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Texas Librarian Appreciates Bookshare’s Accessible Ebook Collection

2016 April 18
by Bookshare Communications

Head shot of Adair Apple

Special thanks to Adair Apple, a Librarian in Evans Elementary School, Corpus Christi, TX  for sharing the reasons why she chooses Bookshare to support students with print disabilities.

“In our district, librarians are responsible for both print and digital accessible resources as well as adaptive technologies. Bookshare is one of the resources we use to support students with qualifying print disabilities, such as visual impairments and physical and learning disabilities that hinder reading.

For effective learning, and since many children are more tech-savvy today, we want to get reading resources and technologies into their hands as early as possible. Now, when teachers and students walk into our library and ask if a book is available for a student with a print disability, I’ll check the online accessible library.

As an elementary librarian, I appreciate that I can tap into Bookshare for children’s literature and required chapter books. And, by assigning logins to the students on my Bookshare account, I can give them immediate access to books. This saves students and teachers time and effort. Some of our school librarians have also begun to mark books with stickers to indicate that they are available in accessible formats on Bookshare.

On the Bookshare website, we have access to information to teach parents about accessible ebook formats and reading tools that help students. I like having the ability to go online and view the archived Bookshare webinars and training tutorials.

We are now exploring how Bookshare can be a beneficial resource not only for students who are blind or visually impaired or who have a physical disability, but also for students with a learning disability, such as dyslexia.

Accessible Books for Texas logoAccessible Books For Texas Outreach Program

Additionally, in Texas, our schools can request on-site Bookshare training through the Accessible Books for Texas (ABT) program, which is funded by the Texas Education Agency. Through this state initiative, teachers, specialists, and librarians learn about the benefits of accessible education materials and how to establish Bookshare organizational and individual student memberships. We are taught how to manage books for students and how to create Reading Lists that make it easy for students to access books independently.”

Take the Next Step with Bookshare!

If you are a U.S. teacher, librarian, or parent supporting students with qualifying print disabilities, please spread the word about Bookshare, especially to your school’s administrators. You can share the key points in this blog about reading independence and emphasize that Bookshare is free for qualified U.S. students and schools.  If you are a Texas K-12 public or charter school educator, contact the Accessible Books for Texas Outreach Coordinator in your region for free on-site training.

Appreciation for Bookshare’s Blue Ribbon Volunteers

2016 April 15
by Amaya Webster, Communities Associate Benetech

Celebrate Service National Volunteer Week April 10-16, 2016One of the things that makes Bookshare so special is the community of volunteers that we have the privilege of working with. In recognition of National Volunteer Week (April 10-16), we wanted to acknowledge their contributions and share just how much we appreciate each and every one of them!

The Bookshare volunteers are an amazing group of 182 individuals. Over the past year they have scanned, submitted, and proofed over 2,000 books for Bookshare, the world’s largest online accessible library for people with print disabilities.

Bookshare receives the majority of its titles in the form of digital files directly from the 850 publishers who partner with us, but our volunteers continue to build the library by scanning and proofreading titles unavailable to us, as well as books of personal interest.

Bookshare volunteers are a tremendously passionate, dedicated, and inspiring group. Carol James, Bookshare Digital Collection Development Manager, can’t sing their praises enough. “I’m so often delighted and amazed by what our volunteers are adding – they fill so many wonderful corners of our collection, and put so much love and care into the books they make possible for others to read.”

And she’s right. The Bookshare volunteers have played a key role in making Bookshare what it is today. We are eternally grateful for their willingness to donate their time and skills to helping us not only provide accessible reading material, but also become pioneers for accessibility and social change.

A photo of Bookshare volunteers gathered around a table.A group of volunteers working together.

Judy Stouffer, a Bookshare volunteer says, “Bookshare gave me back the ability to read what I wanted, when I wanted, including access to specialized technical books I never thought I’d have after becoming disabled. I volunteer because I want to help to open the world of books to other disabled readers the way it has for me.”

Bookshare Volunteers Rock!

