By Nicholas Bowen, Bookshare Customer Support Manager
Every day the Bookshare Customer Support team receives questions from members through many channels: telephone, email, website contact forms, Twitter, Facebook, Discussion Forum, and at conferences. Certain questions come up repeatedly, so here is an initial attempt to solve a few mysteries, resolve conundrums, and spread general enlightenment. Look for additional blogs covering more questions – from basic to advanced — down the road.
Bookshare Customer Support Team is Small, but Mighty
To give you some perspective, here are some impressive 2017 statistics about the Customer Support team that supports over 550,000 members:
- Handled 48,000 customer requests with an average response time of 1.5 business hours
- Processed 15,000 membership registration forms
- Responded to 700 inquiries on the Bookshare Discussion Forum
- Provided additional support to Bookshare International team, four state library partners, Bookshare Outreach Coordinators in Texas, and institutional partners in the U.K., Canada, and India
Common Questions from Members
Where do I find text-to-speech voices that sound the most human?
Ultimately, members’ personal preferences determine voice selection; however, Bookshare highly
recommends Voice Dream Reader and Dolphin Easy Reader applications (available for iOS and Android) that include options to purchase a wide range of high quality, computer-generated voices. We encourage members to browse the voices to find the best one for them.
Can students download books independently or do teachers have to assign every book?
Bookshare has two levels of student memberships: a Student Access membership and a full Individual Membership. Both accounts allow students to log into Bookshare and access books independently. Students with Student Access accounts can only access books a teacher has assigned through Reading Lists. However, if students upgrade to the full Individual Membership, they can download books without needing a teacher to assign them.
Why can’t I use Bookshare Web Reader with Internet Explorer?
You can use Internet Explorer (IE) to open books with Bookshare’s free Web Reader, and many members use IE and screen readers to provide audio. However, IE doesn’t support integrated text-to-speech, so for members who want to use Web Reader’s built-in text-to-speech capability, they have to use Chrome or Safari browsers.
Why isn’t Bookshare Web Reader reading?
As mentioned previously, audio for the Web Reader only functions in the Google Chrome or Safari
browsers on PCs or Macs and is not supported on mobile devices. If you are using Web Reader on Chrome, and pressing the Play button turns it orange, but provides no audio, it’s likely your browser has an extension installed that is causing a conflict. Go to chrome://extensions and temporarily disable all extensions and try again. Assuming this works, re-enable the extensions one by one until the culprit has been identified. For more information view our Web Reader TTS troubleshooting help article.
What do I do if I can’t find a book I need?
First, if you are searching by ISBN, try using variations of the author or title. It’s common for the same book to have multiple ISBNs associated with it, and while we are working on making our search function smarter in these situations, we still have a bit of work to do. If you still cannot find it, submit a book request and we will add the book to Bookshare.
Many thanks to Rasa, Jerri, Angela, Allison, and Jessy for their dedication and exceptional service. Bookshare members say it best: “Every time I contact Bookshare, the staff has always been helpful. You are doing a great job.”
Subscribe to the Bookshare blog by entering your email address in the upper right corner. You will receive email notifications when blogs are published, typically 2-3 per month, and we do not share this list with anyone.
New Year’s resolutions – we love them, hate them, make them, and break them. Whatever self-help approach works for you, Bookshare has a special reading list of books for teens and adults to help define and prioritize the year ahead. Whether you want to accelerate or change your career path, get your personal finances in order, communicate more effectively, overcome the clutter in your house, adopt a healthier lifestyle, or break free from stress and anxiety, we’ve got some life-affirming resources to help you along the way. Here is a taste of some of the books on the New Year, New You list:
Stretch: How to Future-Proof Yourself for Tomorrow’s Workplace by Karie Willyerd and Barbara Mistick
Naturally Nourished by Sarah Britton
Personal Finance in Your 20s and 30s for Dummies by Eric Tyson, MBA
If one of your resolutions is to encourage a child in your life to read more, we suggest checking out the books on this list: Jane Addams Children’s Book Award winners. A lifelong pacifist, Jane founded Hull House in 1889 and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, the first American woman to do so. The award honors her life’s work by celebrating books that promote peace and social equality.
Here are a few gems to entice middle school readers:
We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman – Hans Scholl and his sister Sophie formed the White Rose, a campaign of active resistance to Hitler and the Nazis. Their belief in freedom will inspire readers to stand up for what they believe in.
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk – A young girl in Pennsylvania in 1943 finds the courage and compassion to stand as a lone voice of justice against bullying.
