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Up Close and Personal at the American Council of the Blind Conference

2018 July 20
by Rob Turner, Bookshare Quality Assurance Engineer

St. Louis, Missouri, was the location of the 57th Annual American Council of the Blind (ACB) Conference and Convention in early July. Benetech, the parent American Council of the Blind logononprofit of Bookshare, the world’s largest library of ebooks for people with reading barriers, is a strong supporter of the ACB and sent me and Jake Brownell, another engineer, to the event. The conference provided moments of inspiration, exciting new assistive technology devices, and a chance to network with other participants.

One of the keynote speakers, professional low vision actor Marilee Talkington, who played a blind character on the television show NCIS, offered these words of encouragement that resonated strongly with the audience:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. Create your own reality, own your magnificence, uniqueness, brilliance and fabulousness.

Google, Microsoft, and Amazon Make Accessibility a Priority

Daisy Audio and MP3 formats offer Bookshare members more choices to read on the go.

Rob listens to a Bookshare book using DAISY audio on an MP3 player

Austin Hertell, a member of the Google Accessibility Engineering team, talked about Lookout, a new Android app that provides assistance to the blind in object and text recognition. I told Austin that several years ago I participated in a study hosted by Google where a group of international students built one of the first iOS apps to feature object recognition based on machine learning. We’ve come so far since then.

An example of this progress is the Microsoft Seeing AI app that was highlighted at one of the general sessions. It offers text and object recognition, identification of currency, color, and products, light detection and more. In another presentation, Google stated that accessibility improvements to their search results page are coming soon.

Further proof of how far and fast the technology has advanced was provided by Peter Korn, Director of Amazon Accessibility, who mentioned that over 1,500 shows with audio descriptions were added this past year. Fire tablets now feature braille output. Third party sellers must provide alt-text for images. Kindle PC offers table navigation and Math ML support using NVDA. Amazon lockers now speak.

National Library Service Updates its Offerings

Even the NLS is getting in on the act. Karen Keninger, director of the NLS, said they plan to start a pilot project to begin distributing braille eReaders next spring and expect to offer access to their books through Amazon Alexa. BARD Express is a PC-based desktop app that makes it easy for patrons to find and download books.

New Products for Blind and Visually Impaired

A stroll through the exhibit hall gave me the opportunity to explore the various devices and apps designed to assist users and increase independence. Some of the exciting new developments are:

  • QBraille-XL – new braille display from HIMS that features a combination of a Perkins style keyboard, plus all the function and modifier keys associated with a QWERTY keyboard.
  • Brailliant BI14 – improved braille display from Humanware
  • Cyber Eyez – new product that uses machine learning and “smart glasses” to provide optical character recognition, object recognition, color identification, Mood Ring mode, Amazon Alexa, Skype and real time magnification.
  • AIRA – a product that connects users with individuals who are trained to provide help.
  • Blind Insites LLC – offers a system called WayAround to label clothing, food, and other items. Buttons of varying size are tagged with text labels through an iOS app that reads them back using Voiceover.
  • Votec promotes accessible voting using touch screen technology modeled on iOs and Android devices to complete and submit a ballot.

Bookshare Office Hours Answers Members’ Questions

Jake and I co-hosted an informal session with Bookshare members to answer questions and share features under development. The attendees provided valuable feedback on some of the reading tools, variety of books in the collection, and features they would like to see.

All in all, it was a real pleasure to attend the conference. I was reminded of the importance of advocacy, learned about new products, heard interesting presentations, and enjoyed meeting old and new friends.

Exploring Inclusive Math with Benetech’s Clayton Lewis

2018 July 10
by Laura Deck, Bookshare Communications

Bookshare is just one of several inclusive education initiatives at Bookshare’s parent organization, a hand holding a pencil works on some math problemsBenetech, a nonprofit that empowers communities with software for social good. We believe that access to information is a universal human right, yet more than ninety percent of books and published materials cannot be read by people with reading barriers such as dyslexia. Our work in education is focused on one big thing: making information accessible to everyone around the world through software.

One of the biggest challenges is making STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) content accessible so that students with learning barriers can see and read equations, tables, and images. Benetech has been fortunate to have Clayton Lewis, Professor of Computer Science and Fellow at the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, as advisor to Benetech’s DIAGRAM Center to research ways of creating inclusive digital math.