Are you interested in becoming a Bookshare volunteer? We are always looking for additional volunteers to scan books, proofread scanned files, and describe images. Learn more or contact us.

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Photo of Amaya WebsterAbout Amaya Webster

Raised in Berkeley, California, Amaya has a background in neurobiology, anthropology and art. Today, she works in a project and community management role for Benetech’s DIAGRAM Center and also supports external partners and technical volunteers to develop resources for making digital graphic content accessible for people with print disabilities.

 

 

 

 

Benetech Receives Google Impact Challenge Award to Expand Bookshare’s Global Reach

2016 April 12

Benetech is pleased to announce that it has been selected by Google.org as one of twenty-nine nonprofits to receive funding to increase access to opportunity and independence for hundreds of millions living with disabilities around the world. Launched in May of 2015, the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities put $20 million in Google.org grants behind nonprofits using emerging technologies to increase independence for people living with disabilities. This program aims to scale impact through technology and extends funding to “entrepreneurial nonprofits to bring innovative tech ideas to life and test their potential for scale.”

“The Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities set out to accelerate the use of technology to create Logo for Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Googlemeaningful change in the lives of the one billion people in the world with a disability,” says Brigitte Gosselink, Head of the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities. “We’re eager to watch as today’s winners, selected from over 1,000 submissions from around the world, build new solutions that will transform lives and make the world more accessible for all.”

Benetech is on a mission to make literacy accessible to all. The World Blind Union estimates that less than 10% of all published materials can be read by individuals who are blind or have low vision. This lack of access to traditional printed materials also affects people with physical disabilities and learning disabilities like dyslexia. This situation worsens for people in the developing world and for non-English speakers with disabilities.  To date, a patchwork approach has been taken to increase the amount of books that are accessible to people with disabilities; however, a huge gap in access to timely and high quality books persists.

Visually-impaired students in a classroom in India

Visually-impaired students in a classroom in India

With the Google.org funding, Benetech will expand Bookshare’s collection of 400,000 digital, accessible books internationally to include local language books in target countries, making them available through schools, public libraries, local governments, and disability service providers. Benetech is working with the DAISY Consortium, a global partnership of organizations committed to creating and promoting reading systems that ensure the best possible reading experience for everyone, on the “born accessible” initiative that helps publishers and content creators build accessibility into books when they are first created.

“We are thrilled to have Google’s support in this project that will help make books accessible to all, regardless of disability,” says Brad Turner, Vice President of Global Literacy at Benetech. “This grant allows us to expand Bookshare’s reach to underserved communities around the world and remove the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from reading and learning.”

The thirty-month project aims to implement Bookshare and conduct teacher training in target expansion regions: sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, Middle East, North America, Europe, and Oceania. In addition, the project team will expand the availability of quality content to 27,000 schools and libraries globally. Another goal is to add 80,000 books to the existing 400,000 book collection, including local language books, such as Hindi or Marathi, in accessible formats.

Additional project phases include the enhancement of Bookshare’s functionality to improve content distribution – “white label” Bookshare – to meet the language and cultural needs of local communities. The project team plans to establish a network of public and private partnerships to expand educational opportunities for individuals living with disabilities in local communities.

AT Specialist’s Goal: Universal Right to Reading Independence

2016 April 7
by Bookshare Communications

Michelle ThomasReading Independence

Fifteen years ago, Michelle Thomas, a seasoned special educator, crossed into the realm of assistive technology (AT) to help more students with disabilities become independent readers. Thomas says, “It is a universal right to read. Instead of viewing AT as a crutch, I wanted to help more teachers view it as an effective learning tool.”

Today, this avid digital reader and Bookshare Mentor Teacher shares her thoughts about equity, accessibility, and best practices for using the online accessible library in her district.

Academic Achievement through Bookshare and Chromebooks

Thomas’ role in one of the largest school districts in Colorado — Adams 12 Five Star School District — is an important one. She works with students who have physical, cognitive, and behavioral issues to improve their academic achievement. Most days, you will find her supporting teachers across 50+ schools to use and understand the benefits of Bookshare and AT. She says, “The right accommodations can change a child’s life!”

