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From Brazil to Brooklyn

2017 April 6

Bookshare helps Antonio Guimaraes navigate continents, schools, cities, and careers

Antonio Guimaraes on the New York subway

Antonio Guimaraes on the New York subway

Antonio Guimaraes remembers those laborious days in college when he spent hours at the scanner using an OCR reader to convert his printed textbooks to digital text and audio. “I queued up some music and fired up my Kurzweil 1000. Two hours later I still wasn’t finished scanning my textbook, so I would take breaks and mark the next starting point with a paper clip,” says Antonio.

Fortunately, for Antonio and others like him who are blind or visually impaired, the technology supporting reading software and assistive devices has advanced tremendously. Antonio first read about Bookshare in the Braille Monitor, the leading publication of the National Federation of the Blind. He became a Bookshare member as a student in the early 2000s to gain free access to its library of accessible ebooks that now exceeds 540,000 titles. “The technology has advanced so much,” says Antonio, “that now I can open my favorite reading app, search for a title, download it, and start reading while I wait for my latte at Starbucks. I can go to a lecture by an author and download his or her book in seconds, often before a sighted person can get a copy.”

From Brazil to Brooklyn

Antonio has taken full advantage of all the benefits that technology offers persons who are blind or visually impaired. Born in Brazil, he moved to Florida at age Book cover for Grit by Angela Duckworthfourteen where he attended the Florida School for the Deaf & the Blind in St. Augustine. In addition to learning English, he also had to learn a new braille code including Nemeth, which is a code for mathematical and scientific notation using standard six-dot Braille cells for tactile reading.

In 2016, he graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, with a bachelor of arts in communication. In the past, he has lived in Fall River, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island, but found those cities didn’t offer enough in terms of opportunity, transportation, and independence for a blind person who prefers to navigate himself rather than rely on paratransit services. He now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys the flexibility and availability of public transit services in New York City.

Bookshare is the Path to Knowledge and Self-Improvement

Antonio mostly reads how-to and nonfiction books using Voice Dream Reader on his iPhone. “Today I can benefit from anything books provide, from how to form a nonprofit to how to program in Swift for iOS,” he says. Books on those topics have come in handy for Book cover for Starting & Building a Nonprofit by Peri PakrooAntonio as president of Access to Places LLC, a company he founded in 2015 that is developing a public transit app to help blind commuters find their way in and out of metro stations. Antonio is the idea person behind the app, and the team includes a designer and an app developer. “The app will eventually include written descriptions of metro stations. The first version will allow the user to list the train stations on a specific line or trip. In this way, users can look ahead and keep track of their destination station and know when to get off the train,” explains Antonio. He anticipates that the app will be available in the app store later this spring.

“There is no shortage of books to read that help me become the person I want to be,” he says. Antonio is a braille reader, but he doesn’t use it a lot for reading Bookshare books. But, he says, “It’s certainly an option and a great way to check spelling on words I want to know.”

What advice does Antonio have for others who are blind? “I have a little secret. I went for months not knowing exactly how to read books in Voice Dream Reader. I finally asked someone to show me how to use the app, and it is one of the apps I use the most now. All I had to do was ask. So if you don’t know something, ask around and someone is bound to know it and patient enough to teach you.” That’s a secret worth sharing.

On Antonio’s Digital Bookshelf

I Never Knew That About New York by Christopher WinnBook cover for I Never Knew That About New York by Christopher Winn

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – by Angela Duckworth

Starting and Building a Nonprofit by Peri Pakroo

Nonprofit Meetings, Minutes, and Records by Anthony Mancuso

Project Management: Absolute Beginners Guide by Greg Horine

Writers Market 2017 – by Robert Lee Brewer

Crock-Pot Recipe Collection by Lou Weber

Bookshare (Still) Needs Your Support

2017 March 23

Ask your Members of Congress to approve funding so Bookshare can continue to offer free, accessible ebooks to U.S. students with disabilities.

