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Students with Print Disabilities Accelerate Reading with Bookshare

2015 August 25

Assistive technology helps students with disabilities love books

Bookshare has been a game changer for Brennan Draves, a fourth grader with a visual impairment, and Reagan Reeves, a ninth grader with dyslexia. Both students need schoolbooks in alternative formats to help them read and study.

Brennan, a fourth grader at Mackensen Elementary School in Michigan, has retinitis pigmentosa, a Brennan Draves with his teacher Carissa Reeddegenerative eye disease that makes it impossible to read traditional books. He used to read and study with printed braille books which were heavy and took time to produce.

Since using Bookshare, reading books and doing homework is easier and more cost effective. His teacher, Carissa Reed, signed up the school for a free Bookshare account and has been getting Brennan’s books in Braille Ready Format (BRF), one of the accessible formats available from Bookshare, which Brennan uses to read on his BrailleNote. Carissa learned how to use Bookshare by using the helpful training resources on the Bookshare website.

“Bookshare is a blessing for students and a cost saver for our district,” she says. Today, Brennan reads constantly and learns as quickly as sighted children. His reading skills are above average, and he has passed all of his Accelerated Reader tests. He is on track to be an honor roll student. Brennan’s mom, Lindsay Draves, says, “Bookshare and the BrailleNote have made it possible for my son to be excited about learning. His love of reading and ability to absorb information enables him to do very well in school.”

Reagan Reeves and his mother, Michelle

Reagan, a ninth grader in Texas, has dyslexia and also needs books in alternative formats. Specifically, he uses Bookshare to listen to accessible ebooks on portable technology devices. Last year, he received an award for having accumulated the most Accelerated Reader points in his class. In his early years, Reagan did not like to read at all. Now, he downloads digital books on his iPhone by himself and uses an iPad Mini to read with an app called Read2Go. He even reads for pleasure outside of school.

His mom, Michelle, is a Bilingual/ESL and Dyslexia Specialist. “My son has fallen in love with reading! Last year, he read at a fourth grade level. Today, he reads at an eleventh grade level. This transformation speaks volumes for identifying the right resources to help children who are dyslexic be successful.” She says, “Get your kids Individual Bookshare Memberships and give them a library in their pocket!”

Back to School Begins with Bookshare

Do you know students with print disabilities like Brennan and Reagan? How can you help them get the books they need in accessible formats like braille, audio, and large print to accelerate their reading? Not sure how to get started? Or just need a refresher? Relax. You’ve come to the right place.

Visit the Back to School Resource page to get help with:Back to school graphic with a backpack and Bookshare logo

  • Logging in – can’t remember that password?
  • Updating account information – for your school or individual memberships
  • Finding books – use the expanded search features or request a book you need
  • Reading books – use Bookshare Web Reader or one of the many reading tools

You can also register for a free back-to-school webinar to learn more:

Beginner Tips for Back to School with Bookshare, September 15 at 10:00 am PST

Advanced Tips for Back to School with Bookshare, September 16 at 10:00 am PST

Reading success is an essential foundation for academic success. Take a test drive of Bookshare today!

Get in the Back-to-School Groove with Bookshare

2015 August 18

Back to School header graphic featuring three students, two school buses, and a school house

Summer is winding down, and a new school year is around the corner. How can we make sure students with visual, physical, and learning disabilities are set up to have their best academic year yet? Get their books in accessible formats and the best tools around from Bookshare for free!

Since last back-to-school, the Bookshare team has been busy adding more and more books to our library. Our collection is bigger than ever with over 350,000 titles in formats like audio, braille, and large print that are accessible to people who cannot read traditional print. These titles include textbooks, Common Core, and other educational books students need for class. And if we don’t have a particular book, members can request it.

Our tools are better as well. Students and schools can sign up easily and use improved self-service features to add new students and update accounts. Finding books is easier with improved search and browse features. And students on school accounts can now access Bookshare with their own logins and read assigned books at school and home.

Melissa Hawkins, a Baltimore middle school special education teacher, recommends reading with Bookshare Web Reader, a free and easy-to-use reading tool that lets students read directly from an Internet browser. Or try one of the many compatible reading tools for computers, tablets, smartphones, assistive technology devices and more.

Ready to Set Students Up for Success?

