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Join Us in the Skoll Foundation’s 2014 Social Entrepreneurs Challenge!

2014 November 1

Jim FruchtermanA note from Jim Fruchterman, CEO and Founder of Benetech, the parent nonprofit of Bookshare.  This post originally appeared on the Benetech site on October 27, 2014.

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Zach in his graduation gap and gown seated in his wheelchair.

Zach in his graduation gap and gown seated in his wheelchair.

 

Zach Bryant loves reading non-fiction. This wasn’t always the case, though. Zach has Cerebral Palsy, which causes movement and coordination problems, and which keeps him from speaking and walking. To communicate his thoughts, he uses an alternative augmentative communication device. Tasks like turning a printed page are difficult for him, which makes reading standard print discouraging. According to his mom, this experience is common to children with Cerebral Palsy. “They get frustrated and don’t want to read,” she says, “but access to digital books and reading technologies changed all that for Zach.”

The change happened when Zach was in high school and his Assistive Technology teacher introduced him to Benetech’s Bookshare library. With Bookshare’s accessible ebooks and reading tools, Zach made a successful transition to college. When our team last caught up with him, he was a busy student at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, rejoicing in his ability to read independently and reach his full potential. “Without Bookshare, my academic life would have been much harder for me and my caregivers,” he said. “It’s amazing that I can find most books I want in the Bookshare collection, even post-secondary textbooks, and no one has to scan them for me. I don’t wait for my books for new classes; I search the library and find them myself.”

Zach’s encounter with accessible ebooks is but one example of how Benetech empowers people who often face difficult challenges and whose needs are neglected. Our software tools change the ways in which individuals with disabilities can effectively read; enable frontline human rights defenders to safely document abuse; and support environmental practitioners in their efforts to protect species and ecosystems.

Our work is made possible thanks to the generosity of our supporters. To continue to provide our services, and to explore new ways in which targeted technological applications could address unmet needs of disadvantaged communities, we definitely need your help.

Please join us in the Skoll Foundation’ssecond annual Skoll Social Entrepreneurs Challenge —a fundraising campaign committed to strengthening the capacity of organizations like ours to accelerate impact on some of the most critical issues of our time.

Hosted on the Crowdrise platform, the Challenge launched on October 27 and runs through December 5th. We are competing against other participating organizations—and racing against the clock—to raise funds and secure matching funding from the Skoll Foundation. We build our tech-for-good products and reach dollar-by-dollar, and therefore every gift makes a difference for the people we serve. Now, with the Skoll Foundation’s matching support, your gift will have far more impact!

You can help now!  Please visit Benetech’s Challenge campaign and give whatever you can.   Here are some examples of what we can accomplish with your contribution:

Join us, and together we can realize the potential of technology to make the world a better place for everyone.    Thank you for your support!

 

Bookshare’s Updated Website Is Live and Helps You Do More!

2014 October 28

Bookshare’s updated website is live, so please tell everyone you know who uses the library!

This year, our team has been working extra hard to make some great new improvements to our website while keeping many core features you know and love.

What’s extra cool is that the updated website is now mobile-friendly, so members can enjoy an improved on-the-go reading experience on tablets and smartphones.  And as always, our website continues to be fully accessible.

Let’s check what’s under the hood with the updated site!

Bookshare homepage

What’s New?

  • Clear, streamlined information—Find out if Bookshare is right for you, and read your first book with new information, simpler pages, and helpful images that are fully described.
  • My Bookshare—Manage your account, see your book history, and download reading tools with a new personalized information page.
  • Improved search—Find the books you want by searching by title, author, or ISBN in the standard search on every page, featuring an improved algorithm to get you better results.
  • Updated Help Center—Find answers to your Bookshare questions by visiting the revamped Help Center. It has a new well-organized FAQ list, as well as a much improved search feature.
  • Training Center—Access new and updated training videos, webinars, online courses, training tools, and learning resources to help you better use Bookshare and train others.
  • Get Involved—Learn how you can connect with Bookshare’s ever-growing volunteer, Mentor Teacher, Parent Ambassador, and social media communities!