By Jim Fruchterman, Founder and CEO, Benetech

Bookshare funding remains in jeopardy as Congress continues to consider the budget for both the 2017 Bookshare, A Benetech Initiative, logo and 2018 fiscal years. We urgently need your help to ensure that Bookshare’s federal funding is not eliminated. For those of you who contacted your Members of Congress last fall and urged them to support Bookshare funding, we thank you for your efforts and dedication to date, but we need your help by writing to Congress again.

We urge you all to send a letter to your senators and representative. We encourage you to personalize these letters by including information about the impact Bookshare has had on you, in your school, or for your child. This is a critical time for Bookshare, and your help is essential to ensure that the program will continue.

Bookshare Funding Recap

Paloma reads an accessible ebook from the Bookshare library on her iPad

Paloma, a student with dyslexia, reads an accessible ebook from the Bookshare library on her iPad

Last fall, the House of Representatives proposed an FY2017 funding bill that would, in effect, defund Bookshare. In recent months, we have worked with Bookshare supporters in specifically targeted states and districts to advocate for the program that provides funding for Bookshare, known as the Educational Technology, Media, and Materials Program. Last December, the House of Representatives approved a short-term spending bill, known as a Continuing Resolution, which funded the government at current levels through April 28, 2017.

The Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee is currently considering the funding decisions for this program for both FY2018 and the remainder of FY2017, so now is a critical time to show your support for Bookshare. Letters by Representative John Yarmuth and Senator Chris Murphy are being circulated in their respective chambers in support of the Educational Technology, Media, and Materials Program that helps to fund Bookshare. I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., with several members of the Bookshare team and met with key members of Congress and urged them to vote to approve the funding.

Bookshare is Indispensable for Students like Veronica

Veronica, a college student in Virginia, has low vision and is unable to read standard printed books. She shared her experience as a Bookshare member in a letter to her local representative:Veronica, a college student with low vision, has been a Bookshare member since 2011.

I have been using Bookshare since 2011 and it has dramatically changed the way I read. Once I got Bookshare, I could carry my books around on an eReader or tablet and download a book almost instantly. I started reading more and was able to join more discussions in class. Education is invaluable, and with accessible materials, more students are able to learn and pursue higher-level education, enter the workforce, and contribute to society. By making these books accessible through Bookshare, students can thrive in the educational environment.

From all of us at Benetech and Bookshare, thank you for your continued and vital support.

Button that says Write to Congress Now

Bookshare is a Lifeline for the Blind Community in Latin America

2017 March 7

Bookshare es una línea de vida para la comunidad ciega en América Latina

Special thanks to Gerardo Corripio, a Bookshare international member and native of Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico, for this article. Because of Gerardo’s efforts many Latin Americans who are blind are now aware of the advantages of accessible ebooks and technologies through Bookshare.  

Bookshare member, Gerardo Corripio, says, “What a feeling to be able to make a difference in another Photo of Gerardo Corripio, Bookshare member in Mexico CityLatin American’s life.” Gerardo has used Bookshare for many years and says the online library is a lifeline for him and for people who are blind in his country of Mexico. “Bookshare is one of very few resources for the disability community,” he says, especially if they do not speak English.

Gerardo, who became blind at birth and also suffered severe hearing loss, has shown incredible gratitude for the people who believed in him and for the resources that have supported him. Throughout his life, he has taken that appreciation to heart with a mission to help the Latin American blind community prosper too.

Logo for Instituto de Estudios Superiores de TamaulipasFirst Blind Student to Attend a Private University in Tampico, Mexico

Thanks to supportive parents and two university administrators at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Tamaulipas (IEST) who believed in him, Gerardo was the first blind student to be accepted to a private university. He said, “Even though I lacked two important senses (sight and sound), with proper support from my parents, professors, classmates, and other university staff, plus the skills I learned to accommodate my blindness, I was able to study in a mainstream classroom and perform at the same level as my sighted peers.”

