Bookshare member dives into the deep end of reading with accessible ebooks!
Omree Sabo, a sophomore at Redwood High School in Marin County, California, is an avid user of Bookshare; so much so that he decided to help other students and teachers at his school and in his county learn about the free, online library of accessible ebooks for U.S. students who cannot read standard print.
“Bookshare gets a big thumbs up from me,” says Omree. “I don’t know where my grades would be if my parents had not found Bookshare and signed me up for an Individual Membership.”
In second grade, Omree recalls being pulled out of class to be tested by a reading specialist. “I felt ashamed when my elementary teachers asked me to read aloud and I couldn’t,” he says. “In school, most teachers, including some in special education, did not know about a Bookshare Organizational Membership for schools. They did not realize that the resource is free and could give kids, like me, access to digital textbooks and reading assignments in digital formats like the one I just read for English: Romeo and Juliet.”
During his freshman year, Omree worked on a school project to learn about assistive technologies and how they support students with learning disabilities. He contacted Bookshare to ask for literature to share with his peers and school administrators in his district.
“I found that most students with reading and writing disabilities who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) did not know about or use Bookshare,” he said. “As a result, most were not considering college. I completely understood how they felt, but this was not acceptable. How are kids with dyslexia supposed to read textbooks without audio assistance? Some statistics say that less than ten percent of students with reading disabilities finish college because they cannot handle the high-level reading material. Bookshare helped me to recognize that I am a very good student. I was always good at math and science, and now I like to read.”
For required reading at school, Omree has read The Secret Life of Bees, works by William Shakespeare, and The Alchemyst from Bookshare. He intends to look for test preparation materials in Bookshare so that he can study for the SAT and ACT prior to attending college where he plans to study computer programming or science.
He reads ebooks on his iPad with apps like Read2Go and Voice Dream Reader, and also on his laptop using Bookshare Web Reader directly from an internet browser. Students can read Bookshare books on a wide variety of software apps, tablets, smartphones, and assistive technology devices.
“Listening to ebooks read aloud through text-to-speech while seeing the words highlighted helped me recognize how much I can learn while reading,” he said. “I also like to set my own reading preferences so I can look up words in the dictionary and take notes to study for exams.”
When he’s not involved in a school project, Omree loves to play guitar and swim. He idolizes Michael Phelps, the Olympic gold medal swimmer. When out of the pool, he reads popular teen series like Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter and likes to stay up to date on news and politics.
“Reading digital text helps me to pay attention and read for longer periods of time,” says Omree. “I like information that makes me think. I like to help people and want other kids with dyslexia to receive the accommodations they need for their reading disabilities, like assistive technologies and Bookshare. Then, they will be able to read well too. With Bookshare’s collection, I can dive into books and be like Michael Phelps — having no limits to hold me back. If that happens, then people with dyslexia can do well in school and go to college.”
Sign Up for Bookshare Today!
Bookshare’s online accessible library has over 484,000 titles including textbooks, Common Core materials, educational titles, bestsellers, children’s books, and more. The library is free for U.S. students with qualifying print disabilities that prevent them from reading printed text. Bookshare is an initiative of a technology nonprofit called Benetech and is funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education.
Finding the right reading solutions for an estimated 2.4 million* American students with a learning disability, like dyslexia, can be difficult. For these students, reading isn’t easy. Brain signals get mixed up, causing an inability to decode and interpret words. Thankfully, many students with learning disabilities are placed in the capable hands of specialists like Leslie Patterson, a Certified Academic Language Therapist and licensed Dyslexia Teacher for Griffis Elementary School in Caddo Mills, Texas. Leslie works with young children, and a critical part of her job is to identify strategies and resources that strengthen their reading comprehension through a multisensory approach.
Discovering Assistive Technology to Hear Content Read Aloud
Several years ago, Leslie experienced an “aha” moment that forever changed the way she taught reading using assistive technology and accessible curriculum materials. “I was working with a first grader who had a lot of exposure to reading but could not easily retain word patterns,” she said.
Leslie and many other teachers tried different strategies, but none were effective. In fourth grade, the student was still reading poorly, so the specialist took a new approach. She sat him at a computer running Read & Write Gold by TextHelp. The software reads text aloud and highlights words as the reader listens and follows along. With headphones on, the student was immersed in reading. “It was like a light went on,” says Leslie. “He showed immediate improvement. He began to complete all his assignments with the help of the Read & Write Gold text-to-speech features.”