What’s the Same?

Most of the core features you use with Bookshare are the same, such as:

  • Finding, downloading, and reading books
  • Managing accounts and using advanced features like Reading Lists
  • Using reading tools and apps directly connected to Bookshare, like Read2Go and Go Read

Learn More! Sign Up for Upcoming Webinars!

Visit our website update FAQ to get more details, and take a brief video tour of the new website.

You can also register to attend one of these upcoming training webinars:

 We Appreciate Your Feedback!

Share your comments about our updated site on this blog or give feedback to our support team.  Thank you!

 

Celebrating Canadian Library Month and the CELA-Bookshare Partnership!

2014 October 23
Centre for Equitable Library Access Logo. Public Library Service for Canadians with Print Disabilities.

Centre for Equitable Library Access Logo. Public library services for Canadians with print disabilities.

In July 2014, Bookshare announced a partnership with the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) in Canada. This partnership significantly increases the availability of accessible books and services to support Canadian citizens with qualified print disabilities.

CELA is a non-profit organization established by Canadian public libraries with support by CNIB. Its mission is to offer alternative format production and services delivery of accessible books so that CELA member libraries may enrich the reading experience to support children and adults with print disabilities such as vision loss, a physical disability, such as cerebral palsy or a severe reading disability, like dyslexia.

Through this partnership, CELA covers the cost of Bookshare memberships for eligible individuals. The effort aims to champion the fundamental rights of persons with print disabilities to access media and reading materials in the format of their choice, including audio, braille, e-text and descriptive video.

CELA Board Chairman, Catherine Biss, said, “Canadian Library Month is a time to honor librarians and library organizations that work so diligently to enhance the reading experiences of all individuals, especially those with print disabilities. Through Bookshare, we can offer access to so many more titles in accessible formats with unlimited downloads and no expiration dates.”

To assist Canadian organizations who want to make their local communities and schools aware of the Bookshare membership and services, CELA has a bilingual staff and useful information and materials, (in English and French) on its website to support local outreach efforts.

CELA patrons who sign up for Bookshare membership will receive unlimited access to more than 200,000 accessible books today, as well as reading technologies and apps that read digital formats with text-to-speech (TTS). Collections range from novels, nonfiction and mysteries, to cookbooks, children’s books, popular titles on the Globe and Mail Bestsellers Lists and titles by acclaimed Canadian authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje.

From left to right: Margaret Williams, Kristina Pappas, Philip Springall, Lindsay Tyler

Margaret Williams, Kristina Pappas, Philip Springall, Lindsay Tyler

Recently, Bookshare staff traveled to Canada to spend time with the CELA team and public librarians in and around Toronto. Everyone agreed that accessible books open a world of reading opportunities for persons with print disabilities.

The staff were particularly enthusiastic about how rapidly the Bookshare collection grows with popular titles to pique readers’ interests. They also appreciate the fast and easy membership sign up process and the ease in which patrons can download and read accessible books.

“We are excited to work with CELA and bring new benefits to Canadians,” said Kristina Pappas, Bookshare’s International Program Manager. “Through our partnership, we hope that thousands more individuals with print disabilities will easily find their favorite books and genres in our extensive collection.”

To learn more about CELA, visit: Bookshare.celalibrary.ca or Bookshare.bibliocaeb.ca.

 

College Bridge Program Helps Teens with Learning Disabilities Transition to Postsecondary

2014 October 16
Jennifer (far left) and Sara (standing) work with students in small group settings

Mission Middle College Program Coordinators, Jennifer Jolliff (far left) and Sara Smith (standing) working with students in small group settings.