Photo of Adams 12 Five Star School BuildingIn her district, an increase in the number of Chromebooks has expanded teachers’ use of Bookshare to find accessible books. “Children are accustomed to digital technologies,” she says. “Text-to-speech is a natural occurrence to them. This multimodal approach can significantly reinforce reading comprehension which leads to improved learning.”

Reasons to Try Bookshare

Thomas notes another important benefit of Bookshare is the development of independent readers. “Students rely less on their parents, friends, and teachers and more on themselves. We see their anxiety diminish and in its place a renewed sense of self-worth.” She encourages teachers and parents to give the online library a careful look for these reasons:

  • Bookshare’s processes to set up and manage student memberships are now streamlined.
  • Membership is free for U.S. schools and students who qualify.
  • The collection has grown and will soon top 400,000 titles, including a variety of academic books, literature, newspapers and magazines, vocational resources, nonfiction, and bestsellers, that appeal to many reading interests.
  • Using Bookshare Web Reader on a Chromebook makes it fast and easy for students to read classroom textbooks with the benefit of text-to-speech and word highlighting.
  • Student Login makes it much easier for teachers to assign reading and for students to access their assigned books from home or anywhere.
Screen capture of Michelle's AT webpage covering information about Bookshare.

Screen capture of Michelle’s AT web page featuring Bookshare information.

To support the district’s teachers in finding age-appropriate books and prepare for parent discussions in IEP meetings, Thomas created these resources:

  • Pinterest account contains book lists so teachers can easily find titles that engage students and address curricular needs.
  • A password protected web page on the Adams 12 Assistive Technology Google Site to highlight helpful training tips and Bookshare information for parents. On this site, additional documentation demonstrates how teachers can use AT in a universal design for learning (UDL) fashion.

Teachers Use Bookshare in Various Settings

Photo of Michelle Thomas and Teacher, Deb Bolger at a laptop computer.

Michelle and Teacher, Deb Bolger at a laptop.

Today, teachers in Adams 12 use Bookshare in various learning settings. Deb Bolger, a Learning Specialist at The Studio School, takes her students to the library to search for preferred books. She believes the process of selecting a physical book is an interesting and fun ritual. “Once they find a book they like, they know they can read it in an accessible format,” she says. “That’s where Bookshare plays a critical role.”

Bolger also assigns reading a digital book as a calming technique for students who become overly stimulated in class. “Students find the act of listening to an audio book soothing,” she says. “One young man routinely arrives in my class for a needed break and automatically opens his latest Bookshare book on a Chromebook and is quite content.”

Technology Accommodations and Bookshare’s Digital Accessible Books

Thanks to Ms. Thomas, Ms. Bolger, and thousands of educators in schools across the U.S., there is a constant nudge to use technology accommodations in the classroom, library, and at home to acquire and demonstrate knowledge.

Thomas reiterates, “Reading a book independently is a universal right that all students deserve.  Technologies, like Chromebooks and Bookshare, support this goal as teachers strive to deliver a quality reading experience. We want to tear down the barriers and move toward a reading revolution. In the process, we will develop more confident and independent achievers.”

Michelle Thomas is a Bookshare Mentor Teacher who inspires equity and accessibility for lifelong learning on behalf of students with print disabilities. This training and support network was formed in 2010 to help the nation’s top teachers and specialists share best practices on using accessible learning materials. Today, more than five hundred educators participate.

If you are a teacher or parent, talk with your school’s administrators, teachers, or assistive technology specialists about Bookshare.  Button that says take the next step

 

Benetech and the American Library Association Team Up at SXSW to Share Expertise on 3D Printing for Diverse Learners

2016 April 4

At the recent 2016 South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, Benetech teamed up with the American Library Association (ALA) to present a session titled: “No More Yoda Heads: 3D printing 4 Diverse Learners.” Lisa Wadors Verne, Benetech Program Manager of Education Research and Partnerships, and Charlie Wapner, an information policy analyst for the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, discussed ways in which the education community – including libraries, museums, and schools – can leverage 3D printing to create learning opportunities for students with print and other disabilities.