And some intriguing titles for younger readers:
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson – Maya is different and rejected by her classmates. This book is about what it means to be a friend and how even small acts of kindness can make the world better.
Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeannette Winter — After her parents are taken away by the Taliban, young Nasreen stops speaking. But as she spends time in a secret school, she slowly breaks out of her shell.
Here’s to a 2018 filled with rewarding reading using eyes, ears or fingers and whatever device and reading app works for you.
Now that we’ve turned the corner into 2018, the Bookshare team is excited to hit the road and participate in two upcoming conferences. If you plan to attend, be sure to find us and network, learn, and share.
Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC)
January 23-26 in Orlando
FETC brings together education leaders and technology experts to exchange techniques and strategies for teaching and learning success. FETC provides educators and administrators the opportunity to explore the integration of technology across the curriculum — from pre-K through 12 — through hands-on exposure to the latest hardware, software and successful strategies.
Special offer: Save an extra 10% on attendance or get a free expo-only pass. Visit us in booth #1055 to learn how Bookshare can help students with reading challenges.
Presentation by Benetech staff on January 26:
Buy and Build Accessible: How to Choose and Create Digital Resources for All Learners by Christine Jones, Senior Education Program Manager (8:00-10:00 am in Bayhill 17)
Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference (ATIA)
January 31-February 3 in Orlando
ATIA is the premier organization for manufacturers, sellers and providers of assistive technology (AT)—products, equipment and systems that enhance learning, working and daily living for persons with disabilities. It is the collective voice of the assistive technology industry to help ensure that the best products and services are delivered to persons with disabilities.
Exhibit Hall: Visit us in booth #301 to meet the Bookshare team and watch free demos of Bookshare-compatible reading tools for iOS, Android, Chromebooks, and computers. View the demo schedule to get the exact details.
Presentations by Benetech staff on February 1:
- Cool Tools for People Who Need to Read Differently by Lisa Wadors Verne, Program Manager, Education, Research and Partnerships (2:20-3:20 pm in Caribbean VII)
- Choose and Create Materials that Work for All Learners by Christine Jones, Senior Education Program Manager (4:30-5:30 pm in Antigua 3)
We are excited to be part of the edtech and AT movements to help individuals who read differently and the educators and parents who support them. We look forward to meeting you!
Learn more about Bookshare.
As 2017 draws to a close, it’s time to look back and celebrate key milestones and accomplishments. But first, a message from a parent:
“My son loved Huckleberry Finn! It was a joy to watch him laugh as he listened and read. Amazing. He has an A in English with the support of Bookshare.”
Our goal is to make all books and print materials accessible. There was a time when people with disabilities could not find books in audio, braille, or other specialized formats they needed. Today, members have over 585,000 ebooks at the tips of their fingers through Bookshare, and they are downloading over 1.6 million titles per year! Drum roll, please, for three of this year’s most popular books:
Finding Books is Easy with Special Collections
To help members find books, Bookshare librarians create customized Reading Lists. You can find over one hundred lists in our Special Collections, including Top 100 Picture Books, Fiction for Reluctant Readers, Resources for Returning Veterans, and every literary award you can think of.
More than half a million students now use Bookshare to read books. Student members grew by 100,000 in 2017 to reach a total of 522,000 students. This number includes 136,000 students in underserved districts (districts that have 50% or more students who receive free or reduced cost school meals) like San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). In this blog, San Diego Sets the Bar High for Serving Special Education Students, Assistive Technology Specialist Corey Straily shares SDUSD’s winning formula for improving reading and writing skills of special education students.
Bookshare Salutes Teacher Heroes
Special Education Resource Teacher Diane Lurye and Itinerant Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments Deirdre Watkins share their advice on ways to help students with disabilities succeed in the classroom.
Bookshare Salutes Parent Heroes
Doctor Shares Daughter’s Discovery of Accessible Ebooks – Family physician Dr. Travis Harker learns how to recognize dyslexia symptoms and find resources to help his daughter, Paloma, enjoy reading.
Bookshare Salutes Individual Members Who Lead the Way
Veronica Lewis is a Champion of Self-Advocacy – Bookshare member Veronica Lewis successfully navigates college and life and offers valuable advice for students with low vision and other disabilities.
Decoding Dyslexia with an Ivy Leaguer – Bookshare member Brian Meersma shares his journey from his dyslexia diagnosis in third grade to his dean’s list performance at Cornell University.