It’s estimated that between 25-35% of students in general education classrooms struggle with mathClayton Lewis application skills. Think, for a moment, how difficult it is to work through math problems if you can’t see well, have trouble holding a pencil, or struggle to keep your work organized and legible. In a Benetech blog post, Clayton defines inclusive digital math, explains why it is important, and shares how it can benefit all students, not just those with disabilities. He also discusses some technical challenges as well as recent advances in the field.

Read the full blog post to learn more about inclusive digital math and other Benetech education initiatives.

Bookshare Salutes Graduates and Encourages Lifelong Learning

2018 June 7
by Laura Deck, Bookshare Communications

Congratulations to all graduates! Whether you are graduating from kindergarten, college, or somewhere in between, we commend your accomplishments and hope you take Bookshare with you on the next phase of your journey because the learning never stops.

Sylvia Stinson-Perez, CEO/Executive Director, Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind

Sylvia Stinson-Perez, CEO/Executive Director, Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind

Bookshare is free for all U.S. students with qualified reading barriers. But, did you know that includes individuals enrolled in vocational training, continuing education, computer classes, or professional development courses? Learn more about the types of programs that qualify. Adults can use Bookshare to achieve career goals, change jobs, or build new skills.

Bookshare Member Earns MBA to Advance Career

Sylvia Stinson-Perez used Bookshare to help her earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. Sylvia is the CEO/Executive Director of the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind in Port Richey, Florida, a nonprofit that provides vision rehabilitation services to help blind and visually impaired individuals achieve maximum independence.

Sylvia was born with a visual impairment that caused extreme nearsightedness that couldn’t be corrected with glasses or medical procedures. In spite of many challenges in school, she earned a B.A. in Psychology and two master’s degrees (one in Social Work and one in Visual Disabilities Education). In her twenties, she lost all of her functional reading vision as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that involves a gradual deterioration of the retina that can lead to total blindness.Fundamentals of Financial Management by Eugene Brigham and Joel Houston

An avid reader, she originally started using Bookshare eight years ago to access bestsellers more quickly. In 2013, she was accepted into an MBA program and knew Bookshare would be a tremendous resource as she progressed through the rigorous academic coursework. Without any functional vision, she relied on Bookshare’s ebooks in audio formats to help her research and write the many papers required in her MBA program. Her diligence paid off and she earned her MBA in 2015.

“I am still an avid fiction and nonfiction reader, and Bookshare is my library of choice. Once a month, I go strolling through the lists on Bookshare’s digital bookshelves and it reminds me of being a young person in the library. I download mostly text versions and don’t mind the digital voices at all—probably since I am used to using it all day at work,” she explains.

In addition to fiction, she enjoys reading about leadership, inspirational stories, business, public speaking, cooking and much more. Reading has always been her favorite hobby. “I started as a print reader when my vision was better, and today, thanks to Bookshare, I can still enjoy all kinds of books through audiobooks,” she says.

Bookshare Can Help Unlock PotentialThe Authentic Career by Maggie Craddock

Sylvia strives to dispel the stereotypes and misconceptions about individuals with disabilities. “Everyone has the potential to be competent, intelligent, successful, beautiful, and productive. Disability is only a small part of who I am, and how I respond determines if my experience will be positive or negative. I choose every day to be my best,” she says.

Let Bookshare be your passport to lifelong learning and new opportunities. Get started by checking out Bookshare’s special collection of career resources.

Buckle Up for Summer Reading

2018 May 17

Bookshare offers special summer reading lists for hours of enjoyment

The lazy days of summer are just around the corner, but before students trade backpacks and lunch boxes for swim suits and flip flops, make sure they have plenty of books to keep them reading throughout the summer.

Summer Road Trip Reading Lists are Here

The Bookshare team has hand-picked books for three special collections so members can take a virtualThe Danger Box by Blue Balliett voyage across the United States with Road Trip Reading Lists. Each collection has 102 titles containing two books for each state, plus Washington D.C., so you can read your way across the U.S. of A.

You can use the category filter to browse the collections by state. You can also subscribe to an entire list and access all of the books from your own Reading List.