Theresa Brousseau, a teacher of the visually-impaired and a Bookshare Mentor Teacher says, “Thanks to Bookshare, I feel good that I’m able to help more students with print disabilities achieve their goals, make progress and be successful. Bookshare provides access to both the digital formats and the reading technologies they need to keep pace. Students are more engaged in learning, and there are no more excuses about not having appropriate materials to do class assignments or homework.”

Set up your students for success by visiting Bookshare’s back-to-school resource page. You’ll find tips, tutorials, and training that will help you get ready with the books and tools you need. We’ll be updating this page throughout the school year, so be sure to check back regularly and share with other teachers, parents, and students.

In the coming weeks, look for a series of back-to-school blogs tailored to your needs, whether you are just starting out with Bookshare and need the basics, or you are ready for advanced features to take your Bookshare use to the next level.

Meet the Fab Four: Benetech Summer Interns

2015 August 14
by Bookshare Communications
2015 Benetech summer interns from left: Alyssa Aliotti, Paige Borwn, Michelle McLaren, and Mitchell Mankin

2015 Benetech summer interns from left: Alyssa Aliotti, Paige Brown, Michelle McLaren, and Mitchell Mankin

Benetech’s Summer Internship Program has been going strong for three years. Each summer, several college students work on Bookshare-related projects and learn about Benetech’s programs in the areas of global literacy, human rights, and Benetech Labs. Read on to learn about our four fabulous interns — Alyssa Aliotti, Paige Brown, Michelle McLaren, and Mitchell Mankin — as they describe the valuable work they accomplished.

My name is Alyssa Aliotti and I am entering my second year at UCLA. I plan on double majoring in Economics and International Development Studies. When I was looking for summer internships I was very excited about Benetech’s mission of harnessing the power of technology for social good, so I decided to apply. As an intern I gained valuable knowledge about the inner workings of nonprofits and tech companies in Silicon Valley. I attended company-wide meetings and met key members of Benetech’s team. My favorite meeting was with Collin Sullivan who talked about Martus, the technology at the core of Benetech’s Human Rights initiative that documents human rights violations around the world.

Alyssa AliottiAs the Customer Service Support intern I spent a lot of time organizing member data and getting it online. I also revamped the Help Center portion of the website so that members can have their questions answered effectively. Additionally, I expanded the Bookshare collection by proofreading scanned books and writing image descriptions for children’s books in Benetech’s image description tool, POET.  I have been so inspired by all of Benetech’s work — from global literacy to accessibility for the disabled to human rights — and am so grateful for this opportunity.

My name is Paige Brown and I am entering my sophomore year at Tulane University in New Orleans. I Paige Brownplan to major in finance. My role was to improve the documentation and instructions for volunteers with the goal of making volunteering at Bookshare a smooth and easy process. I also created a newsletter and a call to action for volunteers to increase volunteer engagement. One of Bookshare’s goals was to get the top 100 children’s books published and online with image descriptions. I also spent time working on Salesforce, POET, and the Bookshare website to make sure that books were properly uploaded and documented.

I learned what it is like to work at a tech company and a nonprofit. Attending meetings on a variety of topics allowed me to see all the different aspects of the company. It was fascinating to hear about the Human Rights and Benetech Labs programs. I really enjoyed working with Benetech and found the employees to be very inspiring.

Michelle McLarenMy name is Michelle McLaren and I’m a rising sophomore majoring in financial accounting at the University of Portland. I learned about Benetech when I was looking for summer internship opportunities and became fascinated with its mission, core values, and different branches of work including global literacy and human rights.

I interned for the collection development team, the core of the Bookshare initiative. I learned how to properly describe images in children’s books, worked with the POET image description tool, and learned how to dismantle and scan a variety of books. My main contribution to Bookshare included documenting how a book gets published, from the moment it reaches the Benetech office to the time it’s removed from the shelf and recycled. I also worked on the organization and labeling of the collection development bookshelves.

I’ve had the opportunity to develop professional skills such as interpersonal and business communication and creative thinking. One of my favorite parts of this internship was the variety of meetings that I attended. Most notably, I learned how Martus works and how 3D printing is revolutionizing Bookshare. I’m incredibly grateful to Benetech for the amazing opportunity to work with such a dedicated group of people who are focused on making the world a better place.

My name is Mitchell Mankin.  I’m a rising senior studying International & Global Studies and Mitchell MankinEconomics at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. I’ve been a book fanatic since I was five years old, and I’m very interested in nonprofit management, so working with Bookshare seemed like a good move. During the first half of the internship, I worked with Benetech’s POET image description tool.  I also collaborated with the other interns on improving the instructions for scanning and proofreading books and describing images. During the second half I designed and implemented a survey for Bookshare volunteers to identify ways to improve the volunteer program.