Benetech Secures Award to Expand Access to Bookshare
Last, but not least, we are grateful to receive a five-year award from the Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, that brings us closer to giving everyone the opportunity to read, learn, and reach his or her full potential. Thank you to all who supported Bookshare through your advocacy outreach.
- Subscribing to the Bookshare blog using the field in the upper right corner
- Becoming a parent ambassador or mentor teacher
- Exploring volunteer opportunities
- Making a donation to make books accessible to everyone
- Following Bookshare on social media using the icons below
To all of the Bookshare members, educators, parents, volunteers, and advocates, we appreciate all you do to make accessible reading enrich the lives of people who cannot read standard print. We can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring!
Warmest wishes for a happy holiday season from all of us at Benetech.
Ho-ho-holidays can be busy and hectic, but they often provide some down time to pursue fun pastimes like reading. To help get you in the mood, we’ve created some holiday Reading Lists for children, teens and adults. We encourage you to download some of your favorites for those road trips to grandma’s house, snow days, cozy bedtime reading, or any time and place you want to jump into a good book.
‘Tis the season to enjoy the December holidays! Whether your family celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or something else, these children’s books illustrate the stories at the heart of many holiday traditions. For ages 3-12.
Welcome to the YA (Young Adult) Winter Wonderland
This winter, teens can snuggle up with these snowy, icy, frosty young adult books. The books are set during winter or in a snowy locale and feature stories about Project Scrooge, a futuristic frozen world, getting snowed in, rivals in a fantasy kingdom, survival in 1941 Ukraine, and the latest adventures of Dash & Lily.
Adults will enjoy this eclectic holiday collection of fiction and nonfiction books spanning various countries, faiths, and winter landscapes. Explore books about the true Saint Nicholas, the legend of the Krampus, Hanukkah stories, holiday recipes, snowmen, a Christmas murder mystery, and even a holiday version of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
With the Reading List feature, members and sponsors can create custom lists of titles and organize them by class, student, topic, or interest. Teachers can subscribe to existing lists, such as these newly created holiday lists, and assign them to students so they can download titles independently. Go to the Bookshare Help Center to learn more about how to subscribe, share, create, and assign Reading Lists.
So, make your book list, check it twice, and dive into some inspiring holiday reading.
Bookshare promotes diversity in teen reading through books that feature people of color
By Amreen Ahmed, Bookshare Operations Associate
Diversity in Young Adult (YA) literature has become increasingly important to today’s teens. Bookshare members are a diverse group, so it’s important that the books in the collection reflect that diversity. Bookshare’s Special Collections have seen several new additions the past few months, making it easier than ever to find Reading Lists that match everyone’s interests. One particular list – Latest YA Reads with POC Leads — focuses on Young Adult novels that feature people of color (POC) as the main characters.
This list was inspired by a literacy app called We Read Too created by Kaya Thomas, a software engineer and computer science graduate from Dartmouth College. “I wanted diverse literature to be easier to find and more accessible. Growing up, I saw an immense lack of representation in literature for kids of color,” says Kaya on her website.
We Read Too showcases over 600 children’s and Young Adult fiction books written by authors of color for people of color and allows educators, parents, librarians and community members to expose youth of color to books that have characters who look like them. The Bookshare Special Collection — Latest YA Reads with POC Leads — has the same goal and contains 34 books with characters of color. See some of our favorite picks below.
On the Digital Bookshelf
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson – a powerful story about a girl striving for success in a world that too often seems like it’s trying to break her.
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco – Twelve-year-old Tea accidentally raises her brother from the dead and learns that she is a bone witch. She must learn to control her magic so it does not destroy her.
The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley – Alex, Jin and Elvin solve a mystery set in Harlem involving missing paintings, an assault, crooked land deals, and the fate of Harlem’s legacy.
The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana – a fantasy steeped in Indian folklore about a rogue princess, a freed oracle, and a library with the power to change their fate.
We encourage you to explore these diverse literary treasures and share them with a young reader today!
View entire collection: Latest YA Reads with POC Leads
Learn more about Bookshare’s Special Collections
District has 700 Bookshare sponsors, over 1,800 student members, and has downloaded 10K+ books
San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), the second largest in California, has a winning formula when it comes to serving students in special education. Their approach has evolved over the years as technology and digital educational resources have also evolved. Corey Straily, an Assistive Technology (AT) Specialist, recently shared the secrets to SDUSD’s success.
The SDUSD Landscape
First, some quick facts: SDUSD has 131,252 students in 226 educational facilities, 26% are English learners, 59% are eligible for free or reduced meals, and 11%, or 14,787 students, are in special education. The majority have learning disabilities with a smaller percentage of students with physical disabilities and visual impairments.