And for young readers ages 5-10, Summer Fun for Young Readers features 20 books with gems like Steam Train, Dream Train and The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes.

Summer Reading Checklist for TeachersSkink-No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen

Follow these steps to make sure your students can continue to use Bookshare on their own and build reading skills over the summer.

  1. Give students access at home (2 options)
  1. Set them up with a reading tool that works for them
  2. Assign books – choose books from the Summer Reading Lists or dozens of other lists

Tips to Encourage Summer Reading

Students who have reading barriers often need extra encouragement to read. Here are someSteam Train Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld suggestions on ways to incorporate reading into everyday schedules:

  • Listen to audiobooks in a hammock, blanket fort, or on a road trip
  • Choose books from the summer reading lists about your state or a state you plan to visit this summer
  • Encourage kids to read what their friends are reading with help from TTS and word highlighting
  • Download all the books in a series by a favorite author to solve the problem of what to read next
  • Try “popcorn” or apprentice reading with a friend or family member – take turns reading passages aloud
  • Try side-by-side silent reading (adults: turn off the TV and model independent reading) – you might be surprised at the quality and depth of YA fiction
  • Host an informal book club (with snacks!)
  • Encourage “free-range” reading – kids have the freedom to choose what, where and when to read
  • Read purely for enjoyment – no quizzes, book reports, or vocabulary tests
  • Share favorite books on social media like @teenreads or #shelfies

Share Your Favorite Books

Tell us about your favorite books on Twitter or Facebook. Which states did you visit on your virtual road trip? Which books do you recommend and why?

Bookshare Tiene Libros en Español

2018 May 4
by Emily Nostro, Collection Development Specialist

¿Sabías que Bookshare tiene más de 15.000 títulos en español? Hay cuatro nuevas colecciones especiales que destacan nuestros libros en español en la página Revelacion by Patricia Murdochde navegar. No importa si es un hispanohablante o está aprendiendo el idioma, explorar nuestras colecciones para libros divertidos y engancharen. Estos libros son para lectores adolescentes y adultos.

Did you know that Bookshare has over 15,000 titles in Spanish? The browse page features four special collections that highlight some of our Spanish books. Whether Spanish is your native tongue or if you are learning the language, explore our new collections for fun and engaging reads. These books are for young adult and adult readers.

High-Low Books for Young Adults in Spanish

Libros Para Lectores Adolescentes Reacios (high-low readers en Español)

This collection features twenty high-low titles for young adult readers (ages 13+/grades 8+) available in Spanish. High-low titles have high interest subject matter that is easy to read. These books feature simple vocabulary that helps readers gain confidence and build fluency and proficiency.

For students who are native Spanish speakers and have reading barriers such as dyslexia, learning to read in their native language can help build phonological awareness and comprehension skills that can transfer to reading in English.

Or, for students who are learning Spanish, these books are an effective way to build reading skills in a foreign language. And guess what? Every title in this collection isEl Caballo y El Muchacho by CS Lewis also available in English, including:

Popular Series Books for Young Adults in Spanish

If you are a teacher, this scenario may be familiar to you: You just got a new student, but she has a documented learning disability and is an English language learner. How will you find books that are accessible, in her native language, so she can read what the rest of the class is reading until her English improves? Check out these lists of popular books and series:

Sagas Literarias Para Adolescentes y Jóvenes Adultos – 71 books for ages 8+/grades 3+ including:

Libros Populares Para Adolescentes y Jóvenes Adultos – 75 books for ages 13+/grades 8+ including:

Books for Adults in Spanish

Penguin Clásicos – This robust collection of 125 literary classics from Shakespeare to Benito Pérez Galdós is perfect for fluent readers of Spanish, including:

Use Advanced Search to Find Foreign Language Books

In addition to Spanish, Bookshare has books in 34 other languages, with more added every month. You can use Advanced Search to specify the language, genre, category, author, and other criteria to help you find what you are looking for. The Bookshare team is working hard to bring more accessible ebooks to readers around the world.