Research suggests that 3D objects are important for learning and reinforcing complex spatial concepts South by Southwest edu conference logothat are difficult to convey or explore in any other way (e.g., cells and DNA). Although many schools have access to 3D printing technology, many machines are underutilized and used to print novelty items. In Lisa and Charlie’s session, attendees learned about new collaborations with libraries and museums to help support teachers in providing multimodal access to complex STEM topics as well as utilizing student talent to create innovative learning tools.

An often overlooked piece of the potential of 3D printers in education is their power to create a level playing field for learners of all abilities. “3D printers have the capacity to yield tremendous progress in the field of education,” says Lisa. “When educators and technologists speak of this capacity, they often point to the power of 3D printing to facilitate connected learning, demystify complex STEM topics, and build critical skills for the modern workforce.  Our session is devoted to exploring the world of 3D printing and how it can help open the world of learning to all students.”

Photo of Lisa Wadors Verne and Charlie Wapner at SXSWeduIn their session, Lisa outlined how 3D-printed learning tools can animate the learning process for students who have print, learning, and physical impairments. (If you’re not quite sure what that means, think about how a 3D-printed double helix or H2O molecule might bring science to life for a visually-impaired student.) Charlie described why libraries, as creative, non-judgmental spaces, are the ideal institutions to support the development of assistive technologies through the use of 3D printing technology.

After the presentation was over, several individuals wanted to learn more about Benetech’s 3D printing initiative to create educational equity. Lisa summarized the learning from a convening last summer that brought together practitioners from key institutions and industry to develop ideas for using 3D printers to put all learners on an even footing. In addition, the presenters urged attendees to visit the DIAGRAM Center, a Benetech initiative that is exploring new technologies for creating tactiles and tactile experiences that offer revolutionary ways of conveying spatial information. Says Charlie, “No one else is doing what Benetech is doing in the 3D printing space.”

In response to the inquiries about the role today’s libraries play in their communities, Charlie reiteratedPlastic model of a 3D-printed hand that libraries are one-stop community hubs, replete with informational and digital resources that people of all ages and backgrounds can use to engage in creative learning, seek government services, pursue entrepreneurial opportunities, and a great deal more.

Benetech would like to thank Charlie and the ALA for their worthwhile collaboration at SXSWedu and support of our Global Literacy program initiatives.

To learn more about the SXSW experience from Charlie’s perspective, read his blog post on the District Dispatch, the official ALA website in Washington, DC.

Let’s Make a Deal! Mom Makes Reading Fun and Challenging for Daughter with Dyslexia

2016 March 29

Photo of Judith and her daughter, LauraReading challenges are a common occurrence in the Gutierrez household in Redwood City, California. Mrs. Judie Gutierrez loves to read and likes to challenge her twelve-year-old daughter, Laura, who was diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning disability, in third grade.

Several times a month, this mother-daughter duo challenge each other to make reading fun and interesting by visiting their public library and local bookstores to find titles worthy of discussion.

“Story time is sacred,” says Judie, a Ph.D., busy mom, scientist, and president of the Redwood City Education Foundation. “We like the sport of reading, and you can learn a lot about your child this way.”

As a young girl, Laura enjoyed listening to her mom read, but did not enjoy reading by herself. As time went on, Laura almost hated to read. “I always felt on the offensive trying to help my daughter cope with a lot of frustration,” says Judie. “A Bookshare Individual Membership changed this feeling of hopelessness.” Laura says, “For the first time, I’m doing better in school. Bookshare has helped me to read on my own and enjoy reading. ”

A chart depicting Laura's Score Improvement from 2012 to 2015. At a recent Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting at Laura’s school, Judie was thrilled with her daughter’s academic progress in English and language arts. This chart highlights her progress from 2012 to 2015.