GUEST BLOG POST:

BY JENNIFER JOLLIFF AND SARA SMITH, PROGRAM COORDINATORS AT MISSION MIDDLE COLLEGE

Recently, we caught up with Jennifer Jolliff and Sara Smith, Program Coordinators at Mission Middle College, CA, to talk about their college bridge program in the Santa Clara School District. This collaboration gives high school seniors who are not performing well academically a second chance at making successful transitions to college.

In this blog, Jennifer and Sara describe how students with learning disabilities feel about attending college and their approach to provide a new learning environment. They also offer some great recommended reading resources.

Believing Students with LD Will Succeed

By 11th grade, Caleb was withdrawn and almost voiceless. His self-esteem had hit rock bottom. Due to his low reading ability, he felt ridiculed, ashamed, and beyond academic assistance. Caleb’s anxiety level was in overdrive as he talked with us about taking college courses.  This young man was sensitive and smart, but lacked the transcripts and reading confidence to succeed.  Sadly, many battle-scarred students, like Caleb, skip the quest to college for fear of failure.

Students with learning disabilities often lack the reading comprehension skills to handle college courses. They may be labeled as having an IEP (Individual Education Plan) or a 504. They may not have been formally diagnosed with a reading disability, such as dyslexia or dysgraphia, but are keenly aware that others have low expectations. They may believe that no one really believes they can succeed. Our task is to reverse this belief and provide a learning environment that wipes away this stigma.

About Mission Middle College Transition Program

Like many transition programs, our approach is to build a bridge to increase students’ confidence and give them alternative ways to learn.  First, we equip them with technology. We encourage good study habits and teach them about emotional intelligence. These students want and deserve mutual respect.

To improve reading comprehension, we provide access to quality educational resources like Bookshare for students who qualify. Caleb liked reading accessible books with text-to-speech. This multisensory environment (seeing and hearing the content) reinforced reading comprehension.

Next, we connect students with peer mentors and provide resources for them to explore about learning disabilities.  At the end of this article, we list reading recommendations to help parents.

Lastly, we set uniformly high expectations. Our learning environment at Mission Middle College applies cognitive-based theory with technology and instructional strategies that focus on reading comprehension. This combination helps the learner take ownership for their academic progress.

Caleb Richardson talks with Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Caleb Richardson talks with Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

When we first met Caleb, he was fearful and unprepared. He responded favorably to using technology and accessible books. His reading comprehension improved. His barriers broke down and he believed he could succeed. His hard work paid off! Today, he attends East Texas Access University for religious studies. This is the type of success we want for all learners.

Recommended Reading Resources From Jennifer and Sara:

Additional Resources:

mission students

Middle Mission College students demonstrate reading on their computers.

P.S. Read this blog about Michael Yudin’s visit to Mission Middle College. Mr. Yudin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Many thanks to Jennifer Jolliff, Sara Smith and Caleb Richardson, for sharing this information and update.

Eighteen Books Later: How Paternal Passion Fueled Rick Riordan’s Writing Career

2014 October 10
by Bookshare Team Member
Book Cover of Rick Riordan's "The Blood of Olympus"  Image of Greek mythological characters and columns spiraling down into a swirling oceanspriling

Book Cover of Rick Riordan’s “The Blood of Olympus”

Book Five of Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, The Blood of Olympus, was just released and is now available in Bookshare. By our count, this is Riordan’s eighteenth book about the mythical and exciting worlds of young Percy Jackson and his fellow adventurers.

Riordan’s books are highly acclaimed worldwide, but what may not be well known is his motivation for writing the first Percy Jackson story nearly ten years ago. He was driven by a force many parents understand: to help his second-grade son, who had just been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, engage in learning.

At the time, Riordan was an award-winning author of books for adults. In his previous role as a middle school teacher, Riordan taught Greek mythology. This happened to be one of the few subjects that interested his son, so it was perfect for engaging bedtime stories. However, Riordan soon found himself running out of material. It was time to get creative. So he developed the character of young Percy (who also happened to have ADHD and dyslexia). Over the course of three bedtimes, he spun the elaborate tale that later became the first installment in the Percy Jackson series. That series now consists of eight books and has spawned two additional series: the Kane Chronicles and Heroes of Olympus.