The Secret to Getting Reluctant Readers Hooked on Books

2018 April 18

In Part I, “The Crazy Reading Ladies” explained how they turned Horace Mann Middle School into the school that reads, and in Part 2, they discussed how assistive A male student reads a book on a tablet in the librarytechnology enhances the reading experience and delivers social and academic benefits. In Part 3, “The Crazy Reading Ladies” share tips to get kids reading, favorite books and authors, and more student success stories. 

Teachers are incredibly resourceful and creative when it comes to helping students thrive in school. Erin and Mary, affectionately known as “The Crazy Reading Ladies” by their students, have honed their tried-and-true techniques for converting reluctant readers to bookworms.

Top 10 Tips to Engage Reluctant Readers

  1. Have good books available. Advertise them on bulletin boards, in the cafeteria, and in the bathroom stalls.
  2. Read what the kids are reading. Allows you to recommend books and engage them in conversation.
  3. Bless their choices. When a child talks to you about a book, say “I read that too and can’t wait to talk to you about it” or “I haven’t read that one yet. Let me know how you like it!”
  4. Create a culture of literacy where the expectation is that everybody is reading.
  5. Always have the next book suggestion in mind. If a student comes to you looking for a book, make sure they don’t leave empty-handed. “If you liked X, then try Y.”
  6. Give them permission to abandon a book. Life’s too short for bad books.
  7. Use books to build relationships with kids. Find common ground through books.
  8. Read aloud. People often assume that middle school students are too old to be read to, or they don’t enjoy it. Our kids love it.
  9. Celebrate successes. Take a picture of that kid who just finished a book. Tweet it out and tag the author!
  10. Give students time and space to read. If you’re worried about people seeing kids “just reading,” hang a poster in your classroom proclaiming what’s really happening: kids are practicing empathy, visualizing, learning about history, taking a different perspective, improving their fluency, and developing their vocabulary.

Favorite Titles Guaranteed to Entice Reluctant Middle School ReadersTwerp by Mark Goldblatt

Bookshare has all of these books available for download in a variety of formats:

“Go To” Authors that Teachers Can Recommend with Confidence

More Student Success Stories

Erin: Dylan, a 7th grader, only read two books last year, one of which was Henry and Ribsy, a book for elementary students. So far this year he has read eight books. His oral fluency has increased from 78 words per minute (below 2nd grade level) to 161 wpm (above 7th grade level). This breakthrough isn’t the result of extraordinary teaching; it’s what happens when kids read (special thank you to author M.P. Haddix, whose books hooked him big time!)

Mary: Can we talk about my son, Vinnie? He’s an intelligent kid who just didn’t like to be bothered with reading; however, he loves a good story. With the help of the audio narration, he read Holes, and he never had a book hook him like Holes did. He talked about it daily. A year later, he will still tell you it’s his favorite book. He loved the characters, the fight for justice at Camp Green Lake, the serpentine storyline, and how it all came together at the end.

Erin: Sometimes students use Bookshare as the gateway to reading. They let it build their confidence and then find that they don’t need it all the time. Alex, a 7th grader, started a book using the audio only and then continued reading on his own about halfway through. He stated simply, “I know how it sounds now.”

Erin and Mary: Every student’s needs are different, and Bookshare allows them to customize their reading experience in whatever way works best, whether that’s audio only, text with audio, or text only using whatever reading tool or app they prefer. These successes do more than increase comprehension. They heal the relationship these kids have had with books, and once they have a positive experience, they’re willing to do it again. We hope that these tips and examples will help your students go “all in” with reading.

Bookshare would like to thank Erin and Mary for generously sharing their stories and expertise. Learn more about “The Crazy Reading Ladies.”

Ebooks and Assistive Technology Are Gateways to Reading

2018 April 11
by Laura Deck, Bookshare Communications

In Part 1, “The Crazy Reading Ladies,” Erin O’Leary and Mary Cotillo, explain how they turned Horace Mann Middle School into the school that reads.

In Part 2, “The Crazy Reading Ladies” discuss how assistive technology (AT) enhances the reading experience and delivers social and academic benefits. This blog is part two of a three-part series.

Which reading tools and devices do your students prefer?

Three Horace Mann Middle School students are reading in their classroom.

Horace Mann Middle School students are reading in their classroom.