He received a degree in psychology and wrote a thesis on “The Adaptation Process of Families with Visual Impairments.” “Attending a private institution was a rare opportunity that most people in my country will never have,” he says. Yet, when a local parent heard about his accomplishments, she sent her son to the college and many more students with disabilities followed.

Improve English Skills with Text-to-Speech

Not only does Gerardo like to read accessible ebooks on all kinds of technologies using Bookshare, he Cover for Mindful Coaching by Liz Hallcan also polish his English skills listening to text-to-speech. He reads ebooks using apps on various devices, such as an iPhone with Voice Dream Reader, a computer using Kurzweil 1000, and Victor Reader Stream. Although he typically reads in English, Gerardo tells others about the vast Bookshare collection of over 500,000 titles, including 12,000 books in Spanish and other languages available to international members who qualify.

Advocating for Bookshare in Latin America

“The internet has given me the ability to connect with a community to share my knowledge,” says Gerardo. When he is not working with clients, he broadcasts for Eibero America and Radio General, two online radio stations started by two of his blind friends in 2009 to educate the Latin American blind community.

Gerardo creates podcasts and articles on topics such as Braille, technology using Windows, and tips on using Android and iOS smartphones. During his eight-year tenure on Eibero America, Gerardo has also discussed the psychological well-being of people living with blindness, as well as how to use Bookshare and assistive technology devices. To date, there are over 2,700 listeners, and many individuals download his episodes.

And if that isn’t enough advocacy, Gerardo also enjoys discussions about notable books on Twitter and through book review groups, including a Bookshare FreeList discussion group, the new Bookshare-hosted discussion forum, and Bookshare Twitter.

In addition, Gerardo has formed two groups — Accessibility for All, a Spanish blindness group, and Universal Access English Matters — where he discusses books he is reading. One recent favorite is Mindful Coaching, a psychology book by Liz Hall.

Bridging Social and Cultural Barriers

Gerardo insists that book topics can bridge diversity, improve cultural integration, and break through barriers to learning. “To read, learn, and share knowledge is a human obligation,” he says. “Discussing a book or sharing an interesting fact will never go out of style. I want to thank the Bookshare staff. The library has made a difference in my life and is a lifeline for people with print disabilities around the world to achieve reading equality. I hope my advocacy will help more individuals in Latin America learn about the advantages of accessible ebooks, and together we can open the door to improved social integration, meaningful conversations, further academic pursuits, and lasting friendships.”

Rompiendo barreras sociales y culturales

Gerardo insista que los temas de los libros pueden tender puentes sobre la diversidad, mejorar integración cultural y romper barreras al aprendizaje. “Leer, aprender y compartir conocimiento es una obligación humana,” él dice. “Conversar sobre un libro o compartir un dato interesante nunca pasa de moda. Quiero agradecerle al personal de Bookshare. La biblioteca ha hecho una gran diferencia en mi vida y es un salvavidas para gente con discapacidad para la lectura en todo el mundo lograr equidad de lectura. Espero que mi promoción ayudará a otros individuales en Latinoamérica aprender de las ventajas de ebooks accesibles, y juntos podemos abrir la puerta a mejor integración social, conversaciones significativas, emprendimientos académicos y amistades duraderos.”

Thanks to Rachel Bernstein, Program Manager, Benetech Human Rights, for her Spanish translation services.

Benetech Showcases Leading Edge Literacy Initiatives at 32nd Annual CSUN Conference

2017 February 23

See what’s new with Bookshare, DIAGRAM and Born Accessible

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 CSUN Assistive Technology Conference logotechnology will be the focus of the world’s largest gathering of people who develop or use assistive technology, taking place at the 32nd Annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference from February 27-March 3 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego.

The “CSUN Conference,” as it is known in the industry, is organized by California State University, 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 400 general session workshops, and more than 120 exhibitors displaying the latest technologies for people with disabilities.