Percy Jackson fans get their fill of adventure, but they also enjoy a crash course in Greek mythology. In fact, Riordan provides supplementary resources to encourage students to delve further into this enticing domain. Students can also learn more about the fictional Camp Half-Blood, the setting of the Percy Jackson series, as well as the intriguing world of Egyptian magic featured in the Kane Chronicles. But students are not the only ones who benefit from Riordan’s engaging online content. The author’s website provides supplemental materials to help educators capitalize on their students’ enthusiasm for his books. These resources include:

If you’re interested in a more personal connection with the author, see if The Blood of Olympus book tour is coming to a city near you!

Eighteen books later, Riordan is far from finished spinning tales of adventure. While he’s touring the country promoting his latest title, he is also beginning work on his next series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, coming in October 2015. Until then, Bookshare members can savor all of Riordan’s published works and additional content!

Sharing Timely Resources and Student Successes for National Dyslexia Awareness Month

2014 October 9
by Bookshare Team Member
illustration of a person's brain firing with many thoughts

illustration of a person’s brain firing with many thoughts

Bookshare serves many members who have a severe reading disability, like dyslexia, that makes it difficult to comprehend what they read in standard print. Persons with dyslexia cannot easily recognize words and letter sounds. They may be slow readers and poor spellers because signals to their brain mix up the ability to accurately decode print.

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) reports that 1 in 10 people have symptoms of dyslexia, and half of all students who qualify for special education in U.S. schools are classified with a learning disability. Thankfully, there are many people who have benefited from digital accessible books paired with assistive technology.

Did you know that Bookshare is the world’s largest online accessible library of copyrighted content for people with print disabilities? Yes, and it is offered at no cost to qualified U.S. students and schools. As a member of Bookshare, you can tap into a world of more than 300,000 titles for education and pleasure reading and hear the ebooks read aloud using text-to-speech (TTS) technology. October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month, and we want to share with you two short stories from Bookshare moms about their sons’ efforts to succeed academically.

Bookshare Moms Share Sons’ Reading Success

Michelle Reeves and son, Reagan standing together.

Michelle Reeves and son, Reagan.

Michelle Reeves says, “My son, Reagan was 8 years old when he was diagnosed with dyslexia. He struggled in school and didn’t like to read. His eyes would tire while reading print, and he fell behind in his schoolwork. As a Texas teacher, I found out about Bookshare through our school. Today, my happy 8th grader listens to accessible ebooks read aloud on portable technology devices. He downloads ebooks on his iPhone by himself and uses an iPad Mini to read with an app called Read2Go. He even reads for pleasure! Last year, he downloaded and read over 200 digital books and received an award for having accumulated the most Accelerated Reader points in his class. Bravo!”

A California mom and school counselor also shared her pride with us when her seventh grader passed his Accelerated Reading tests with a 100% for comprehension. “He’s doing well reading with accessible books. Using reading technology, he can see highlighted words and hear text read aloud. He can choose font size, background colors, and rate of speed. He’s even given up video games and sets his alarm to wake up early to read before school. Amazing!”

A big thanks to these parents for their inspirational stories and to all parents who continue to share resources and information likes the ones we list below.

Parent-founded organizations, like Parents Education Network and Decoding Dyslexia, advocate for mandatory teacher training for dyslexia.

Parent technical and information centers, such as Parents Helping Parents in California and the Simon Technology Center in Minnesota, offer opportunities to try different types of accessible technology tools and work directly with schools to find the right support for students.

Learning Ally and Bookshare offer accessible books that work with many reading tools.

Books by expert authors, like Ben Foss, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan, Susan Barton, Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, and David Flink, Thinking Differently, provide a wealth of information.