I’ve had the good fortune of working with Madeleine Linares as my supervisor, and she’s been nothing but helpful and supportive throughout my time here.  I’ve learned a lot about the operations of a large, multi-project, and multi-departmental nonprofit organization. Attending departmental meetings, product demos, and info sessions has been an especially interesting bird’s-eye view of how Benetech works. Thank you to everyone for making this internship possible!

It’s a Wrap! Thank You for Turning It Up & Telling the World

2015 August 6
by Bookshare Communications

Summer is winding down and so is the Bookshare Summer Reading Challenge. For the past six weeks Bookshare members have found adventure in Travel & the Great Outdoors; tasted new cuisines in Food & Cooking; worked up a sweat in Sports & Fitness; played and tinkered in Games & Gizmos; saved the earth in Sustainability & the Environment; and explored their creative side in Crafts & the Arts. Many of you finally read that book you’ve been meaning to read for a long time.

Book cover of How Can We Keep from Singing: Music and the Passionate Life by Joan Oliver Goldsmith (available in US only)Book cover of Mozos: A Decade of Running with the Bulls of Spain by Bill HillmannBook cover of Texas Heat by Debra White SmithBook cover of 7 Stories by Morris PanychBook cover of On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony

Thanks to all of the members who joined us on this journey and recommended their favorite books. Here are some of the highlights:

From @silly_singer: How Can We Keep from Singing: Music and the Passionate Life” Has been on my 2 read list 4 2 long. Fixing that now.

From @DerryLawlor: Good news! Mozos: A Decade Running with the Bulls of Spain is available worldwide on Bookshare.

From @Littletia13: Finished #TexasHeat Book1 #LoneStarIntrigueSeries by #DebraWhiteSmith from @Bookshare giving it a 5 out of 5 rating.

From Jessica Bliss: ‪#‎TurnItUp4Books This week I read the play 7 Stories by Morris Panych. I really liked this play; it was funny and had a lot of satire. I recommend this play to anyone who likes reading plays and who likes theatre and drama. Reading this play inspired me to read more plays from now on.

From @kevinpleong: Finished #OnAPaleHorse by #Piers Anthony from @Bookshare giving it a 5 out of 5 rating.

Check out all the book recommendations from members and the Bookshare team. We are so glad these books, and many more like them, brightened your summer. We invite you to carry those summer reading habits into fall and continue recommending your Bookshare favorites on FacebookTwitter, or wherever you connect with other book lovers!

Coming Attractions

Stay tuned for our Back to School announcements where we will reveal some new Bookshare features that make it bigger, better, and easier than ever to help you kick start the school year.

On the Americans with Disabilities Act at 25: Betsy Beaumon’s Op-Ed

2015 July 31

Twenty-five years ago, on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal opportunity to participate in the mainstream of American life. As we celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ADA, writes Benetech President, Betsy Beaumon, it is imperative to consider not only how far we have come in eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities, but also how to extend the ADA promise to a new generation of Americans, particularly in the education field.

In her op-ed, Beaumon argues that the digital revolution could usher in a golden age of equality and improved Americans with Disabilities Act 25 anniversary logoeducational opportunities for all students, including those with disabilities, but that in order to make inclusive education a reality, students with disabilities must be considered in the design requirements of any new education technology.

Thanks to rapid technological progress and to legislation like the ADA, notes Beaumon, who is an authority on digital accessible materials in education, it is now possible to have books and curricula that are “born digital” also “born accessible” for all learners, as an integral part of the development or publishing process. “The 25th anniversary of the ADA,” she claims, “is a reminder that, at their best, policy and legislation support technological advances as well as benefits to society. We now need such balanced laws more than ever in order to stay committed to core principles of inclusion in the midst of massive technological change.”

Read Betsy Beaumon’s complete op-ed on the Benetech website.

Check Out Our Latest Video Tutorials and Book-Finding Tips

2015 July 30

Get the Edge: Monthly Training and Support Solutions

Need help using Bookshare? Check out our latest Learn it Now tutorials and How-To Guides in the Bookshare AcademyTitle screen of TeacherTube Learn it Now video tutorialLearn it Now tutorials are two-to-three-minute videos that will help members get the most out of Bookshare. We are pleased to present our newest titles:

Another useful resource in the Bookshare Academy is our How-To Guides. These guides provide step-by-step instructions along with screenshots to help guide members through a variety of key Bookshare processes. If you are an educator, we encourage you to share these guides with your colleagues, students, and parents.