Erin: We are incredibly fortunate that our school has implemented a 1:1 Chromebook program. This has allowed our kids to remain logged in to their Bookshare and Capti accounts throughout the day without having to remember those pesky passwords! About 75% of my students who use audiobooks prefer the Capti add-on to their Bookshare experience. They tell me the voices are better. We’re also big believers in training students to be their own advocates so they can adjust the background color, font size, or reading speed. I love that they are taking ownership of the experience and doing whatever works for them.

I have one student who prefers listening to readers with an accent. She has her Capti/Bookshare set to the British voice. And there’s evidence to back that up – some students find it easier to attend to a listening task when the voice is different. One 7th grader told me about the “sweet set-up” he has in his room – he has Bookshare coming through a Bluetooth sound system!

What are the benefits of audiobooks?

Mary: We know that audiobooks are a wonderful thing, so we make them available for all students. WeThe Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan talk about audiobooks we’ve enjoyed, we model their use in class, and we continually add to our collection. We’ve worked really hard to normalize them. It’s not unusual for ten or twelve kids to stop by and borrow headphones during silent reading because they enjoy the experience of listening to a story. Audiobooks are also discreet, which is critical because no middle schooler wants to look different. When you’re plugged into headphones, no one knows whether you’re listening to Bruno Mars or Harper Lee.

How does Bookshare and AT help your students socially?

Erin: We believe reading is even better when you can share the experience with others, and adolescents are inherently social. When my students can read the same books as their friends, they will find that books are a terrific conduit for social interactions. For example, one boy confided in me that he really wanted to read The Red Pyramid because so many of his friends had recommended it. Now, this was a double-deficit student who has slow automaticity combined with significant decoding deficits. I knew I would be setting him up for failure by handing him the paperback, so I gave him the book on Bookshare. He read it, and an entire social experience opened up for him.Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

I also had a group of 6th grade girls who were practically allergic to reading. They weren’t reading at home and had every excuse in the book. They talked about “not understanding” or having “a terrible memory for books.” Then we got the audio version of Unbroken. Those girls changed almost overnight. They would come into class and say, “Can we please just read today?” That same book proved to be the very first book one of our 8th graders read on his own, thanks to the audio.

I have two 6th grade boys who are reading Stormbreaker on Bookshare right now. I love listening to them talk to each other: “It’s good, right?” “Do you think the uncle is really dead?” “I’m not sure.”

Next Up in Part 3

  • Erin and Mary’s top ten tips to get kids reading
  • Favorite books and go-to authors to engage “dormant” readers
  • Even more student success stories

Learn more about “The Crazy Reading Ladies”

When It Comes to Reading, This School is All In

2018 April 4

Part 1: How “The Crazy Reading Ladies” turned Horace Mann Middle School into the school that reads. This blog is part one of a three-part series.

Erin O'Leary & Mary Cotillo are the Crazy Reading Ladies at Horace Mann Middle School in Massachussets

Erin O’Leary & Mary Cotillo

The expectations of middle school are daunting enough without the added challenges for students with learning disabilities. Students who have difficulty with reading find themselves at a disadvantage that has repercussions academically and socially.

Fortunately, Horace Mann Middle School in Franklin, Massachusetts, has Erin O’Leary and Mary Cotillo, affectionately known by their students as “The Crazy Reading Ladies.” Erin is a reading specialist who provides intensive reading instruction in both pull-out and inclusion classes. Her students’ abilities range from below grade-level performance in reading fluency and comprehension to significantly impaired decoding or processing deficits.

Mary is the assistant principal and a former 8th grade ELA teacher who teamed up with Erin several years ago. They found themselves in each other’s classrooms daily, brainstorming ideas, crafting lessons, and talking about kids and books. Their friendship has since developed into a highly successful partnership, focused on putting good books in the hands of students and building a community of readers and literacy.

In this blog, and the two that follow, Erin and Mary share their wildly successful tips, techniques, and philosophy on removing barriers to reading and getting reluctant students to succeed. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What advice can you offer to teachers who serve students with learning disabilities?

