2016 National Education Technology Plan Resonates with Benetech Priorities of Equity and Accessibility
Benetech is a nonprofit company leveraging Silicon Valley technology and process to create and scale solutions for pressing social issues. Two Benetech initiatives, the DIAGRAM Center and Born Accessible, are cited in The 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) released by the Office of Educational Technology of the U.S. Department of Education. The report recommends that “education stakeholders should develop a born accessible standard of learning resource design to help educators select and evaluate learning resources for accessibility and equity of learning experience.”
More significantly, though, all of Benetech’s work closely aligns with these two key themes of the report: equity and accessibility. The NETP “sets a national vision and plan for learning enabled by technology” and is intended to help education leaders “create a shared vision for how technology can best meet the needs of all learners and to develop a plan that translates the vision into action.”
Benetech’s work focuses on the intersection of two inequities referenced in the NETP: an accessibility divide and the Digital Use Divide. In the report, accessibility “refers to the design of apps, devices, materials, and environments that support and enable access to content and educational activities for all learners,” specifically learners with disabilities, language deficits, varied learning styles, etc. As many of us are painfully aware, most learning materials are not created with “all learners” in mind, and the result is an accessibility divide.
The Digital Use Divide refers to the manner in which technology is being applied in learning environments. According to the NETP, students who are simply reading information on devices are only passively using technology. When applied to its fullest potential, technology can engage students in active learning, as shown in the illustration below.
Benetech has been beating the accessibility drum for nearly fifteen years. It could be said that one of Benetech’s first and most popular products, Bookshare, the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks, gives people with print disabilities the opportunity to participate even in passive learning. Benetech launched Bookshare in 2002, and today over 400,000 members can access a collection of more than 395,000 titles in ways that work for them. Many members also engage in active learning when they use one of several commercially-available reading tools that support further exploration and note taking.
Several years ago, as digital materials began to take on a more prominent role in learning environments, and given their great potential to transform passive learners into active ones, Benetech recognized the need to take its accessibility message to publishers who were creating digital content. Benetech’s drumbeat then became: if materials are “born digital,” they can be “born accessible.”
Last year alone, Benetech reached out to 70 publishers and vendors in the publishing supply chain to encourage them to adopt features and tools that would result in more accessible ebooks published in 2016. Our team offered these companies several tools to build accessibility into their products from the start. Benetech is now working closely with a number of them that have taken on this challenge. Highlights to date include:
- Benetech conducted an accessibility assessment of a top-selling EPUB 3 file for HarperCollins, which resulted in their implementing new accessibility practices.
- Pearson began to include the Poet Training Module and the Accessible Image Sample Book in their staff training programs.
- Several publishers, including O’Reilly Media and Hawkes Learning, have incorporated MathML Cloud into their workflows.
- A leading conversion vendor, Amnet, incorporated several accessibility tools into their workflow.
- John Wiley & Sons, the global publishing house that specializes in academic publishing, made the commitment to include alternative text (alt text) in nearly all of their frontlist books.
Aware of the need to create market demand for “born accessible” learning materials, Benetech launched its “Buy Accessible” initiative, which helps instructional materials purchasers identify and request ebooks that will provide an equal experience to students with print disabilities.
The focus of a separate but related Benetech initiative, 3D Printing for Education, was to identify new ways in which 3D printing technology can be used to improve learning and accessibility, particularly in STEM disciplines. 3D printed models and other tactile graphics can make complex ideas easier to comprehend — and not just for people with disabilities. One of the important outcomes of this project is the 3D Printing for Education Quick Start Guide.
Benetech will continue to beat the accessibility drum to help ensure that people with disabilities benefit equally from technology-rich, engaging learning environments. We are thrilled that the accessibility “drum circle” is widening to include many policy makers, governmental agencies (such as the Office of Educational Technology) and for-profit companies as well as nonprofits and advocacy groups. Our message to all who embrace the recommendations of the NETP? Pick up your drumstick and play along!
Christine K. Jones is a Senior Education Program Manager in the Global Literacy Program at Benetech and conducts outreach to professionals serving people with disabilities. She has a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.
“I’ve read more books this year than I’ve read in my lifetime,” says Stan Gloss, CEO of BioTeam, Inc.
Diagnosed with dyslexia over 50 years ago, Stan Gloss grew up with angst and worry about his reading difficulties. He recalls long hours muddling through printed books at a snail’s pace. Stan loved to learn, but his reading difficulty made comprehension and studying three times harder than for other students.