Judie said, “Laura’s comprehension and fluency skills have steadily increased. Her teachers say that she is well on her way to reading at grade level. We also noticed that the extra academic support she needed in English has decreased. This is, in part, due to her use of an iPad with Bookshare’s Read2Go app and the accessible library.”

The Gutierrez family notes that Laura now appreciates the freedom and flexibility she has to read on her own. “Using my iPad, I can watch word highlighting on the screen and listen to text-to-speech,” says Laura. This multi-modal process of seeing and hearing text can help readers with dyslexia to maintain a steady pace and comprehend more of a story.

At bookstores, Laura’s mom often purchases a book for her daughters, and then Laura downloads the accessible format from Bookshare. “The act of shopping for a book is cool to my daughters,” she said. “It’s a fun and grown-up thing to do. We all benefit.” In one month, Laura may read eight to ten books, including titles her mother has selected for her, such as Two Old Women, a native Alaskan folktale by Velma Wallis. “She loved this book,” says Judie. “I also select classics, like Call of the Wild and Little House on the Prairie, to push her reading boundaries.”

Laura and sister sitting in the library with feet up reading.Laura also likes to read at bedtime, a nightly ritual, and with her younger sister. Her favorite books are about mermaids, superheroes, and dog breeds. Here is a list of books she has read:

Prior to Bookshare, Laura wanted nothing to do with reading, visiting the library, or going to the neighborhood Barnes & Noble. Now, she loves to read, has a virtual stack of books in her My Bookshare reading list, and comes alive in a library or bookstore. “Laura has had tremendous success with Bookshare,” adds Judie. “The resource has made a huge difference – not only in her ability to read and keep up academically – but in her exploration of titles on grade level and pursuit of her own interests. My daughter’s transformation is truly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Thank you, Bookshare, for all of your hard work and dedication to helping children with dyslexia and other print disabilities benefit from your library. I hope our reading challenge will spark other families to take the initiative.”

Do you know a student like Laura who faces a reading challenge with dread? Bookshare can help! Bookshare is the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks for people with print disabilities and is FREE to all qualifying U.S. students. Find out if your student qualifies for Bookshare.

 

 

Benetech Announces Partnership with RNIB and Publication of BISG Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing

2016 March 23

Today, at the 31st Annual CSUN Conference in San Diego, Benetech is excited to announce the launch of two major efforts in the areas of literacy and disabilities.

Launch of RNIB Bookshare

The first is the groundbreaking partnership with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) that will dramatically expand access to Bookshare, the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks for people with print disabilities. The new online service, called RNIB Bookshare, will deliver accessible materials to schools and colleges in the United Kingdom and will provide curriculum materials for blind or partially-sighted, dyslexic, or otherwise print-disabled students. It offers an independent learning experience, allowing members to read books in ways that work for them – audio, large print, braille, and more – while enabling learners to read the same books at the same time as their classmates.

Green logo with RNIB and BookshareNeil Heslop, Managing Director, RNIB Solutions, said: “We are delighted to be working with Benetech. This partnership offers the potential to reach every student in the UK that struggles with standard print. It is so important that learners are able to access the books and textbooks they need when they need them.”

The new platform replaces Load2Learn, a similar service run by RNIB since 2012, and offers an increased number of titles (over 220,000) as well as new features such as reading apps and reading lists. It will be available beginning March 29, 2016.

RNIB Bookshare represents what Benetech hopes is the first of many similar partnerships that leverage a “white label” Bookshare platform to bring the online library of accessible ebooks to many more people with disabilities worldwide.

Book Industry Study Group Releases Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing

In partnership with the Book Industry Study Group, Benetech is pleased to announce our participation in the release of the Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing. This guide shares best practices around accessibility developed in collaboration with seventeen organizations, including international standards organizations such as DAISY, platform providers such as VitalSource, and publishing companies such as Pearson, Wiley, Hachette, and HarperCollins. It addresses why and how to create, distribute, and display accessible digital content. The guide is provided for free and can be downloaded by all.

