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.
Welcome to the third blog in our Back to School with Bookshare series that helps teachers get a strong start to the school year. In this blog, we take you on a tour of Bookshare’s bountiful Special Collections, recognize an award-winning author, and share a few literary gems that students are reading.
Special Collections are a Huge Hit
Are you looking for books for your students? Bookshare librarians have created over 110 (and growing) lists of specially curated books that will engage your students and keep them reading. Teachers love this feature and have already assigned lists to over 5,000 students!
Access Special Collections by selecting Browse on any Bookshare webpage. Then select a list and select the subscribe icon next to the list name. The list will appear in My Reading Lists and will be updated automatically as new books are added. You can then assign lists to students so they can read on their own. For detailed instructions, view our how-to guide.
- Back to School Read Alouds – classics and favorites (grades K-3)
- Teacher Recommended Reading – 49 titles (grades 3-5)
- Fiction for Young Reluctant Readers – high interest, low vocabulary books (grades 3-8)
- ‘I Survived’ – historical events brought to life through fictional first-person accounts (grades 3-6)
- 39 Clues Books 1-11 by Rick Riordan – Amy and Dan find clues to unlock the Cahill Family secrets (grades 4-8)
- Battle of the Books – reading incentive program used by many school districts (grades 4-12)
- American Library Association Award Winners – Young Adult
Special Collections for teachers who work with K-12 students who have IEPs:
- Journeys Common Core K-6 : Journeys English Language Arts program provided by the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center (NIMAC). These textbooks are available to U.S. students with an IEP (Individualized Education Program) per the IDEA 2004 legislation.
- Common Core Algebra (NIMAC): for students with IEPs in grades 7-12
Featured Author: Katherine Paterson
“Reading can be a road to freedom or a key to a secret garden, which, if tended, will transform all of life.” So says Katherine Paterson, author of over 35 books, two-time Newbery Medal winner for Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, and the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Bookshare has all of her books in a Special Collection for students to explore and enjoy.
Here are some noteworthy books that may pique students’ interest:
- Promoting diversity and empathy: Refugee by Alan Gratz (grades 4-8)
- On BuzzFeed’s “Best YA Books of 2016” list: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
- Emmy award winner: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Note: In case you missed them, Back to School with Bookshare Part 1 featured tips from Special Education Resource Teacher Diane Lurye, and Part 2 featured advice from Deirdre Watkins, teacher of the visually impaired.
Equal access means equal opportunity for students with disabilities
Welcome to the second blog in our Back to School with Bookshare series. These blogs help teachers get a strong start to the school year so they can help their students be successful. The first blog featured Special Education Resource Teacher Diane Lurye and the ways she uses Bookshare to encourage reading independence.
“Technology is the equalizer for students with disabilities,” says Deirdre Watkins, an Itinerant Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments in the Dekalb County School District in Georgia. She serves sixteen students in pre-K through 12th grade across six schools who have visual impairments ranging from low vision to blindness, in addition to other disabilities.
Deirdre explains how critical it is for her students to get the books they need at the beginning of the school year so they don’t fall behind. She looks for ebooks, large print, and braille books from a variety of sources. “Bookshare is always my number one go-to resource since it has such a wide variety of books. Plus, it’s free for students with disabilities who qualify,” she says.
“With Bookshare, my students gain access to their textbooks and reading assignments at the same time as their sighted peers. They can use universal learning tools like smartphones, tablets, and computers to access books just like their classmates, which eliminates the stigma of being different. The accessible formats level the playing field and give them the same advantages. Equal access means equal opportunities.”
Deirdre emphasizes how much her students want to learn and succeed. “Not having access to books
chips away at their self-esteem and ability to learn,” she says. Her students don’t want to sit in the classroom doing a different assignment while everyone else is reading a book they don’t have. Fortunately, Bookshare’s collection of over half a million books is an antidote to that problem.
Read it your way
Deirdre’s students read and listen to digital books primarily on smartphones and tablets because they are portable, lightweight, and easy to access. Others use Braille Notetakers, Victor Reader Stream, or Book Port Plus, a handheld media player for talking books. When it comes to reading tools, a favorite is the Voice Dream Reader app for iOS and Android devices that comes with 36 different text-to-speech (TTS) voices. JAWS, a popular screen reader, uses the Eloquence voice synthesizer. “There are so many options available,” says Deirdre, “and my students always find a voice they like.”