Soon after his introduction to technology, Leslie signed him up for a Bookshare membership where he could read digital accessible books with both his eyes and his ears. Rather than reading print books that were several grade levels below his cognitive ability, this student was now passing Accelerated Reading (AR) scores on grade-level library books. The student went on to complete all of his school assignments using assistive technology and accessible curriculum. The multisensory reading approach (listening to and seeing highlighted text) enabled him to comprehend more of what he read. He met his academic goals. He enjoyed going to the school library and to find and read digital books. Leslie knew that she had made a breakthrough with her student.
Since that early technology reading experience, Leslie has turned to Bookshare’s online accessible library to find a broader selection of accessible ebooks. She says, “The digital library makes a real difference in helping students read grade-level text. Membership is free for all qualified U.S. students and includes some free reading tools. I can easily find accessible materials for schoolwork and pleasure reading.”
Teaching Students with Dyslexia to Become Mindful Readers
To keep her students engaged in reading, Leslie teaches them strategies of how to “listen well” with their eyes and ears. She says this is a key learning strategy called mindful reading. “Reading ebooks is like watching a movie,” she says. “If students learn to practice mindful reading strategies, they can become fully immersed in their ebooks. This experience can increase their comprehension and help them become independent readers. It opens them up to new learning opportunities and to expect academic achievement.”
Leslie suggests these mindful reading practices that she has adopted over time:
- Focus and discipline – teach students how to intentionally engage their senses, particularly eyes and ears, while reading (seeing and hearing) a digital ebook.
- Thought patterns – discuss brain functions to alert the thinking process.
- Story elements – break down the story into smaller parts to understand main points.
- Memory and recall – understand how the brain retains and recalls information.
- Imagination and creativity – determine how to imagine images, charts and symbols.
- Characters – imagine people and scenes in the mind, like in a movie.
- Brainstorm – prepare students to ask questions likely to be on comprehension quizzes.
- Technology devices – review how to use devices and set preferences and bookmarks.
Each school day, Leslie Patterson enters her classroom and sees tablets on her desk with lots of sticky notes from students requesting ebooks from Bookshare. She says, “Bookshare is a wise investment of time for our schools, teachers, and families. The library holds a rich and diverse collection (482,174 titles to date) with over 350,000 educational titles including literature and K-12 textbooks in accessible formats. With mindful reading best practices, assistive technology, and ebooks, we can help many more students with learning and print disabilities enjoy success in school and in life, and teaching children how to read and listen well will make you a hero.”
*Source: National Center for Learning Disabilities
Leslie Patterson was just featured in the Dallas Morning News in an article titled, “Elementary teacher uses technology to help dyslexic students develop love of reading.”
Seth Gast has dyslexia and a language disorder. For three years, he has used Bookshare’s online accessible library for schoolwork and to find Boy Scout manuals to obtain his merit badges and become an Eagle Scout. His mom, Dina Gast, credits his academic progress to a renowned dyslexia center, excellent teachers and tutors, and Bookshare. In recognition of National Dyslexia Awareness Month, here is Seth’s story.
Early Reading Frustration
Entering first grade, Seth was a bright little boy, but his mom noticed his enthusiasm for school and learning diminish. He liked books, but seemed to be frustrated with reading. A shadow followed Seth and his family for years. His mom, Dina Gast, arose each day with uncertainty. She remembers her son bringing books home from school that he could recite from memory. Seth had begun to compensate for his reading challenges with memorization. Mrs. Gast talked with teachers about her son’s lack of reading progress and says, “You never want to hear that anything is wrong with your child, but the answers and solutions for my son did not come easily.”
Mrs. Gast began to help Seth with schoolwork; still, his reading interest and grades fell. By third grade, she enrolled him in the Ohio Virtual Academy, a tuition-free, fully-accredited, online public school. By sixth grade, Mrs. Gast scheduled tests at the Akron Children’s Hospital where a physician who specializes in neurology developmental and behavior science diagnosed Seth with dyslexia. He also recommended Bookshare and the Children’s Dyslexia Center, Inc. run by the Scottish Rite Charity and Masonic Order. Mrs. Gast quickly signed her son up for an individual membership to Bookshare.