Benetech, a nonprofit that empowers communities in need by creating software for social good, is committed to driving innovation in assistive technology to Amaya and McKenzie, Benetech staff, in the Benetech booth at a conferencepromote inclusiveness for people with disabilities. Access to literacy is a basic human right, yet 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 information 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 whose goal is to dramatically change the way image, graphic, and math content is produced and accessed
  • Born Accessible – an initiative dedicated to driving systemic change by helping publishers create accessible books at the onset

We invite you to visit the Benetech booth (#722) and watch reading tool demos by our partners Voice Dream, HumanWare, Kurzweil, Capti, HIMS, and Dolphin. We will be in the exhibit hall on Wednesday from 12:00-7:00 pm and on Thursday and Friday from 9:30 am-5:30 pm. Read the full demo schedule.

In addition to the exhibit hall, you can find us presenting at the following sessions:

Thursday, March 2

Friday, March 3

Benetech is honored to join scientists, practitioners, educators, government officials, industry executives and entrepreneurs who are committed to driving innovation in assistive technology to promote inclusiveness for people with disabilities. We hope you will join us at the conference.

Consult the full conference schedule for exact session locations. The CSUN Conference Exhibit Hall is free and open to the public.

Bookshare Welcomes Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention Series to Collection

2017 February 16

Donation by Carol Lake provides 110 engaging leveled books in accessible format to help young readers

The Bookshare team receives several hundred requests each month from students and educators looking for specific books. If we can’t get a book directly from one of the 820 publishers we have agreements with, we buy the book, chop it up, and scan it. But what happens when the request is for a series consisting of 110 books?

According to Robin Reddell, a member of Bookshare’s Collection Development team, “Many teachers

Illustration from Dinner with Maisy showing a father, mother, son and daughter at the dinner table with Maisy the dog holding her bowl

Illustration from Dinner for Maisy, a Level H book, by Aimee Meacham

have requested the Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) Green System for grades K-1. Unfortunately, our budget wasn’t large enough to purchase the whole system, but thanks to a generous donation from Carol Lake, a long-time member and donor, we were able to purchase all 110 books.”

This highly regarded system, developed by Irene Fountas, professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Gay Su Pinnell, Professor Emeritus in the School of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University, is used by districts across the U.S. as a Tier 2 or Tier 3 Response to Intervention as described by the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “These leveled books are designed for students who have difficulty reading at grade level, such as students with dyslexia or other learning disabilities,” says Robin.

Teacher with young students using computers with headphoneAt the heart of LLI are high-quality leveled books in a variety of genres that are designed to engage even the most reluctant readers. The books are sequenced and calibrated according to the F&P Text Level Gradient™ in order to provide gradually increasing text complexity that fosters reading proficiency. Each level builds on the previous one so that students can be successful at their own pace. Great care was taken to ensure each book conforms to the characteristics of texts at a particular level as described in The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum.

Use of these books is flexible: leveled books can be used in the highly scripted LLI program or as teachers choose in designing programs for their students’ specific needs. The Bookshare team is thrilled to offer the LLI Green System (Levels A-J) in accessible formats to students with learning disabilities so they can take advantage of the accessibility features such as text-to-speech and word highlighting.

Robin, a former elementary school teacher, is dedicating the Fountas & Pinnell series as the first Book cover for Bad-Luck Day by Joanna Korbaentrants in the Kathleen Meagher Teacher’s Collection in honor of her late friend and mentor in the Palo Alto Unified School District in California. We hope to add additional Fountas & Pinnell levels as more funding becomes available.

Here are just a few of the wonderful books in the Green System:

Button that says Learn More and links to the Fountas & Pinnell collection in Bookshare

Bookshare is the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks for people with print disabilities. U.S. students with qualifying disabilities get free access due to a grant from the Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.