According to Robin Seaman, Chair of the BISG Accessible Publishing Working Group and Director of Book Industry Study Group logoContent at Benetech, “The work of this groundbreaking document represents an extraordinary year-long collaboration of over twenty-five leaders across the publishing ecosystem.  It addresses one of the most daunting technical challenges in digital publishing and one of the least understood social challenges facing education and literacy today: how do we create content in such a way that every reader has equal access to information?  As we see daily in such ubiquitous conveniences as curb cuts, closed captioning in sports bars, and Siri — all of which make the world ‘accessible’ for people with disabilities — the push to ensure that every book is ‘born accessible’ stands to revolutionize the way content will be consumed by us all.”

This is a critical and hopeful time, when technology and massive industry shifts are mitigating the constant catch-up effort that currently limits access and requires so much extra work to create accessible content. With BISG’s Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing, publishers will discover an invaluable resource. When all digital content is also “born accessible,” Benetech’s dream of equal access to information for everyone will be a reality.

Download the guide now. It is available in EPUB3 format as well as in Spanish, French, German, and Italian (and soon in Korean).

To learn more about both of these exciting launches, stop by Benetech’s booth #621/623 or Pearson’s booth #713A/B at the CSUN Conference this week or contact us for more information.

Benetech Showcases Leading Edge Literacy Initiatives at 31st Annual CSUN Conference

2016 March 17

Assistive technology — whether it’s a mobile app or a modified wheelchair — can transform the lives of people with disabilities. The latest in the field of assistive technology will be the focus of the world’s largest gathering of people who develop or use assistive technology, taking place at the 31st Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference from March 21-26 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego.

The “CSUN Conference,” as it is known in the industry, is organized by California State University, Conference logo that says "Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference"Northridge’s Center on Disabilities. It provides a unique opportunity for people with disabilities to have direct input on the creation of or modifications to assistive technologies intended to make their lives easier. The conference explores all aspects of technology and disabilities, and it features a faculty of internationally-recognized speakers, more than 350 general session workshops, and more than 130 exhibitors displaying the latest technologies for people with disabilities.

Girl reading with a tabletBenetech is a nonprofit that empowers communities in need by creating scalable technology solutions. We are one of many organizations committed to driving innovation in assistive technology to promote inclusiveness for people with disabilities. Access to literacy should not be a privilege, but a basic human right. Yet today, there are millions of people who are denied this right because they cannot read text, see images, or manage traditional books due to disabilities. Benetech strives to make literacy accessible to all by leveraging technology to remove the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from reading and learning.

To that end, the Benetech team is excited to have a significant presence at the conference and showcase the latest developments in three key initiatives dedicated to making literacy accessible to all:

  • Bookshare – the world’s largest library of accessible ebooks that lets people with visual, physical, and learning disabilities like dyslexia read in ways that work for them
  • DIAGRAM – a research and development center that creates new and exciting ways to access learning materials through emerging technologies and community engagement
  • Born Accessible – an initiative to make all books and reading materials fully accessible when they are first created

We invite you to visit the Benetech booth (#621/623), attend our sessions, demo our tools, and ask questions. We want to meet you and learn more about your assistive technology needs and ideas. In addition to the exhibit hall, you can find us presenting at the following sessions and events:

Tuesday, March 22 (pre-conference events)Plastic ball with holes made by a 3D printer

  • Benetech Math Sprint: Sue-Ann Ma (invitation only)
  • 9:00 am Workshop: Tactile Graphic Solutions from 2D to 2D – Lisa Wadors Verne (Promenade AB)

Wednesday, March 23

  • 9:00 am Session: Accessible Images and Beyond: DIAGRAM Center +Anh Bui (presenter)
  • 11:50 am and 12:30 pm Focus Groups: Alternative Access for DIAGRAMMERSue-Ann Ma and Deanna McCusker (facilitators)
  • The Book Industry Study Group’s Accessible Publishing Working Group, chaired by Benetech’s Robin Seaman, is launching the BISG Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing that addresses why and how to create, distribute, and display accessible digital content. Pre-order a copy now or stop by the Benetech booth (#621/623) or the Pearson booth (#713 A/B) to learn more.