Additionally, check out these fine organizations for resources, strategies, and support and stay tuned for our blog about the launch of the new Understood website designed for parents of children with learning and attention issues.

Build Independence with Bookshare Web Reader

2014 September 30
by Bookshare Team Member

Student reading on a laptop with both hands raised in the air in excitement with the tagline "Inspire Independent Reading"

Do you know someone who is ready to read on their own?

Bookshare Web Reader is a free, easy-to-use reading tool for Individual Members. Readers like Kevin and Kelly use it to read books for school and fun on any computer with Internet access. What makes Bookshare Web Reader so great?

  • Read books directly from a supported Internet browser on your computer (no need to install specialized software)
  • Log into Bookshare, find a book, and select “Read Now”
  • Read with text-to-speech voices and word highlighting (on supported browsers)

Ready to get started? Make sure you or your student has an Individual Membership and view the tutorial below!

First Time User Guide

To read with text-to-speech, word highlighting, and options for large print:

  • Open Google Chrome and log on to Bookshare
  • Find your book
  • Select “Read Now”
  • Follow prompts to install the Chrome Extension
  • Your book will open, and you can begin reading!

To read in large print or with a screen reader that will provide text-to-speech:

  • Open Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, or Safari
  • Find your book
  • Select “Read Now”
  • Your book will open, and you can begin reading!

For more Bookshare Web Reader FAQs, visit the Support Center.

Individual Members Inspire Us to Read Independently with Bookshare Web Reader

2014 September 29
by Bookshare Team Member
Screen capture of Bookshare Web Reader reading Harry Potter's "Order of the Phoenix"

Screen image of Bookshare Web Reader reading Harry Potter’s “Order of the Phoenix”

Our members continue to inspire us!  That’s why in this post, we’re sharing two stories of teen members who use Bookshare Web Reader to read about the things they love…independently.

Bookshare Web Reader is a free reading tool for Individual Members and is a great way to access Bookshare books quickly and easily with an Internet browser. This web-based reader does not require specialized software.

Read these  inspiring stories now, and please share with others who want to read on their own!

Kelly Enjoys Reading Freedom!

Kelly Schneider kneeling with a basketball.

Kelly Schneider kneeling with a basketball.

Kelly Schneider is a 17-year-old Bookshare Individual Member who loves the flexibility of reading wherever she wants. She uses Bookshare Web Reader, and says, “It gives me freedom to read on a computer at school or at home, even if the software isn’t on that computer. When I first used Web Reader, it was so simple! I just opened Google Chrome and read.”

Kelly also loves sports and likes reading about sports. This active teen participates in the Special Olympics cycling competitions in New York and Connecticut.  “I read books on any topic and I like that. I would tell other kids to give Bookshare Web Reader a try. I’ve read many books that I never thought I could!”

 

Photo of Kevin smiling.

Kevin Leong smiling.

Kevin Reads Anywhere, Anytime!

Kevin Leong is another Individual Member who is an avid reader. Though he has optic atrophy, which makes reading difficult, it doesn’t slow him down. He has used Bookshare Web Reader from the very beginning. When it first came out, Kevin used it in his school library, in classes, and even at home. “I like being able to use Bookshare Web Reader because it’s fast, easy, and I can access it almost anywhere.”

Kevin_Leong_Using_Read2Go

Screen capture of Kevin reading online with Bookshare Web Reader.

With Bookshare Web Reader, Kevin feels positive about his reading ability. “I’ve always been good at math and science,” he says, “and now I’m good at reading and electronics and technology. A couple of minutes on Bookshare, and I’m ready!”

P.S. The Bookshare team is always thrilled to see your comments on this blog and in social media. Tell us about your experiences reading accessible books at school, at home, or on the go on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks!