From Barely Reading to Reading with Full Comprehension
For two years, Seth worked with his online teacher and a certified tutor at the Children’s Dyslexia Center using accessible ebooks from Bookshare. At that time, Seth’s reading, writing and spelling skills were barely at a first grade level. “It’s been amazing to watch his progress,” says his mom. Seth went from barely reading to full comprehension. His handwriting, once gigantic and messy, turned into beautiful cursive. His vocabulary and spelling skills improved. Seth also has a much higher self-esteem and a greater understanding of his reading disability. “At first, I did not want people to know that I could not read,” he said. “I memorized a lot of books, but that got harder to do. Bookshare, my teachers, my technology and my mom helped me so much!”
Boy Scouts Honor
This year, Seth is completing his Boy Scouts of America merit badge series to become an Eagle Scout. He says, “I still like to hold a printed book or textbook, but I also want to hear the information read aloud.” He reads on an iPad with Read2Go. “The best thing about a digital accessible book is that you can read with your eyes and listen with your ears. This type of multi-sensory learning sinks in for me. I know I am smart. My brain is just wired differently.”
Leisure Reading Sparks a Career Interest
Growing up, Seth loved to read about nature and animals. It is no surprise that in high school he does well in animal science and biology. He wants to attend Ohio State University to become a zoologist. He says, “I was inspired by Jack Hanna, a well-respected American zookeeper at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium who has dyslexia too.”
Since identifying Seth’s learning disability, Mrs. Gast is so proud of her son. “Our lives and Seth’s reading skills have improved significantly! He is still a slow reader, but listening to audio books has improved his ability to get schoolwork done with less frustration. He just completed his first semester in high school with all A’s. This achievement would not have been possible without teachers who know the advantages of using accessible ebooks and technologies and these valuable resources to support children and adults with dyslexia and other print disabilities.”
Four Reasons to Sign Up for a Bookshare Membership:
- Reading skills improvement to enable progress toward grade level academic achievement.
- Access to core curriculum and required reading materials (K-12 textbooks, novels and literature) in accessible format.
- Reading and learning independence.
- Reading for fun and to tap into interests and hobbies.
Special thanks to Dina Gast and her son, Seth, for sharing their story.
Learn more about Bookshare’s back-to-school initiative today!
Denver Administrators Strengthen Reading For Students with Print Disabilities Through Expansion of Bookshare
Denver Academy’s Philippe Ernewein, Director of Education, and Anthony Slaughter, Director of Information Technology, were eager to hear about the progress of Alyssa Campbell. While Alyssa has had a Bookshare Individual Membership for many years, it wasn’t until she entered middle school at Denver Academy that she began reading more textbooks and literature using accessible ebooks with assistive technologies. Alyssa has a documented learning disability that makes it difficult to read traditional print materials.
Text-to-Speech Makes Reading Easier
Due to her disability, Alyssa could not keep pace with the rigorous reading assignments for her grade level. Her mom, Debbie Campbell, an educator herself, said, “Accessible books helped my daughter to be more confident. She recognized that she was smart and capable. All she needed was the reading assignment to be in accessible format. That is when we found Bookshare and reading tools.”
As Alyssa read digital text on her computer, she could hear content read aloud through the text-to-speech capability, often referred to as TTS. This accessible reading experience helped her to comprehend more information. For the first time, her reading process was less frustrating, and her academic future looked brighter.
Denver Academy Evaluates Bookshare for Schoolwide Use
Mr. Ernewein said, “Denver Academy’s mission is to inspire diverse learners, like Alyssa, through student-centered, differentiated, and transformative education. We also encourage conversations with parents as part of our partnership model. Mrs. Campbell helped us to better understand the academic and cost-saving benefits of Bookshare. The resource made sense to us to support how children with print disabilities read, so we organized a team and reviewed our Bookshare Organizational Membership. We developed goals and added Bookshare to the menu of accommodations that students who qualify can access. We also created detailed learning profiles that each homeroom teacher manages for their students.”
Denver Academy’s Goals To Improve Reading Through Accessible Books
- Strengthen reading abilities for more students who qualify for Bookshare.
- Motivate learners to read with better comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary.
- Broaden the diverse range of accessible books that include educational and recreational titles.
- Educate and train teachers and parents in the most effective ways to integrate Bookshare into the learning environment for students who qualify.
- Empower students to read with assistive technologies, when appropriate.
- Encourage students to work at their instructional level, whether it be on or above grade level.
- Engage students to be more independent readers and learners.
Today, Denver Academy is proud of their accomplishments toward the development of learning environments that enable all students to reach their full potential. The staff continues to expand their use of Bookshare and the use of assistive technologies based on individual student needs.