“I learned to persevere by using compensatory strategies like memorization, flash cards, rewriting notes, tape recording classes, finger tracking, and highlighting to help me through school,” he says. “Even in graduate school, I read just enough to pass my tests. That all changed when I found Bookshare. This year, I’ve read more books than I’ve read in my lifetime!”
Stan is a successful CEO and entrepreneur. He has completed his coursework toward a doctoral degree in education. He has worked in top career fields such as healthcare, education, biomedical technology, and computer science. Today, his company, BioTeam, Inc., builds supercomputing and cloud solutions to accelerate scientific discovery. “Who would have thought that my struggles in school would be the best preparation for the challenges I would face as an entrepreneur and CEO,” he says.
With Stan’s new-found love for reading and his research, he has learned that an estimated 35% of U.S. entrepreneurs are dyslexic. This statistic sparked a blazing desire for him to decode the reasons for such a high rate. Stan is now conducting in-depth research about dyslexic entrepreneurs with the goal to develop a training program for dyslexics of all ages. He credits advocates and mentors as the key to his success. “My parents were my advocates, and a childhood family doctor was my mentor,” he said. “They believed in me and nurtured my strengths. I’d like to see more kids and adults with dyslexia go from being labeled as lazy or stupid to a life of being recognized for their strengths and accomplishments.”
Last year, Stan sought the help of Dr. Erica Warren, learning specialist and fellow dyslexic. “It was through her guidance that I learned about Bookshare and Voice Dream Reader, he said. “Reading highlighted text while listening to audiobooks sped up my tracking, improved my comprehension, and enhanced my retention. I only wish I had this technology in grade school. It has opened so many new avenues of learning.”
Stan uses this three-step, sequenced approach to conduct his research:
- Capture Data – He finds information in Bookshare and reads it with Voice Dream Reader, a text-to-speech program with synchronized highlighting.
- Organize Data – He takes notes and tracks tasks using Evernote.
- Synthesize Data – He outlines his thought process using Inspiration 9, a software program for mapping information.
“Technology is finally catching up to dyslexics,” he said. “These tools are game changers for children and adults, and I am a living example that it’s never too late to try something new.”
Stan encourages people with dyslexia – young and old – to tap into resources like Bookshare so they can cultivate their inner strengths. He urges assistive technology to be readily available in schools and other learning environments. He stresses the importance of seeking mentors and learning specialists who can recommend best practices.
One of the books he recommends is The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain by Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide.
“Dyslexia is a gift that needs to be nurtured over a lifetime,” Stan says. “Each learning experience is like a Lego® block. When we build upon and leverage our strengths, we can reach new heights that we never thought were attainable at first.”
Special thanks to Stan Gloss for inspiring others, especially young entrepreneurs.
Do you know someone who could benefit from access to Bookshare’s online accessible library? Learn more.
February is the sweetest month of the year, but did you know that it is also Library Lovers Month? So today – Valentine’s Day – we are reminded of the people we love and of the things we love to do, like reading.
Across our nation and the world, in tweets, letters and posts, Bookshare members tell us about their use of the online accessible library and their love of reading digital accessible books.
Members say that 2016 will be a memorable year for reading, and we agree! Whether you want to improve your reading skills or help a student improve theirs; try new technology devices and apps or find bestsellers, check the Bookshare library first. We know you’ll find what you want to read, and if you don’t, request the book to be added to the collection. Like the photo says, “You never know who you will inspire with your story,” and we thank these Bookshare members for sharing their experiences.
Until I found Bookshare through my local library, I preferred others to read to me, but not anymore. I was so impressed by the number of books in your collection. Now, I read 30 books a month on average. I’m amazed at the formats available too. I can discuss books with my friends and tweet about them. This keeps me connected. I encourage other blind readers to give text to speech a try. You can still cry from a good book!
Sincerely, Noelia Da Rosa, member
When I discover a character that I really like, I binge read a series and am most passionate about British mysteries, like Inspector Barnaby, Inspector Frost, DCI Banks, Inspector Rutledge, Miss Marple, and Poirot and classics like Dante and Shakespeare. I enjoy historical books, and historical fiction such as “The Book Thief.” When I was young I had the fantasy of reading every book ever written. I read all of the elementary books in my school library. At three years old, I started reading Talking Books and now enjoy reading on my braille display, or listening to books. I deeply appreciate Bookshare, and all resources of this nature for giving me the lifelong treasure of reading.