 

Accessible Books for Texas Program Funded for Fifth Year and Offers Enhanced Spanish Language Support

2014 September 25
ABT Logo with url and an image of the State of Texas.

ABT Logo with url and outline image of the state of Texas.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has just approved funding for Benetech’s Accessible Books for Texas (ABT) program for a fifth year, from September 2014 through August 2015. Benetech is the parent nonprofit of Bookshare. This funding supplements an existing award from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education, and allows Benetech to do even more via a state-level partnership with Texas.

Through ABT, local outreach coordinators deliver customized, face-to-face AEM (accessible educational materials) and Bookshare training to Texas educators, parents, and students. Additionally, Bookshare applies dedicated resources to Texas membership and support questions and book requests. As a result, the number of Texas public K-12 schools using Bookshare, and the number of Texas students getting accessible ebooks through Bookshare, are growing at twice the pace of the national average.

Parent working with son to read accessible books on a computer.

Parent working with son to read accessible books on his computer.

¿Lea en Español? 

Texas parents, students, and educators who prefer to read in Spanish can now learn all about ABT from a new Spanish version of the ABT website. In addition, Bookshare brochures are now available in Spanish on the ABT website.

Prospective members who prefer to read in Spanish can also benefit from an Individual Membership Sign-Up Form in Spanish. This form provides a Spanish translation of the online sign-up form and should be used for reference only. For faster processing, prospective Individual Members should still sign up online.

Teen boy with headphones listens to accessible books read aloud on his computer while following along with the text.  His computer is piled high on top of printed books.

Teen boy with headphones listens to accessible books read aloud on his computer, while following along with the text. His computer is piled high on top of printed books.

Did you know that Bookshare offers nearly 5,000 books in Spanish? These include Spanish translations of popular books by bestselling authors such as J. K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, Isabel Allende, Gary Soto, John C. Maxwell, Joel Osteen, and T. D. Jakes! More Spanish titles are added each month, and members are encouraged to request books that aren’t yet in the collection.

Bookshare members can also listen to Spanish books in a high-quality audio voice. When downloaded in audio format (either DAISY Audio or MP3), all Spanish Bookshare books are provided in a high-quality text-to-speech (TTS) voice. This helps ensure a pleasant listening experience. Spanish books downloaded in DAISY Audio can be read in Read2Go, the Bookshare app for the iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone. Check out instructions here.

Bookshare members can also read Spanish books using other TTS reading software. The DAISY Consortium Reader and several commercially available reading software programs offer Spanish TTS voices.

Teacher working with young students who are wearing headphones and reading digital accessible books on their computers.

Teacher working with young students who are wearing headphones and reading digital accessible books on their computers.

Feel free to pass on this information to Texas parents, students, and educators who serve students with print disabilities!  Thank you.

Logged Into Bookshare, But Can’t Download. Renew Today!

2014 September 22
by Bookshare Team Member
sign_up_for_bookshare_screen_shot

Screen Capture of Bookshare Membership Options web page.

If you’ve tried logging into your account but were unable to download books, it’s possible that your Bookshare membership has expired.  Although Individual Memberships are free for U.S. students with print disabilities, it’s important to keep your school information up-to-date every year too.  This will ensure a smooth transition back-to-school and uninterrupted access to the books you need for school and fun!

Bookshare Support Portal and Renewal Reminders

Support_Center

Screen capture of Bookshare Support Portal web page.

Bookshare does send out email reminders to renew your account.  Remember too, that you can always visit our support portal to find answers to commonly asked questions about membership.

If you’ve missed your email reminder, follow this easy two-step process and you’ll be ready to go!

  1. Log in to Bookshare, and select “My Account” in your task bar.
  2. Choose the “Student Status” link, update your school information, then select “Submit.”
Hand holding a smartphone

Hand holding a smartphone

Here’s a tip!  If you are logged into your Bookshare account on a mobile device, like a tablet or smart phone, it may be necessary to first log out and then log back in for your membership renewal to take effect.

Keep on reading and inspiring everyone you know to read!