For Alyssa Campbell, Bookshare is in the frequently-used category in her learning process at school and at home. She has developed a greater sense of confidence with reading, has a much brighter outlook, and her family and school leaders are pleased that she is making significant academic progress.
Bookshare is Free to U.S. Schools and Students with Print Disabilities
Bookshare is an online library of accessible books available at no cost to U.S. schools and students with qualifying print disabilities, such as blindness, low vision, physical disabilities, and learning disabilities. The library is supported by awards from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education. Today, tens of thousands of students are members. They can read accessible books on devices that work best for them, such as a computer, tablet, smartphone or braille device. Sign up today!
Special thanks to Denver Academy Administrators Philippe Ernewein and Anthony Slaughter and to Deborah Campbell who is a Bookshare Parent Ambassador.
September 8th is International Literacy Day, and Bookshare is honoring those individuals and organizations that make a lasting difference to ensure literacy happens for everyone.
Each day, Bill Powell, Assistive Technology Director, and his staff at Bosma Enterprises in Indianapolis, provide job training, employment services, rehabilitation, and outreach to help adults who are blind transition to the working world. To accomplish this goal, the team downloads digital accessible books using Bookshare.
Bill says, “With the right education, mentors, technology, and resources like accessible books, individuals with disabilities are highly capable of working in many fields, including training and technology, after their schooling.”
In 2012, Bill received the Thomas C. Hasbrook Award as a leading advocate for people who are blind or visually impaired.
Accessible Books Are Life Changing
When asked about successful transitions and talented individuals, Bill points to two colleagues: Salman Haider and Imran Ahmed. Both men, who were born in Pakistan and have visual impairments, are assistive technology trainers. They both experienced childhoods filled with uncertainty due to the lack of academic resources.
“My first eighteen years of schooling were difficult, especially in reading and writing,” says Salman. “In high school, I finally learned about assistive technologies and came to America. “This transition was life changing!”
As an international student studying in the United States, Salman used his technology skills to tap into a network of people and resources. He started to love reading and absorbed knowledge through accessible ebooks and technologies using the Bookshare library. “I found college-level books and computer programming books for my job,” he said. “For any student with vision challenges, finding an accessible textbook that is free and quickly available takes the hassle out of getting books scanned.” Salman also downloads novels, mysteries, and Asian fiction to keep him connected to his heritage. “The library has tons of titles for academia and pleasure reading,” he says. Salman Haider graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Technology from Purdue University.
Imran Ahmed is an assistive technology trainer at Bosma Enterprises and a longtime Bookshare member. “Before I came to America, I did not have direct access to books,” he says. “When I arrived, signing up for Bookshare was first on my list. I have never been disappointed. The library continues to be a source of unsurpassed knowledge for me professionally and personally.” Imran appreciates that the Bookshare collection continues to expand with international titles, especially South Asian authors which he and his wife enjoy reading together. “We can even download children’s books and read them to our inquisitive toddler,” he says.
Imran also finds technical books he needs to improve his professional skills. “I want to increase my knowledge concerning computers and business acumen,” he adds. “The fact that I can choose whether to read books via speech output or with a braille display makes the library useful and flexible. I read on a DAISY player, a computer, and an iPhone. I teach blind people how to use a computer, navigate the web, utilize resources, and sign up for individual memberships to the library. Bookshare is an integral part of our curriculum.”
As a result of passionate trainers like Bill Powell, Imran Ahmad, and Salman Haider, and organizations like Bosma Enterprises that believe in empowering individuals with disabilities, more persons who are blind and visually impaired are able to make easier transitions from school to work. We thank them for sharing their stories and empowering more people to live fulfilling lives through literacy.
About International Literacy Day
Fifty years ago, UNESCO officially proclaimed September 8 as International Literacy Day to mobilize the international community and promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities, and societies around the world.
Bookshare is the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks for people who cannot read printed books due to blindness, low vision, dyslexia, and other print disabilities. Through Bookshare’s extensive collection of over 450,000 educational, international and popular titles, including K-12 textbooks, specialized book formats, and reading tools, the online library offers the same ease of access that people without disabilities enjoy.
With Bookshare books, members can listen to their book, follow along with highlighted text, read in braille, and customize their experience in ways that make reading easier. Sign up today!
Bookshare is a global literacy initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that develops and uses technology to create positive social change.