For Jonathan Perry, Life Had Other Plans

2017 February 6

Unexpected blindness prompted life and career reinvention

It is not uncommon for adults in mid-life to reinvent themselves for another career. Some just want to pursue a new field or industry. Others are forced to make a career change due to a layoff or an evolving marketplace. For Jonathan Perry, resident of Athens, Georgia, and a successful pharmacist for over twenty-five years, his life screeched to a halt one day in April, 2012. After celebrating his son’s wedding, a bout of endocarditis – a bacterial infection of the heart valve – sent endotoxins into his body, brain, and retinas. The infection triggered a stroke, and overnight he became blind.

Jonathan Perry reading accessible ebooks

Jonathan Perry reading accessible ebooks at home in Athens, Georgia

Open-heart surgery repaired the valve, and then he began a year of antibiotics, rehabilitation, mobility training, and assistive technology instruction. Jonathan approached this challenge the way any good scientist would: logically and methodically. He started working with a computer trainer who showed him how to use JAWS, a popular Windows screen reader. An avid reader, he downloaded some books using the National Library Service’s BARD, a free library of recorded and braille books and magazines for individuals with visual and physical disabilities. That was a good source of pleasure reading materials, but Jonathan had bigger plans. He was determined to retrain himself for a new vocation.

From pharmacy administration to trend analysis

With Ph.D.-level coursework in pharmacy administration, he could leverage his business management knowledge and apply it to the field of financial trend analysis. “My goal was to analyze companies’ stock performance with help from a computer, and you don’t have to be sighted for that.”

Jonathan read several blogs for the blind community that mentioned Bookshare, so he decided to check it out. He was skeptical that Bookshare would have the highly specialized books he was looking for. He noticed that you can search for books without being a member, so he searched for The Intelligent Investor, the stock market bible by Ben Graham, originally published in 1949. Jonathan was certain the search would come up empty. “Darn it if y’all didn’t have it!” he exclaimed. He searched for more books about trend analysis, and Bookshare had at least ten of them. “What a collection! The breadth is overwhelming. It’s light years ahead of anything I’ve found.” Jonathan became a Bookshare member on the spot.

A variety of reading tools and devices to choose from

Book cover for The Intelligent Investor by Ben GrahamWhen it comes to reading tools and devices, Jonathan says his choice depends on what he is reading and what kind of mood he is in. His favorite reading tools are Voice Dream Reader, Capti Narrator, and Bookshare Web Reader when he wants to read right from a browser. He uses a PC, iPhone, and a DAISY reader which gives him a lot of flexibility and options. He is comfortable with the computer-generated voices and appreciates the ability to increase the speed of the narration. He hasn’t found a need to learn braille because there is so much available digitally. Bookshare alone has over 500,000 books in its collection.

Words of wisdom

What advice does Jonathan have for others who are blind or visually impaired and want to retrain themselves? “Most people have a set of skills that are valuable and can be expanded further,” he suggests. “There is a treasure trove of information and how-to books in Bookshare that can help. Blindness slows things down tenfold, but it doesn’t stop you.” Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce PattonJonathan continues, “I hope that my story is inspiring for others with disabilities, especially blindness. Bookshare is the only source for many of the books that are highly specialized in the new field I am pursuing. I was simply amazed to see the depth and quality of materials that are available.”

What does Jonathan read for fun? “I like to read bestsellers or whatever people are talking about so I can join the conversation. I also enjoy nonfiction, biographies, short stories, and personal development books like Getting to Yes.” Come to think of it, that sums up Jonathan’s attitude and journey of self-reinvention, and we can all take a page out of that book.

On Jonathan’s digital bookshelf:

The Intelligent Investor, by Benjamin Graham

Trend Following with Managed Futures, by Alex Greyserman and Kathryn Kaminski

An Introduction to Algorithmic Trading, by Jane Cralle and Edward Leshik

Getting to Yes, by Bruce Patton, Roger Fisher, and William L. Ury

Doctor Shares Daughter’s Discovery of Accessible Ebooks

2017 January 24

Special thanks to Dr. P. Travis Harker and his daughter, Paloma, for sharing their story.

“I Won’t Read Again!”

