to parent after seeing @Bookshare for the first time.
From mother of Bookshare member: Thanks again for all the support. My son said to thank you as he really loved Huckleberry Finn! It was a joy to watch him laugh as he listened and read. Amazing. He has an A in English with the support of Bookshare.
Join the Conversation on Twitter and Facebook
@Bookshare on Twitter and Bookshare on Facebook are wonderful places to share ideas, successes, and recommendations…or to get answers to your questions from the Bookshare community. We invite you to join the conversation. Click on the icons to get started.
By Nicholas Bowen, Bookshare Customer Support Manager
Every day the Bookshare Customer Support team receives questions from members through many channels: telephone, email, website contact forms, Twitter, Facebook, Discussion Forum, and at conferences. Certain questions come up repeatedly, so here is an initial attempt to solve a few mysteries, resolve conundrums, and spread general enlightenment. Look for additional blogs covering more questions – from basic to advanced — down the road.
Bookshare Customer Support Team is Small, but Mighty
To give you some perspective, here are some impressive 2017 statistics about the Customer Support team that supports over 550,000 members:
- Handled 48,000 customer requests with an average response time of 1.5 business hours
- Processed 15,000 membership registration forms
- Responded to 700 inquiries on the Bookshare Discussion Forum
- Provided additional support to Bookshare International team, four state library partners, Bookshare Outreach Coordinators in Texas, and institutional partners in the U.K., Canada, and India
Common Questions from Members
Where do I find text-to-speech voices that sound the most human?
Ultimately, members’ personal preferences determine voice selection; however, Bookshare highly
recommends Voice Dream Reader and Dolphin Easy Reader applications (available for iOS and Android) that include options to purchase a wide range of high quality, computer-generated voices. We encourage members to browse the voices to find the best one for them.
Can students download books independently or do teachers have to assign every book?
Bookshare has two levels of student memberships: a Student Access membership and a full Individual Membership. Both accounts allow students to log into Bookshare and access books independently. Students with Student Access accounts can only access books a teacher has assigned through Reading Lists. However, if students upgrade to the full Individual Membership, they can download books without needing a teacher to assign them.
Why can’t I use Bookshare Web Reader with Internet Explorer?
You can use Internet Explorer (IE) to open books with Bookshare’s free Web Reader, and many members use IE and screen readers to provide audio. However, IE doesn’t support integrated text-to-speech, so for members who want to use Web Reader’s built-in text-to-speech capability, they have to use Chrome or Safari browsers.
Why isn’t Bookshare Web Reader reading?
As mentioned previously, audio for the Web Reader only functions in the Google Chrome or Safari
browsers on PCs or Macs and is not supported on mobile devices. If you are using Web Reader on Chrome, and pressing the Play button turns it orange, but provides no audio, it’s likely your browser has an extension installed that is causing a conflict. Go to chrome://extensions and temporarily disable all extensions and try again. Assuming this works, re-enable the extensions one by one until the culprit has been identified. For more information view our Web Reader TTS troubleshooting help article.
What do I do if I can’t find a book I need?
First, if you are searching by ISBN, try using variations of the author or title. It’s common for the same book to have multiple ISBNs associated with it, and while we are working on making our search function smarter in these situations, we still have a bit of work to do. If you still cannot find it, submit a book request and we will add the book to Bookshare.
Many thanks to Rasa, Jerri, Angela, Allison, and Jessy for their dedication and exceptional service. Bookshare members say it best: “Every time I contact Bookshare, the staff has always been helpful. You are doing a great job.”
Subscribe to the Bookshare blog by entering your email address in the upper right corner. You will receive email notifications when blogs are published, typically 2-3 per month, and we do not share this list with anyone.
New Year’s resolutions – we love them, hate them, make them, and break them. Whatever self-help approach works for you, Bookshare has a special reading list of books for teens and adults to help define and prioritize the year ahead. Whether you want to accelerate or change your career path, get your personal finances in order, communicate more effectively, overcome the clutter in your house, adopt a healthier lifestyle, or break free from stress and anxiety, we’ve got some life-affirming resources to help you along the way. Here is a taste of some of the books on the New Year, New You list:
Stretch: How to Future-Proof Yourself for Tomorrow’s Workplace by Karie Willyerd and Barbara Mistick
Naturally Nourished by Sarah Britton
Personal Finance in Your 20s and 30s for Dummies by Eric Tyson, MBA
If one of your resolutions is to encourage a child in your life to read more, we suggest checking out the books on this list: Jane Addams Children’s Book Award winners. A lifelong pacifist, Jane founded Hull House in 1889 and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, the first American woman to do so. The award honors her life’s work by celebrating books that promote peace and social equality.