Thursday, March 24

Friday, March 24

“Our conference brings together thousands of people from around the world — including scientists, practitioners, educators, government officials, the industry executives and entrepreneurs — all committed to driving innovation in assistive technology to promote inclusiveness for people with disabilities,” said Sandy Plotin, managing director of CSUN’s Center on Disabilities. Benetech shares that vision and hopes you will join us at the conference to advance accessibility in literacy for all.

Consult the full conference schedule for exact locations. The CSUN Conference Exhibit Hall is free and open to the public. We hope to see you there.

2016 National Education Technology Plan Resonates with Benetech Priorities of Equity and Accessibility

2016 March 8

Benetech Logo - Technology Serving Humanity - A round circle with 1's and O'sBenetech is a nonprofit company leveraging Silicon Valley technology and process to create and scale solutions for pressing social issues.  Two Benetech initiatives, the DIAGRAM Center and Born Accessible, are cited in The 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) released by the Office of Educational Technology of the U.S. Department of Education. The report recommends that “education stakeholders should develop a born accessible standard of learning resource design to help educators select and evaluate learning resources for accessibility and equity of learning experience.”Cover of the 2016 National Education Technology Plan

More significantly, though, all of Benetech’s work closely aligns with these two key themes of the report: equity and accessibility. The NETP “sets a national vision and plan for learning enabled by technology” and is intended to help education leaders “create a shared vision for how technology can best meet the needs of all learners and to develop a plan that translates the vision into action.”

Benetech’s work focuses on the intersection of two inequities referenced in the NETP: an accessibility divide and the Digital Use Divide. In the report, accessibility “refers to the design of apps, devices, materials, and environments that support and enable access to content and educational activities for all learners,” specifically learners with disabilities, language deficits, varied learning styles, etc. As many of us are painfully aware, most learning materials are not created with “all learners” in mind, and the result is an accessibility divide.

The Digital Use Divide refers to the manner in which technology is being applied in learning environments. According to the NETP, students who are simply reading information on devices are only passively using technology. When applied to its fullest potential, technology can engage students in active learning, as shown in the illustration below.

 

On the left side of this illustration is a student reading on a device, and he appears to be bored and falling asleep. The text below the image reads “Passive Use.” The text above the student reads: “Simply consuming media or completing digitized worksheets falls short.” On the right side is an image of two hands holding a tablet, and the tablet is surrounded by icons that are labeled as follows: “coding, immersive simulation, media production, interaction with experts, global connections, design, peer collaboration.” The text below this image reads “Active Use.”

Benetech has been beating the accessibility drum for nearly fifteen years. It could be said that one of Benetech’s first and most popular products, Bookshare, the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks, gives people with print disabilities the opportunity to participate even in passive learning. Benetech launched Bookshare in 2002, and today over 400,000 members can access a collection of more than 395,000 titles in ways that work for them. Many members also engage in active learning when they use one of several commercially-available reading tools that support further exploration and note taking.

Several years ago, as digital materials began to take on a more prominent role in learning environments, and given their great potential to transform passive learners into active ones, Benetech recognized the need to take its accessibility message to publishers who were creating digital content. Benetech’s drumbeat then became: if materials are “born digital,” they can be “born accessible.”

Last year alone, Benetech reached out to 70 publishers and vendors in the publishing supply chain to encourage them to adopt features and tools that would result in more accessible ebooks published in 2016. Our team offered these companies several tools to build accessibility into their products from the start. Benetech is now working closely with a number of them that have taken on this challenge. Highlights to date include:

  • Benetech conducted an accessibility assessment of a top-selling EPUB 3 file for HarperCollins, which resulted in their implementing new accessibility practices.
  • Pearson began to include the Poet Training Module and the Accessible Image Sample Book in their staff training programs.
  • Several publishers, including O’Reilly Media and Hawkes Learning, have incorporated MathML Cloud into their workflows.
  • A leading conversion vendor, Amnet, incorporated several accessibility tools into their workflow.
  • John Wiley & Sons, the global publishing house that specializes in academic publishing, made the commitment to include alternative text (alt text) in nearly all of their frontlist books.