Sincerely, Bill Powell, Workforce Trainer
Ordinarily, I spend ten minutes at my computer and my minimal vision deteriorates. Using your online library and mobile devices, I adjust the print size, font colors, and background contrasts and it makes reading easier. Now, I’m considering a book club with friends and pursuing continuing education courses. Bookshare has literally been eye-opening!”
Sincerely, Vashti Persaud, member
We have a young 7th grader who uses Read2Go on a daily basis. It has helped her grow her understanding of books where comprehension can sometimes be a struggle. She loves that she can tap on a word and find the definition right away. Read2Go has allowed her to read several books already this school year. Her teachers and her family are so thankful to our district for allowing her to use an iPad and to Bookshare to help her be able to read easily!
Sincerely, Sallie Spencer, Michigan teacher
I’ve always loved to read, especially when it comes to learning. You have so many books to choose from, no matter what category I’m interested in, such as sign language, learning to cook, environmental issues and living sustainably. Through Bookshare, I have found helpful books that I can use and refer back to. I haven’t been able to find them in an accessible format anywhere else.”
Sincerely, Leilani Ramos, member
“Reading accessible books enables me to join in more group discussions. I am learning to play chess too, and books from Bookshare have helped me to learn the game. I’ve also used books from the library on the police officer’s exam to help a friend study. Plus, I used a book on Multiple Sclerosis to explain my disability to our family. Using Bookshare has helped me to keep up on career advancement. “
Sincerely, Don Knapheide, retired software engineer
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Do you have a favorite title you want to share?
Please keep sharing your thoughts and excitement for a year filled with reading equality for children and adults with print disabilities. We love your letters, posts and tweets!
Aha moments and big smiles are the cues Jean Goodwin looks for in her adult students, ages eighteen to twenty, who have complex language, learning, and cognitive challenges. Goodwin holds a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis on Mild-Moderate Disabilities. She is a lead teacher in the GROW transition program at Riverview School in East Sandwich, Massachusetts. The GROW acronym stands for “Getting Ready for the Outside World.”
Structured like a college campus, this ten-month transition program enables students to live in dormitories, attend classes, and participate in an extensive internship program to learn how to function independently outside classroom walls. “In this extraordinary learning and living environment, students participate in three phases — academics, independent living, and workforce skills — that act as a bridge to build their proficiencies,” says Goodwin. They learn how to advocate for themselves, make mature choices, and take responsibility for their lives. They learn to use assistive technologies and resources such as Bookshare.”
In GROW, students gain firsthand experience in work settings to develop good habits and increased awareness of their personal strengths and interests. The curriculum includes direct instruction in academic subjects, but also provides students with authentic work and life skills such as how to be an informed passenger in a car with the goal of becoming a good driver, and how to work in food service occupations. “That’s where Bookshare comes in for our students who qualify for the accessible library,” says Goodwin.
In 2015, she completed her graduate ILP (independent learning project or thesis) by researching the importance of adaptive technologies for students with print and learning disabilities. “Accessible technologies enable students to experience multi-modal reading,” she says. “This simultaneous process proves to be a linchpin to motivate students to repeat the reading process out of need or interest.”
Students’ Reading Preferences and Successes
One young man, reading at a second grade level, wanted to read a particular book his brother was reading. He carried the book under his arm everywhere he went, but was unable to grasp the text. Goodwin signed him up for a Bookshare membership that is free to all U. S. students with a qualifying print disability. She helped him search for the book by its ISBN number, brought it up on screen, put headphones on, and taught him to adjust the speed.
Goodwin said, “As soon as the book began to play, he paused it, and with a smile so large it would light up a room said, ‘I know these words.’ That experience changed his vision of himself. Now he reads continually and is thrilled to talk to his family about books. Before accessible books, he never fully comprehended what he read. His fluency and vocabulary skills have improved. Adapted technologies are a proven motivator to help young adults read well and often.”
One young woman didn’t want to give up the printed book, but would often stumble over vocabulary words that made it difficult for her to stay interested in the story. “With audiobooks, she listens to a paragraph read aloud multiple times, and this feature helps her follow along in the printed book,” adds Goodwin.
Project Forward School-to-Work Program
Some students at the Riverview School also participate in the Project Forward school-to-work program at Cape Cod Community College. They study basic food services to pass the ServSafe certification test and prepare for actual work experiences in the Riverview Café, a restaurant that provides job training opportunities for students in the GROW program.