Here are a few gems to entice middle school readers:
We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman – Hans Scholl and his sister Sophie formed the White Rose, a campaign of active resistance to Hitler and the Nazis. Their belief in freedom will inspire readers to stand up for what they believe in.
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk – A young girl in Pennsylvania in 1943 finds the courage and compassion to stand as a lone voice of justice against bullying.
And some intriguing titles for younger readers:
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson – Maya is different and rejected by her classmates. This book is about what it means to be a friend and how even small acts of kindness can make the world better.
Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeannette Winter — After her parents are taken away by the Taliban, young Nasreen stops speaking. But as she spends time in a secret school, she slowly breaks out of her shell.
Here’s to a 2018 filled with rewarding reading using eyes, ears or fingers and whatever device and reading app works for you.
Now that we’ve turned the corner into 2018, the Bookshare team is excited to hit the road and participate in two upcoming conferences. If you plan to attend, be sure to find us and network, learn, and share.
Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC)
January 23-26 in Orlando
FETC brings together education leaders and technology experts to exchange techniques and strategies for teaching and learning success. FETC provides educators and administrators the opportunity to explore the integration of technology across the curriculum — from pre-K through 12 — through hands-on exposure to the latest hardware, software and successful strategies.
Special offer: Save an extra 10% on attendance or get a free expo-only pass. Visit us in booth #1055 to learn how Bookshare can help students with reading challenges.
Presentation by Benetech staff on January 26:
Buy and Build Accessible: How to Choose and Create Digital Resources for All Learners by Christine Jones, Senior Education Program Manager (8:00-10:00 am in Bayhill 17)
Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference (ATIA)
January 31-February 3 in Orlando
ATIA is the premier organization for manufacturers, sellers and providers of assistive technology (AT)—products, equipment and systems that enhance learning, working and daily living for persons with disabilities. It is the collective voice of the assistive technology industry to help ensure that the best products and services are delivered to persons with disabilities.
Exhibit Hall: Visit us in booth #301 to meet the Bookshare team and watch free demos of Bookshare-compatible reading tools for iOS, Android, Chromebooks, and computers. View the demo schedule to get the exact details.
Presentations by Benetech staff on February 1:
- Cool Tools for People Who Need to Read Differently by Lisa Wadors Verne, Program Manager, Education, Research and Partnerships (2:20-3:20 pm in Caribbean VII)
- Choose and Create Materials that Work for All Learners by Christine Jones, Senior Education Program Manager (4:30-5:30 pm in Antigua 3)
We are excited to be part of the edtech and AT movements to help individuals who read differently and the educators and parents who support them. We look forward to meeting you!
Learn more about Bookshare.
As 2017 draws to a close, it’s time to look back and celebrate key milestones and accomplishments. But first, a message from a parent:
“My son loved Huckleberry Finn! It was a joy to watch him laugh as he listened and read. Amazing. He has an A in English with the support of Bookshare.”
Our goal is to make all books and print materials accessible. There was a time when people with disabilities could not find books in audio, braille, or other specialized formats they needed. Today, members have over 585,000 ebooks at the tips of their fingers through Bookshare, and they are downloading over 1.6 million titles per year! Drum roll, please, for three of this year’s most popular books:
Finding Books is Easy with Special Collections
To help members find books, Bookshare librarians create customized Reading Lists. You can find over one hundred lists in our Special Collections, including Top 100 Picture Books, Fiction for Reluctant Readers, Resources for Returning Veterans, and every literary award you can think of.
More than half a million students now use Bookshare to read books. Student members grew by 100,000 in 2017 to reach a total of 522,000 students. This number includes 136,000 students in underserved districts (districts that have 50% or more students who receive free or reduced cost school meals) like San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). In this blog, San Diego Sets the Bar High for Serving Special Education Students, Assistive Technology Specialist Corey Straily shares SDUSD’s winning formula for improving reading and writing skills of special education students.
Bookshare Salutes Teacher Heroes
Special Education Resource Teacher Diane Lurye and Itinerant Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments Deirdre Watkins share their advice on ways to help students with disabilities succeed in the classroom.
Bookshare Salutes Parent Heroes
Doctor Shares Daughter’s Discovery of Accessible Ebooks – Family physician Dr. Travis Harker learns how to recognize dyslexia symptoms and find resources to help his daughter, Paloma, enjoy reading.