Aware of the need to create market demand for “born accessible” learning materials, Benetech launched its “Buy Accessible” initiative, which helps instructional materials purchasers identify and request ebooks that will provide an equal experience to students with print disabilities.

The focus of a separate but related Benetech initiative, 3D Printing for Education, was to identify new ways in which 3D printing technology can be used to improve learning and accessibility, particularly in STEM disciplines. 3D printed models and other tactile graphics can make complex ideas easier to comprehend — and not just for people with disabilities. One of the important outcomes of this project is the 3D Printing for Education Quick Start Guide.

Benetech will continue to beat the accessibility drum to help ensure that people with disabilities benefit equally from technology-rich, engaging learning environments. We are thrilled that the accessibility “drum circle” is widening to include many policy makers, governmental agencies (such as the Office of Educational Technology) and for-profit companies as well as nonprofits and advocacy groups. Our message to all who embrace the recommendations of the NETP? Pick up your drumstick and play along!

ChristiChristine Jones, Sr. Education Program Managerne K. Jones is a Senior Education Program Manager in the Global Literacy Program at Benetech and conducts outreach to professionals serving people with disabilities. She has a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. 

It Only Takes One Good Book to Get Hooked on Reading

2016 March 2

At Bookshare, we have a saying that “it only takes one good book to get hooked on reading.” This monthGraphic that says Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss with his photo, Cat in the Hat, the Grinch, and other characters. we are celebrating special reading events and award-winning literature for 2016 to help members find a treasure trove of good books:

  • Happy birthday to one of our favorite authors, Dr. Seuss, on March 2
  • National Education Association’s Read Across America Day is a national initiative to spread the joy of reading to children and young adults
  • The 2016 Youth Media Awards, presented by The American Library Association, recognize outstanding works of literature as well as authors and illustrators

2016 Youth Media Awards

This year’s award winners consist of original and creative works to help guide parents, educators, librarians, and Bookshare members to select the best reading materials for youth. Additional titles by the winning authors can be found in Bookshare’s ever-expanding collection. We encourage you to explore these books and share them with students so they can get hooked on reading for life.  A few of the award winners are listed below:

Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children: Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Book cover of Don't Throw It to Mo! by David A. Adler and illustrated by Sam RicksTheodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book: Don’t Throw It to Mo!, written by David A. Adler and illustrated by Sam Ricks

Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience:

Laura Ingalls Wilder Award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children. The 2016 winner is Jerry Pinkney, whose award-winning works include The Lion and the Mouse, recipient of the Caldecott Award in 2010.

Book cover of The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa TotenMargaret A. Edwards Award honors lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. David Levithan is the 2016 winner. His books include: The Realm of Possibility, Boy Meets Boy, Love is the Higher Law, How They Met, and Other Stories, Wide Awake and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award recognizes an author, critic, librarian, historian, or teacher of children’s literature. Jacqueline Woodson is the winner who will deliver the 2017 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. Woodson is the 2014 National Book Award winner for her New York Times’ bestselling memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming.

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults: Bone Gap, written by Laura Ruby, is the 2016 winner.

New to Bookshare?

Bookshare is the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks for people with print disabilities and is FREE to all qualifying U.S. students. The Bookshare library has over 394,000 books and serves more than 380,000 members. To find out if a student qualifies, check out this link: Is Bookshare for Me?

If you are already a member, use our advanced search option to find a title quickly, explore the lists of special collections, or read about our latest collection of the Top 100 Picture Books with Image Descriptions.

Make March the month to get hooked on reading!