In fourth grade, Paloma Harker declared to her parents, “I am done with reading. You can’t make me do it!” Since her earliest days in school, Paloma had trouble

Paloma reads an accessible ebook from the Bookshare library on her iPad

Paloma reads an accessible ebook from the Bookshare library on her iPad.

decoding and comprehending printed words. She loved stories and listened attentively as her father read to her, but reading on her own was difficult. By third grade, she knew that she did not read at the same level as her classmates. Each time she tried, she experienced frustration. By age nine, she was ready to quit reading for good.

Hearing this declaration saddened her father, Travis. Why was his daughter having so much trouble reading? As a family doctor in New Hampshire, he wanted a remedy, but did not have one. “I kept asking Paloma to try harder, but that wasn’t the solution,” he said.

Dr. Harker’s medical training did not include methods for diagnosing a reading disability. He and his wife worked closely with Paloma’s teachers to address her reading challenges. Paloma tried everything — working with a tutor, receiving extra time on tasks, performing repetitive word drills – but nothing helped. Travis took her to the Developmental Medicine Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. That visit led to a discovery: Paloma had a learning disability called dyslexia. Even though she was very bright, her brain processed information differently. With a clear diagnosis, Dr. Harker looked for resources to help her.

Accessible Ebooks Were a Breakthrough

“I found Bookshare, the online library of accessible ebooks that is free for U.S. schools and students with dyslexia and other qualifying print disabilities,” he said. Those include blindness, low vision, a physical disability, or learning disabilities.

Paloma signed up for a free individual membership so she could download books. She now reads books on her iPad with an app called Voice Dream Reader that allows her to listen to text-to-speech narration while following the highlighted text. Her father noticed an immediate improvement. Bookshare plus specialized instruction was the breakthrough Paloma needed to welcome reading back into her daily life.

Signs of Reading Disabilities

Dr. Travis Harker in his medical office.

Dr. Travis Harker in his medical office.

After observing his daughter’s success with accessible ebooks, Dr. Harker wanted to learn more about the research on dyslexia. He recalls one study suggesting that seventy percent of children with dyslexia are incorrectly labeled with low intelligence and Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder simply because they have difficulty reading.

“When it comes to learning and attention issues, working smarter is often better than working harder,” he said. “If I had known this, Paloma’s early years would have been more enjoyable and our relationship less strained.”

Now, Dr. Harker knows that the signs of a reading disability can often be mislabeled as bad behavior or low intelligence. Additionally, some children may try to disguise their reading difficulty and keep it hidden. He said, “We all need a better understanding of dyslexia. This begins with specific observations.”

In his practice, Dr. Harker encourages patients, teachers, and parents to dive deeper into a child’s behavior and reading challenges before drawing conclusions. “I Book cover for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowlingask parents to be very specific when describing their child’s struggles,” he says. “This will help us to pinpoint a diagnosis and determine applicable accommodations, like accessible ebooks. Thankfully, our daughter is now being taught in a way that works best for her learning style and using Bookshare has helped.” Paloma attends the Carroll School in Lincoln, Massachusetts, that specializes in teaching students with dyslexia. She reads independently and is confident and happy. She even likes to read for fun.

How Can You Advocate for More Education About Dyslexia and Accessible Ebooks in Schools?

Dr. Harker recently joined Bookshare advocates at his New Hampshire U.S. Senator’s office. They discussed the need for more education about dyslexia and for more access to ebooks in schools. “I am lending my support for continued federal funding for Bookshare,” he says. “I am grateful for the resource and want to be a better champion for children with reading challenges. Every child deserves to be recognized for their true learning potential, and with the right solutions they can enjoy a bright future ahead, just as my daughter now has.”

Travis Harker, M.D., serves as the Chief Medical Officer for Granite Health. A faculty member of the New Hampshire Dartmouth Family Medicine and Leadership Preventive Medicine Residency programs, he was named Family Physician of the Year in 2014 by the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians. He also writes an “Expert Corner” blog about learning and attention issues for Understood.