Bookshare Salutes Individual Members Who Lead the Way
Veronica Lewis is a Champion of Self-Advocacy – Bookshare member Veronica Lewis successfully navigates college and life and offers valuable advice for students with low vision and other disabilities.
Decoding Dyslexia with an Ivy Leaguer – Bookshare member Brian Meersma shares his journey from his dyslexia diagnosis in third grade to his dean’s list performance at Cornell University.
Benetech Secures Award to Expand Access to Bookshare
Last, but not least, we are grateful to receive a five-year award from the Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, that brings us closer to giving everyone the opportunity to read, learn, and reach his or her full potential. Thank you to all who supported Bookshare through your advocacy outreach.
- Subscribing to the Bookshare blog using the field in the upper right corner
- Becoming a parent ambassador or mentor teacher
- Exploring volunteer opportunities
- Making a donation to make books accessible to everyone
- Following Bookshare on social media using the icons below
To all of the Bookshare members, educators, parents, volunteers, and advocates, we appreciate all you do to make accessible reading enrich the lives of people who cannot read standard print. We can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring!
Warmest wishes for a happy holiday season from all of us at Benetech.
Ho-ho-holidays can be busy and hectic, but they often provide some down time to pursue fun pastimes like reading. To help get you in the mood, we’ve created some holiday Reading Lists for children, teens and adults. We encourage you to download some of your favorites for those road trips to grandma’s house, snow days, cozy bedtime reading, or any time and place you want to jump into a good book.
‘Tis the season to enjoy the December holidays! Whether your family celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or something else, these children’s books illustrate the stories at the heart of many holiday traditions. For ages 3-12.
Welcome to the YA (Young Adult) Winter Wonderland
This winter, teens can snuggle up with these snowy, icy, frosty young adult books. The books are set during winter or in a snowy locale and feature stories about Project Scrooge, a futuristic frozen world, getting snowed in, rivals in a fantasy kingdom, survival in 1941 Ukraine, and the latest adventures of Dash & Lily.
Adults will enjoy this eclectic holiday collection of fiction and nonfiction books spanning various countries, faiths, and winter landscapes. Explore books about the true Saint Nicholas, the legend of the Krampus, Hanukkah stories, holiday recipes, snowmen, a Christmas murder mystery, and even a holiday version of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
With the Reading List feature, members and sponsors can create custom lists of titles and organize them by class, student, topic, or interest. Teachers can subscribe to existing lists, such as these newly created holiday lists, and assign them to students so they can download titles independently. Go to the Bookshare Help Center to learn more about how to subscribe, share, create, and assign Reading Lists.
So, make your book list, check it twice, and dive into some inspiring holiday reading.
Bookshare promotes diversity in teen reading through books that feature people of color
By Amreen Ahmed, Bookshare Operations Associate
Diversity in Young Adult (YA) literature has become increasingly important to today’s teens. Bookshare members are a diverse group, so it’s important that the books in the collection reflect that diversity. Bookshare’s Special Collections have seen several new additions the past few months, making it easier than ever to find Reading Lists that match everyone’s interests. One particular list – Latest YA Reads with POC Leads — focuses on Young Adult novels that feature people of color (POC) as the main characters.
This list was inspired by a literacy app called We Read Too created by Kaya Thomas, a software engineer and computer science graduate from Dartmouth College. “I wanted diverse literature to be easier to find and more accessible. Growing up, I saw an immense lack of representation in literature for kids of color,” says Kaya on her website.
We Read Too showcases over 600 children’s and Young Adult fiction books written by authors of color for people of color and allows educators, parents, librarians and community members to expose youth of color to books that have characters who look like them. The Bookshare Special Collection — Latest YA Reads with POC Leads — has the same goal and contains 34 books with characters of color. See some of our favorite picks below.
On the Digital Bookshelf
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson – a powerful story about a girl striving for success in a world that too often seems like it’s trying to break her.
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco – Twelve-year-old Tea accidentally raises her brother from the dead and learns that she is a bone witch. She must learn to control her magic so it does not destroy her.
The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley – Alex, Jin and Elvin solve a mystery set in Harlem involving missing paintings, an assault, crooked land deals, and the fate of Harlem’s legacy.
The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana – a fantasy steeped in Indian folklore about a rogue princess, a freed oracle, and a library with the power to change their fate.
We encourage you to explore these diverse literary treasures and share them with a young reader today!
View entire collection: Latest YA Reads with POC Leads
Learn more about Bookshare’s Special Collections