Schools are grouped into six clusters with AT specialists assigned to each cluster. The AT department provides on-site training for special education resource teachers, speech-language pathologists, and para-educators. “For any student who has difficulty with reading and writing, the first thing we do is set them up with Read&Write for Google Chrome™ and Bookshare,” says Corey. “This is our go-to starter kit.”
Widespread Bookshare Implementation is Result of Perfect Storm
According to Corey, district-wide adoption really gained traction when four phenomena converged starting in 2008:
- Bookshare memberships became free for qualified U.S. students through an award from the Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). This award was just renewed for another five years.
- SDUSD implemented a district-wide tech plan that included Google Chromebooks.
- Bookshare launched a free, easy-to-use reading tool called Bookshare Web Reader, as well as features like Reading Lists that made it easier to find, save, and assign books to students.
- Students’ access to electronic devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops) increased.
“Thanks to improvements by the Bookshare software engineering team, students are able to find and read books more easily. The more intuitive the technology becomes, the easier it is to use, and the greater the adoption rate,” says Corey.
Teacher Training: Keep it Simple!
Corey and the AT staff conduct numerous training sessions. He stresses the importance of a “less is more” approach that trains teachers how to complete four basic steps to get started in Bookshare:
- Add teachers to the SDUSD organizational account as sponsors.
- Add student members and set up logins.
- Assign four reading lists to students based on grade level:
- Literature required reading
- Common core books
- Leisure reading
- Select a book on a Reading List and open it in Bookshare Web Reader on a Chromebook.
Once the teachers have mastered the basics, they can request additional training on other devices like iPads or smartphones as well as reading apps including Go Read (Android), Dolphin Easy Reader, and Voice Dream Reader.
Three Helpful Tips
- Stress the benefits of AT and Bookshare – “Features like text-to-speech narration with word highlighting help students with learning disabilities decode words and focus on comprehension. The technology is just an enabler,” says Corey.
- Start them early – get elementary students fully engaged with technology and fun books so those habits carry over to later grades. “Interestingly, high school students tend to be reluctant to try new technology, so it’s critical to get them up and running by the time they enter middle school,” suggests Corey.
- Make reading fun – encourage teachers to assign age-appropriate Reading Lists of popular books to their students. Students with learning disabilities want to read the same books that their friends are reading, like Captain Underpants and Goosebumps.
On the Digital Bookshelf
Fiction for Reluctant Readers – Sixty high interest, low vocabulary books that will entice even the most book averse. Ideal for elementary and middle grade readers.
Benetech would like to thank Corey and the AT department at SDUSD for supporting educators, suggesting new features for Bookshare, and bringing books to so many students to enable a positive learning environment.
To learn more about special collections and other district best practices, check out these blogs:
Benetech Secures U.S. Department of Education Award to Expand Access to Bookshare for Students with Disabilities
Benetech extends reach to make education more inclusive
Benetech, the parent company of Bookshare, is pleased to announce that it has received a five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, to expand and improve access to books for students who read differently due to blindness, low vision, a physical disability, or dyslexia. Bookshare, the largest online library of accessible books, will remain free for all U.S. school districts, schools, educators, and their qualified students.
“Access to knowledge through reading is a basic human right and a critical step on the path to economic, educational, and social development,” said Brad Turner, VP of Global Literacy, Benetech. “Many students struggle in school and in life because they read differently. Benetech is proud to work with these students, their parents, and their educators to make reading not only possible but also fun and enjoyable with personalized reading experiences.”
What this means:
- Free Bookshare memberships are available for all qualified students at public schools, community colleges and universities, charter schools, and homeschools.
- The library will expand to over 800,000 books with a goal of delivering four million book downloads.
- Bookshare will continue to support an ever-increasing number of reading tools, apps, and devices.
- Expert training and customer support will continue to be available.
- Benetech will work directly with publishers to ensure accessibility features are included in production and are present in over 50 percent of educational books by 2022.
Bookshare has already delivered over 11 million books to students and is used in schools and districts across the United States, ranging from the largest urban districts such as Los Angeles Unified School District and New York Public Schools, to small, rural districts in all 50 states. This award brings Benetech closer to giving everyone the opportunity to read, learn, and reach his or her full potential.
Benetech would like to thank all members of the Bookshare community for continued support. Every member we add, every download – each one is another book read by someone who couldn’t otherwise read. Every single person should have the opportunity to read. That’s why we do what we do.