New Categories Enable Enhanced Browsing Capability

Browsing by category can help you find recently-added books in subjects you love. We added sixteen new categories including Music, Psychology, and Politics and Government. For example, mystery lovers can go to the Advanced Search page and click on the category Mystery and Thrillers. When the results come back, click twice on “Date Added” to get the most recent books at the top.

50 subject categoriesThanks to improvements in indexing, it is now easier than ever to search for and find books in 50 categories – from Animals to Westerns. Every day, new content is being added in most categories. We are excited to report that the Bookshare library now boasts over 350,000 titles, and 99% of them are indexed by category.

The Bookshare Team is constantly striving to improve the user experience. Please let us know more about how you search for books, and how you’d like to search for books, by submitting your suggestions to the Bookshare Product Ideas Forum.

This post was authored by Lara Rondberg, a Bookshare Training Coordinator who supports Benetech’s Global Literacy program. To inquire about training resources, please contact

75 Reasons to Love Bookshare

2015 July 20
by Bookshare Communications

Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind

National Federation of the Blind logoEarlier this month, members of the Bookshare team traveled to Orlando, Florida, to attend the 2015 Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Founded in 1940, the Federation is the largest organization of blind and low-vision people in the United States with over fifty-thousand members. Thousands of members and supporters celebrated the NFB’s 75th anniversary and are a living testament to the NFB’s motto: You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.

The Bookshare team was excited to have the opportunity to talk to attendees in the exhibit hall, meet with industry leaders, and participate in seminars. In the spirit of the 75th anniversary, the Bookshare team conducted an informal survey and asked Bookshare members to contribute “75 Reasons to Love Bookshare.”

Bookshare members have spoken! Here is a sample of some of the seventy-five reasons:

“I love Bookshare because…

…having access to new releases right away is amazing.”Bookshare logo inside a heart

…it helps me feed my book addiction (inexpensively).”

…I can pick any book I want and read it quickly.”

…it makes my PhD possible.”

…I eat books for breakfast, lunch and dinner!!!”

…It helps me to write PHP after downloading all kinds of computer science books.”

…it’s an easy way to get what I need in a format I need it.”

…one of my top goals in life is to read at the same time as my sighted friends, and Bookshare will help me accomplish that.”

…it feeds me with everything I need.”

…it’s a jackpot of information for blind people. I felt like I won the jackpot when I joined!”

…it allowed me to help plan our trip to France.”

…it has such an extensive library, they get the books out quickly, and they work on the iPhone.”

…it is helping me succeed in the computer science program at my university.”

…for a long time I said, ‘I don’t want to pay the $50.’ But it is so worth it. I’m in book heaven! Where else can you get 347,000 titles?”

…Read2Go from Bookshare helps me follow along with my classmates both visually and auditorily and I like that.”

As you can see, Bookshare means many things to many people. A heartfelt thank you to everyone who shared their feedback. We are thrilled that Bookshare is helping blind and low vision members “live the life they want.”

Can Bookshare help you? A special promotion for NFB conference attendees is still available. Get 50% off a Bookshare membership for anyone renewing or joining Bookshare. Send an e-mail to

“Go Set a Watchman” Makes Literary History

2015 July 14

Literary history is being made today with the publication of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. This much anticipated novel, written in 1957 before To Kill a Mockingbird, was believed to be lost for over 50 years. Lucky for Harper Lee fans all over the world, Go Set a Watchman is available in bookstores today.

Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird book coversAnd even luckier for people who cannot read traditional books due to blindness, low vision, physical and learning disabilities, Go Set a Watchman is available on Bookshare, the world’s largest accessible online library, at the same time.  With Bookshare, readers can listen to Go Set a Watchman, read in braille or large print, and more. Now people with print disabilities can enjoy this historic release the same day as everyone else and join the conversation.

HarperCollins is printing two million copies for this blockbuster literary event. Go Set a Watchman is the most pre-ordered book HarperCollins has ever published, and the novel is already the #1 bestseller on Amazon. According to the publisher, Go Set a Watchman is “a wonderful new novel from one of America’s bestselling authors. Exploring the tensions between a local culture and a changing national political agenda; family arguments and love: an instant classic.”