For this program, instead of scanning the textbook herself, Goodwin wrote to the publisher to request that the digital accessible file be added to Bookshare. “The key was getting the same edition and it worked beautifully,” she says. “With digital files, students can read what their peers are reading. They don’t look different in class. This is important to them. One student was elated that he could study along with his professor and learn the material. This curbed his test-taking anxiety and he aced the test. His mother was thrilled!”
Ken Merrill, assistive technology infusion instructor, confirms Goodwin’s assessment of the benefits of accessible books and adaptive technologies. Merrill and Goodwin routinely connect with parents to help them understand how students with qualified print disabilities log into the Bookshare library and download books using technologies like the iPad or compatible computer software.
Every student graduates with a career portfolio and a copy of their proof of disability form as verification of their membership into Bookshare. Parents are encouraged to assist their young adult child to continue to use their Bookshare individual membership so they will be productive after they graduate. Reading can continue to be a part of their everyday lives,” says Goodwin. “Bookshare levels the playing field in school and keeps students reading.”
In the Driver’s Seat
Riverview School also has a driver’s education program called In the Driver’s Seat. Over the past two years, eighty students with qualifying memberships to Bookshare have studied driver’s education. While taking this preparatory class, they are encouraged to access the driver’s manual (for their individual states) in the Bookshare library to learn the rules of the road.
Merrill says, “Because the materials for the driver’s permit and the food service exams are in Bookshare, it helps students navigate two important rites of passage: becoming drivers and becoming employed. Through GROW and our school-to-work programs, they have a real chance of finding their place in the world through authentic work experiences, and the access to digital text promotes lifelong learning.
Do you know any students like these who could benefit from access to Bookshare’s online accessible library? Learn more.
“It is no longer difficult to find accessible books, and I will use Bookshare for a lifetime,” says Emeline Lakrout.
“Just a few years ago, it was difficult to find accessible books,” says Emeline Lakrout, who has degenerative low vision. “I appreciate that my parents sought reading solutions for me starting at a young age. I have always been able to enjoy reading because of their efforts.”
Now, at age seventeen, Emeline takes honors classes at Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio, Texas. She is an avid reader and technology user. She is interested in all kinds of books and genres, from classics like The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, to historic accounts of the Cold War era like Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, by Eric Schlosser.
In high school, Emeline taps into the Bookshare online accessible library for textbooks, novels, academic research, and test preparation manuals for the SAT, PSAT, ACT, and AP exams. Bookshare is free for all U.S. students with a qualifying print disability. She reads quickly and credits many of her teachers for providing required reading assignments at the beginning of each school semester, especially for her English classes. “This advance notice helps me stay on track with my studies and classmates,” she says.
Emeline uses an iPad with Bookshare’s Read2Go app and a Lenovo tablet with Bookshare’s Go Read – a free, open source Android app that was recently updated with improved layout and font size control, better navigation, access to periodicals and books with images, and more. Both of these technologies include accessibility features that enable her to enlarge the font size or follow along as highlighted words are read aloud. She can change the speed of a voice or place a bookmark on the last page she has read. “These features provide extra support for me,” says Emeline. “I get all my accessible books from Bookshare and plan to use it for a lifetime.”
Now preparing college applications, Emeline intends to study social sciences and likes to explore the online library for titles about careers, business, leadership, politics, and pleasure reading. “Bookshare is really convenient. It has a category of popular books and recommended bestsellers. It is fun to scan through these titles and download a few books for safekeeping. I also read periodicals when I can, like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. It’s like having a reading “backpack” on the go! You don’t need another library resource – just an Individual Membership – and you’ll have all the titles you will want to read.”
Note to Texas educators:
Did you know that you can get free Bookshare training in your school? The Accessible Books for Texas initiative is an on-the-ground and local training program to provide Texas public K-12 educators, parents, and students training, information, and accessible educational resources through Bookshare. This project is funded by the Texas Education Agency.
ATIA – February 2-5, 2016 – Orlando, FL
Attendees of this year’s Assistive Technology Industry Association conference will learn about the latest trends, tools, and best practices in the field of assistive technology that can improve the lives of people with special needs.
To learn more about Bookshare and how you can help students with print disabilities get accessible books and educational materials, we invite you to attend our presentations and training events.