To learn more about how Bookshare can help students who read differently, visit www.bookshare.org
This project is supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Award Number H327D170002). Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the U.S. Department of Education.
Bookshare member Brian Meersma shares his journey to Cornell University
That Was Then: Dyslexia Diagnosis in Third Grade
When we first met New Jersey native Brian Meersma, reading was a struggle. He was diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade, and because his reading skills were lower than his peers, his school recommended that he be removed from the regular classroom and placed in a special class. Brian had to rely on his parents and others to read to him. As a result, he never enjoyed books.
“When your child is struggling to read, and so much of what they come in contact with on a day-to-day basis is reading, it can be very discouraging. It sets them apart, and it can lead to isolation and diminished self-esteem when they can’t read,” says Kathy Stratton, Brian’s mother.
Once Brian discovered Bookshare and assistive technology, however, he began to take control over his own learning. He downloaded ebooks onto an iPad that offered text highlighting and audio narration. It gave him a great sense of independence and accomplishment.
“One of the great things about Bookshare is I can hear and see the words that are being read, so instead of putting all my energy into decoding the words, I can use my energy to understand the content,” says Brian.
This is Now: Cornell University, Microsoft, and Beyond
Brian exceled in high school and is currently a senior at Cornell University where he is majoring in Industrial and Labor Relations. Says Brian, “I find it is much easier to blend into the college classroom while using assistive technology on my iPhone or iPad. It’s so common, and almost all students use some kind of technology, so I can use my devices and not draw attention to myself or my disability.”
Brian has many other achievements to his credit. In 2015, he was honored as a White House Champion of Change for Disability Advocacy Across Generations. The White House honors “individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.”
During the summers of 2016 and 2017, he was a program manager intern at Microsoft. This fall he is serving as a legal intern for the U.S. Department of Justice. All of us at Benetech congratulate Brian on his many accomplishments and are pleased to share this new video about his extraordinary journey.
Are you interested in learning more about how Bookshare helps individuals with dyslexia? Check out these articles:
It was just about a year ago that the Benetech team celebrated 10 million books delivered through our Bookshare library. Shortly thereafter, we celebrated another amazing milestone: access to 500,000 books for Bookshare members.
Those milestones speak to Benetech’s ability to use software to tackle social issues—in Bookshare’s case, access to books and information for people with disabilities—and to deliver impact at scale. But those numbers are just part of the Bookshare story. Here are a handful of additional stats to give you a more complete picture of Bookshare’s scale, impact, and reach. (Don’t forget, Bookshare is free for all qualified U.S.-based students and schools.)
|Bookshare has delivered over 11,000,000 books to people with disabilities, transforming how they read and helping them succeed. Whether you read with your eyes, ears, or fingers, Bookshare delivers books that work for you.|
|There are 574,000 books and counting in the Bookshare library, including fiction, nonfiction, educational texts, career guides, and much more. Books come from our publishing partners, our scanning volunteers, and from our own scanning operation.|
|Bookshare serves 500,000+ people who read differently. Members come from all corners of the world and speak many different languages.|
|25,000 is the the number of schools and school districts in the United States that use Bookshare to better serve their students. The schools and districts range from large, urban districts—such as New York City Department of Education and Los Angeles Unified School District—to small, rural districts in all 50 states.|
|Over 850 publishers share our vision for a Born Accessible future. That’s why they send us their files to add to the Bookshare library at the same time they send them to Amazon. If you want to read a book the day it’s released, chances are we’ll have it!|
|Large school districts love Bookshare. That’s why 99 out of the largest 100 districts in the United States use Bookshare.|
|There are Bookshare members in a whopping 80 countries. The United States, United Kingdom, Canada and India already operate Bookshare at scale. We’ll make our services available wherever we’re needed. Your country could be next!|
|The Bookshare library has books in 35 different languages. English and Spanish lead the way, but members can also access books in languages including Hindi and Arabic (just to name a couple). Check out the Bookshare library to see what books are available in your preferred reading language.|
|Benetech partners with 21 libraries to bring Bookshare to community members. Those libraries are in the United States—California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York—and across the globe: Canada, Belgium, Norway, New Zealand, and more. Encourage your local library to sign up!|
|Every member we add, every download – each one is another book read by someone who couldn’t otherwise read. Every single person should have the opportunity to read. That’s why we do what we do.|
Do you know someone who cannot read traditional print books because of a visual impairment, physical disability or severe learning disability? Bookshare can help! Learn how to become a member today.