Go Set a Watchman takes place 20 years after the events in To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout, who now lives in New York, travels back to Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her father Atticus. Will it be an instant classic and national treasure like To Kill a Mockingbird which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, sold over 30 million copies, and was translated into 40 languages?

If you’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird, or you read it in school many years ago and don’t remember it, you might consider doing a Harper Lee marathon and read both novels. Which book will you like the best? Will Go Set a Watchman live up to the hype? Will it be as big or bigger than To Kill a Mockingbird? How will Scout and Atticus have evolved as characters?

There’s only one way to find out. Read it and be a part of lively discussions with friends and the Bookshare community. We invite you to share your comments as part of the Summer Reading Challenge on Facebook, Twitter using the #TurnUp4Books hashtag, or the form on the Bookshare website. And if you’re not yet a member of Bookshare, learn how to join so you can read Go Set a Watchman, as well as over 345,000 other titles.

Summer reading just got a lot hotter!

Bookshare a Notable Advantage for People With Visual Impairments, says The New York Times

2015 July 10
by Bookshare Communications

This post originally appeared in Benetech’s Blog on July 6, 2015

For people who cannot use standard print, the increasing availability of digital books and services such as Benetech’s Bookshare library are a boon that is unlocking the world of reading, says The New York Times.

In a story titled “An App to Aid the Visually Impaired,” author Jonah Bromwich highlights Bookshare asThe New York Times logo a “notable advantage” of an app called Spotlight Text. This reading tool, explains Bromwich in App City, The New York Times’ biweekly column about influential mobile apps, is outfitted with adjustable scrolling text, adjustable font, sharp contrast, and text-to-speech features—all of which make reading accessible to individuals with visual impairments, including those who have a limited field of vision due to diseases such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. With accessible reading tools and ebooks at their fingertips, these people can once again enjoy reading and have equal opportunity to succeed at school and the workplace.

Spotlight Text was developed by New York-based ophthalmologist and retina surgeon Dr. Howard Kaplan. Bookshare, reports Bromwich, has formed a partnership with Dr. Kaplan and “its enormous library, with close to 350,000 titles, can be found within Spotlight Text by doing a simple search.” The combined price of Spotlight Text and the Bookshare membership “is nothing,” emphasizes Dr. Kaplan in the story, “compared to the medical devices usually recommended to those with impaired vision.”

You can read the full story on The New York Times’ website.

Improve Your Reading Fitness with the Summer Reading Challenge

2015 July 7

The Bookshare Summer Reading Challenge is sprinting into week 4! It’s never too late to jump right in and join the fun. Thanks to all of the members who have recommended their favorite books including these:

From Thom in Albuquerque, NM: Garlic and Sapphires. This is a great book about the food critic for the New York Times (Ruth Reichl) that is hilarious and funny. It tells of her bad chairs and her disguises in New York.

From @silly_singer in Pelham, NH: Been meaning 2 read Playing For Pizza by John Grisham 4 a while now. 2 read it now or wait 4 SportsandFitness?

From Candice: The Lake Eden Cookbook by Joanne Fluke. I love the main character and the situations she gets into. The recipes are also so very scrumptious that I want to try them all, but my waistline would not like it.

From Nesma: I recommend Closed for the Season. This book was very captivating and kept me interested. I love mystery books.

Sports & Fitness theme graphic with boy and images of a bike, soccer ball, and badminton birdieFor this week’s theme – Sports & Fitness – the Bookshare team The Busy Body Book book coverhas compiled a list of titles for armchair athletes and rookies alike. Are you interested in bicycles, baseball or basketball? Ever wondered what bowling has to do with cricket? Can you name the world’s greatest distance runners? (Hint: it’s the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico.) Do you want to learn ways to integrate fitness into a busy lifestyle?

Inverting the Pyramid book coverOr, for the World Cup fans who watched the thrilling victory by the U.S. Women’s soccer team, you might enjoy Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics by Jonathan Wilson.

Whether you consider yourself a rookie, coach, weekend warrior, armchair quarterback, or something in between, the Bookshare library has over 7,000 books about sports. We encourage you to work up a sweat and strive for a personal best in the summer reading Olympics.


On your mark, get set, go: Turn It Up & Tell the World!

  • Sign up for Summer Reading Challenge weekly e-mail announcements
  • Share your favorite books on Facebook, Twitter using the #TurnUp4Books hashtag, or the form on the Bookshare website