Learn How to Read Easier with Bookshare at the 2017 ATIA Conference

2017 January 16

Are you going to the 2017 ATIA Conference in Orlando (January 18-21)?

The 2017 ATIA Conference is where the assistive technology community meets to network, learn and share, and Blue and white ATIA logo with Assistive Technology Industry AssociationBenetech is excited to be in on the action.

We invite you to visit us in the Benetech/Bookshare booth (#419) and attend our presentations. Come see how to get easy access to over 500,000 ebooks in alternative formats for students who cannot read or process printed text.

Here’s a preview of what you will learn:

New Bookshare Features

Partner Demos

  • Experience Bookshare books being read on a wide range of devices with partner demos including Capti Narrator, HumanWare BrailleNote Touch, TextHelp Read&Write for Google + Bookshare Web Reader, and Dolphin EasyReader
  • Check out the most up-to-date demo schedule before you arrive

Accessible Educational MaterialsAmaya and McKenzie, Benetech staff, in the Benetech booth at a conference

  • Get tips on how to purchase materials or create coursework that is accessible to students with disabilities.

Presentations by our expert staff on Thursday, January 19:

  • RSCH-15: Ignite Research (Panel) with Lisa Wadors Verne – 11:45 am-12:45 pm in Caribbean V
  • ACC-06: Choose Carefully: Select and Create eBooks for All Readers by Lisa Wadors Verne – 1:00-2:00 pm in Bonaire 8
  • EDU-60: You Try it! Cool Tools for People with Reading Barriers by Christine Jones – 4:30-5:30 pm in Bonaire 1

We look forward to connecting with you at ATIA!

Bookshare Members Now Have Access to Over 500,000 Ebooks

2017 January 12

Benetech accelerates toward a future in which all digital content is Born Accessible

By Brad Turner, VP Global Literacy, Benetech

On November 29, 2016, Bookshare hit a momentous milestone when it passed the mark of 500,000 titles in its collection. That means that people unable to read Blue and white graphic that says 500,000 Accessible Ebooks - Bookshare A Benetech Initiativestandard print now have access to 500,000 ebooks in various formats to suit their individual needs.

It wasn’t that long ago that the blind community had to rely on braille, a limited number of human-narrated books, or having someone read to them if they wanted to enjoy a book. Even just 15 years ago, Bookshare had a modest collection of 20,000 books. Fast forward to today where Bookshare boasts over 509,000 titles, has partnerships with over 800 publishers, and adds over 5,000 new titles each month. Not only are we building up the collection, we’re expanding Bookshare’s reach by partnering with organizations and communities around the globe to ensure all individuals, regardless of where they live, have access to literacy. Members around the world can now access books in 30 languages in over 70 countries.

The Future is Born Accessible

Suraj, a student in Pune, India, reads a braille book while listening to the narration on a Plextalk player with help from Dr. Homiyar.

Suraj, a student in Pune, India, reads a braille book while listening to the narration on a PLEXTALK player with help from Dr. Homiyar.

The most exciting part of this momentum is that we’ve only just begun! The path forward is clear: 500,000 accessible ebooks today, one million accessible ebooks tomorrow, and ultimately a world where all books are made accessible from the moment they are created.

Serving more members with more books is a critical part of our mission. That is why our ultimate goal is a Born Accessible future. If a book is born digital, it should be born accessible, period. Every member of society, including the estimated 5% of the population who have difficulty reading traditional print, should have equal access to books as soon as they are published. Benetech will not rest until a Born Accessible future is a reality, and we will continue to work with publishers and the larger accessibility community to achieve this goal.

Meanwhile, we are encouraging U.S. school districts to use their purchasing power to buy accessible to increase the demand for accessible textbooks and curriculum materials that work for all students. When school districts across the country demand Born Accessible materials, publishers will recognize the importance of accessibility. Benetech is dedicated to working with school districts to request accessible materials so publishers respond with the content that schools need.