Deirdre’s tips to start the school year off right
One of her students, Sydney, just graduated and is attending the Savannah College of Art and Design this fall. She has low vision and prefers to use accessibility features such as font size and contrast adjustments as well as text highlighting. Says Deirdre, “with so many features and choices available, students can customize their reading experience to access the same information, but in different ways.”
- Find out students’ schedules, required textbooks, and reading lists as early as possible – the previous spring if necessary — so you can get books in the formats they need by the first week of school
- Meet with students’ teachers to learn the supplemental reading assignments (e.g., novels) and peruse Bookshare and other libraries to get these books. If a teacher changes the reading list midstream, Deirdre can get books immediately from Bookshare.
- If Bookshare doesn’t have a book, request it.
On the Digital Bookshelf
Here are three of Sydney’s favorite books:
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin
More back-to-school help for teachers
- Check out the Bookshare quick start guide with three steps to get your students reading right away.
- Register for the Bookshare Back-to-School Webinar on September 14 at 2:00 pm PT.
Thank you to Deirdre Watkins for her willingness to share her experience and advice with the Bookshare community.
Special education teacher shares four steps to reading independence
Welcome to the first blog in our Back to School with Bookshare series. Over the next two months, we will publish a series of blogs specifically designed to help teachers, students, and parents get a fresh start to the school year. The blogs will feature tips from the teaching trenches, advice on classroom collaboration, and insights on achieving reading independence through assistive technology.
Diane Lurye is a Special Education Resource Teacher at Bells Mill Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland. She serves an average of 23 students in K-5 with a range of educational disabilities, including specific learning disabilities and speech and language impairments. “My job is to provide instruction and support for students with disabilities so they progress academically and socially and access the general education curriculum,” says Diane. She is a big advocate of collaboration so she can leverage the school’s resources to meet her students’ needs. With that in mind, Diane shares four steps she takes to prepare for the school year and increase her students’ reading independence:
1-Take Advantage of District Resources
At the top of her list is HIAT — High Incidence Accessible Technology — a collaborative team in her district that applies the principles of universal design for learning to support school teams to meet the needs of all students. They provide training and consultation to build the capacity of classroom environments to incorporate technology options. It was through one of their professional development courses that Diane learned about Bookshare in 2008. “They are an incredible resource, and I feel so fortunate to have their support for my students,” says Diane.
One of the most successful ways that Diane has used Bookshare is to support fourth and fifth graders in Literature Circles in their general education classrooms. Students select a novel to read and then participate in a group discussion. “By using Bookshare’s text-to-speech (TTS) capability, my students are able to read a book above their reading level and keep up with the demand of reading several chapters within a given time period. They are prepared to discuss the book with their peers and share their understanding and insights. It raises their self-esteem and encourages them to seek out more books and become more proficient readers,” says Diane.
3-Prepare Reading Lists Before School Starts
Diane takes every opportunity to tell the school staff about Bookshare and explain how important it is for students with disabilities to have digital, accessible versions of their books. Diane requests lists of required reading and other curriculum materials from classroom teachers well before school starts. This gives her a chance to prepare Reading Lists in Bookshare that the students can access with their Bookshare Student Logins. “Many students have difficulty with foundational reading skills such as decoding, fluency, and comprehension, and Bookshare gives them access to rich literature and digital text that makes them more independent at school and at home,” says Diane.
Students in Montgomery County Public Schools have Chromebooks available to them for most of the school day which has improved their access to digital text. Diane teaches her new students how to log in to Bookshare, search for and download books, and read using Bookshare Web Reader.
Students have benefitted from using ebooks with TTS. In addition to getting books much faster, they can control the voices, adjust speeds, and follow along with the text. “The pronunciation is not perfect, but when students catch an occasional mispronunciation it shows that they are paying attention and learning,” says Diane.
Parents have shared that having Bookshare at home has helped their students with reading, and they are more willing to engage in reading and discuss the books. Another example of independence through collaboration.
On the Digital Bookshelf
Here are several novels that Diane’s students enjoyed reading during Literature Circles:
- The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts
- Rules by Cynthia Lord
- There’s an Owl in the Shower by Jean Craighead George
- Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Find out if your students qualify for free Bookshare memberships and start downloading books today.
Thank you to Diane Lurye for sharing her experience and advice with the Bookshare community.