Bookshare Training at ATIA on Friday, February 5th
Register now to reserve your spot in one of the FREE 30-minute Bookshare training sessions throughout the day. There is a session for every user whether you are at a beginning, intermediate, or advanced level. All 30-minute sessions are held in the Boca V room.
Bookshare for Beginners – 8:00 am & 10:15 am
Learn how Bookshare helps students who face barriers to printed text because of visual impairments and physical and learning disabilities to embrace reading.
Make 2016 the Year of Fast, Easy, Independent Reading – 8:45 am & 11:00 am
Discover how quickly and easily your students with print disabilities can read thanks to Bookshare’s latest feature. Previously offered only to Individual Members, Bookshare Web Reader is now available to students on an organizational account and is the easiest way for members to read books independently at school and home. Using their own teacher-supplied logins, students simply find their book and select “Read Now” to read instantly in a browser.
Encourage Anywhere, Anytime Reading with Mobile Tools – 9:30 am & 11:45 am
For many students, using tablets, phones, and other devices is now second nature, and students with print disabilities are no exception. Capitalize on this trend by connecting your students with apps that make accessible reading quick and painless. Come and see how Read2Go, Go Read, and other tools help students read and learn at school, at home, and on the go.
Additional Presentations by Bookshare staff at ATIA:
Also on February, 5th, 2016
- Enhancing Educational Opportunities for Tactile Learners through 3D Printing — 1:00 – 2:00 pm in Caribbean VII.
- Learning Together: Making All Content Available to Learners with Disabilities — 4:30 – 5:30 pm in Caribbean V.
We look forward to seeing you there!
Even as a child, Junia Howell dreamed of new policies that would increase the economic vitality of her impoverished urban neighborhood. Yet, occupations that evaluate and create policies require ample amounts of reading and writing—a challenge for Howell who is severely dyslexic. However, with the support of accessible online libraries like Bookshare, which is free to all U.S. students with qualifying print disabilities, Howell is now pursuing her passion as a Sociology PhD candidate at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
“Audiobooks have been an essential part of my academic access,” says Howell. “In primary school, I would wait by the mail in anticipation of the Library of Congress’ green boxes containing my books on cassette tape. When I got older, I used Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic (now Learning Ally) because of their larger selection.” In 2006, Howell was awarded a Marion Huber Learning Through Listening® scholarship from RFBD. She continues to be grateful. “Without them, I never would have made it this far.”
As Howell advanced in her studies, classroom materials became more difficult for her to find. She began scanning books and would stand for hours listening to one book while scanning several more. At this time, she learned about Bookshare. “I began to tap into the online accessible library for my research and for materials I use in the classes I teach,” she explains. “I’m amazed at the increasing number of titles I can download and read on my computer using Kurzweil 3000. I continue to find books I’ve wanted to read for a long time but haven’t had time to scan. Now I know what ‘normal’ readers feel like—making decisions about what to read based solely on the book and not the level of accessibility. It is a relief to know that I can access almost any title.”
Howell notes, “I love hearing about new books, especially on NPR’s Fresh Air, and knowing I can access the books on Bookshare.” She recently did this with NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman, a book she says “was not only a good read, but also helped me to better understand my dyslexia and its connection with other neurological disorders.” Other recent titles she has downloaded for her academic work include:
- The Changing Terrain of Race and Ethnicity by Maria Krysan and Amanda E. Lewis
- Great American City by Robert J. Sampson
- Statistics: The Art and Science of Learning form Data by Alan Agresti and Christine Franklin
Outside of academia, Howell remains committed to her community. She advises and conducts evaluative research for local nonprofits, teaches short courses at a community center, and mentors young girls—two of whom are dyslexic. “I am humbled by moments when the girls see me as a successful person,” she says. “Like them, I still fight the voice inside my head that says if I can’t read, I must be stupid. So I do what I can to use my story to convey to them that they can be whatever they want to be.”
Refusing to see dyslexia as a disability, Howell acknowledges that her journey to read has strengthened her capacity to think more creatively and to construct innovative solutions to address sociological problems in her field. At the same time, however, she notes that without audiobooks she could never be where she is today. “Bookshare has opened the world of books for me and for other people with dyslexia. Now I have the tools to work as a professional sociologist. I can continue my quest for knowledge beyond what I ever thought possible and use it to make a difference in the world.”
Do you know someone with a learning disability looking for inspiration? Share Junia’s story!