Erin: Many of our students have a negative association with reading because someone, somewhere, made them believe they weren’t good at it. These kids are Out of My Mind by Sharon M Drapernothing short of traumatized. We’ve coined the term Post-Traumatic Reading Disorder, and it is a very real thing. Teachers who serve students with learning disabilities see this every day in the kid who says he “hates reading” or that he’s “bad at it.” They see it in the child who hops out of her seat to use the bathroom when silent reading time comes around.

How do you heal the traumatic relationship with books? Bring good books into their lives. Read aloud. Use audiobooks. Reading simply has to be the expectation. We won’t tell students what to read, but we tell them reading isn’t optional. Students have a lot of excuses, and we have to be patient. We have to create positive experiences and believe for them until they believe in themselves.

How do you incorporate assistive technology (AT) into your reading program?

Mary: Over the years, we’ve tried a lot: tablets, laptops, apps, extensions, you name it. AT is thrown around as an effective means of supporting students, but it’s often messy and complicated. Although various options exist, educators will tell you they aren’t always as easy as they appear. It has to work, and it has to be close to effortless. We joke, “If it’s not as easy as Netflix, our kids won’t use it.” This is where the simple features of Bookshare and Capti Voice have won our kids over and been our biggest successes.

Some people say that audiobooks hinder a child’s ability to improve reading skills. What are your thoughts on this?

Mary: How do you become a better swimmer? You swim. How do you get better at free throws? Shoot lots of free throws. Same goes for reading. It’s easy to getTweet that says: 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. caught up in the next-best reading program, but the best way to improve students’ reading (and writing) abilities is to let them read. This is where Bookshare comes in. By providing audio support, Bookshare alleviates the decoding task so students can focus on visualizing, connecting, and keeping track of what’s going on in the story. Then their confidence increases because they’ve understood and been able to talk about it in class. Once they’ve got a few books under their belt, some of those kids are right up at grade level.

Can you share a success story of a student who regained confidence in reading?

Erin: Aidan, an 8th grade boy, was very frustrated with reading. He was afraid he wasn’t good at it, so he chose to hate it. He had not developed an attention span for reading and would spend his time staring at a single page or looking around the classroom. I suggested he try Bookshare. Although initially wary, he agreed to give it a shot. He recently finished April Henry’s Girl, Stolen. Finishing and understanding a book was such an accomplishment for him. That one win is the start to rebuilding his confidence.

Next up in Part 2:

  • How students use AT to personalize their reading experienceGirl, Stolen by April Henry
  • The social benefits of cultivating a community of readers
  • More student success stories

About The Crazy Reading Ladies

In a stroke of serendipity only fans of fine literature can imagine, Erin O’Leary and Mary Cotillo met while teaching together at Horace Mann Middle School in Franklin, Massachusetts. It was there they earned both a reputation and title: “The Crazy Reading Ladies.” This reading specialist and ELA teacher-turned-administrator stop at nothing to motivate adolescents to read and leave them wanting more. Their school-wide reading initiative, All In!™ is currently in its seventh iteration and has been implemented in schools in Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Florida. In 2017 they authored the YA version of Battle of the Books for Random House Publishing, Co. Previously, they’ve “put to work” books by Una LaMarche, Ellen Hopkins, Jack Gantos, and Ruta Sepetys. Their energetic and engaging style makes them sought-after presenters at local and international conferences. They provide professional development at the school and district levels. Contact them at for options and availability. Follow their trials and triumphs at and on Twitter and Instagram.

Time to Ratify the Marrakesh Treaty and End the Global Book Famine

2018 March 15
by Laura Deck, Bookshare Communications

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.

Group of people stand behind a table holding books covered in chains and banner saying "Unlock, don't block"

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!

Because #RepresentationMatters

2018 March 12

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

The novels in these two collections feature characters with a learning disability, such as dyslexia,Dyslexia is My Superpower by Margaret Rooke dyscalculia, dyspraxia, or dysgraphia.

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 makesFish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt 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 As Brave As You by Jason Reynoldswith 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

You might also be interested in additional Bookshare collections of underrepresented communities. Not If I See You First by Eric LindstromThese lists and many more can be found by clicking on Browse at the top of the Bookshare home page.

What are some of your favorite books that feature characters with disabilities? Tell us in the blog comments or on Bookshare Facebook or Twitter using #RepresentationMatters.

Special thanks to Emily Nostro who contributed to this blog.