Collaboration Achieves Scale

I am challenging our community of mentor teachers, parent ambassadors, seniors, librarians, and disability rights advocates to continue to demand equal access to literacy for people who can’t read standard print. To that end, we are collaborating with key public libraries in New York, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, and establishing partnerships with nonprofits such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind in the United Kingdom, The Lighthouse Guild in New York, and All Children Reading in India.

When we leverage our collective strengths, we can scale more efficiently and achieve better results for more people. We are at a tipping point, and I invite you to join us on this momentous journey.

Half a Million and Counting

Book cover for The Best Bear in All the World-Winnie the Pooh For those who are curious, two of the books that pushed the counter over 500,000 were:Book cover for The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Best Bear in All the World – a celebration of the 90th anniversary of Winnie-the-Pooh with new stories commissioned by the Trustees of the Pooh Properties. Available in the U.S. and Canada.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics – the #1 New York Times bestseller and inspiration for the PBS documentary “The Boys of ’36.” Published by Penguin Random House and available in the U.S., Canada, and many other countries.

Button that says Learn More and links to the Back to School landing page

Visits to Largest U.S. School Districts Yield Valuable Insights for Bookshare Team

2017 January 9

By Christine Jones, Senior Education Program Manager, Global Literacy Program, Benetech

Early in 2016, Benetech began a concerted effort to learn even more about how schools are providing services to students who experience barriers to reading printed text and how Bookshare can work more seamlessly in these diverse environments. We decided to go “under the hood” by partnering with some of the nation’s largest and most under-resourced school districts. To date, we have met with key team members at more than thirty districts and have learned a great deal about their needs and challenges, as Student at computer reading text with word highlightingwell as how Bookshare can help.

Our key takeaway from these meetings has been the need to make Bookshare even easier to implement and to provide simpler and more detailed guidance on how to use Bookshare. As a result, we have made some significant product improvements in the past year.

Teachers can now:

  • Give students their own logins* so they can easily access assigned books and read independently.
  • Assign books to students as they sign them up for Bookshare.*
  • Build Reading Lists and share them with other teachers in their organization.
  • See when students have downloaded assigned books, which is informative in parent meetings, and the Primary Contact on an account can print a student download report for administrative purposes.

Students can now:

  • Easily access and read assigned books on tablets, computers, MP3 players, Braille devices, and other assistive technology devices.

*Get detailed instructions in this Getting Started Guide and in this helpful video.

Bookshare Champions Facilitate Adoption

We also learned more about the unique challenges that large districts face and how differently these are addressed from district to district. For example, facilitating pervasive use of a valuable resource such as Bookshare is a daunting task given the sheer numbers of campuses, teachers, and students. We observed that district-level Bookshare champions are key to widespread adoption of the online library. Some districts already have effective systems in place to ensure that many teachers have easy access to Bookshare, while others are working at integrating Bookshare into their student curriculum. Recognizing how Bookshare can help both their teachers and students, other districts arranged for us to meet with and/or train their staff. As a result, we expect to see more qualified students in those districts enjoying more accessible ebooks from Bookshare in the coming months.

Albuquerque Public Schools Set the Bar High

One district that stands out is Albuquerque Public Schools (APS). Nearly 90% of the 161 schools have Logo for Albuquerque Public SchoolsBookshare accounts, which is the highest percentage of all the districts we studied this year. In addition, approximately 75% of the APS students who qualify for Bookshare are currently signed up for the service. However, as APS staff can attest, getting schools and students signed up for Bookshare is just the beginning. The district-level assistive technology (AT) team provides Bookshare training to the various campuses on an ongoing basis to ensure that students get the accessible materials they need.

We plan to visit more districts this year, and we look forward to learning even more about how we can better support teachers across the country who are working so diligently to help students with print disabilities to succeed.

Do you know of a school or school district whose students would benefit from Bookshare?

Button that says Learn More and links to the Bookshare home page