Earlier this year, at our member party at the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) conference (2013), we met lots of cool members! One of these members, was 17 year old, Jessie Rogers, a budding teen author. Jessie’s first book is Fairy Sight, about a magical orb and it’s now available in the Bookshare collection and on Amazon.
Fairy Sight is about a magical orb that protects the kingdom of Adoraun. When the orb disappears, the prince believes his betrothed bride has taken it. He sets out on an adventure to regain the stolen magic and is thrust into a perilous battle with evil. Jessie had the inspiration to write the book after a visit to a local museum where she touched a plasma ball. Now, she goes by the pen name, ‘Blind Writer,’ and when asked about her disability, she says, “Yes, I’m blind, but I will never let that fact darken my world.”
This avid reader fell in love with words in 3rd grade through the encouragement of her teacher aide, Gladys Justice. Jessie pays tribute to Mrs. Justice in her book for the love and support. As a young child, Jessie was encouraged to write poetry, songs and short stories. She also loved spending time in her library in Churchill TN reading/listening to audio books. In 7th grade, a vision teacher introduced her to Bookshare. “That’s when my voracious appetite for reading grew exponentially!” shared Jessie. “You can find and read books faster in digital accessible formats.”
Jessie says, “I love Bookshare because the collections are vast and include my favorite genres — magic, vampires, and science fiction. Books are easy to download directly to my smart phone with Read2Go or to my Victor Reader Stream.” She estimates that she has 20 books downloaded on her reading list today and typically reads two books at a time. Her favorite book is “Moss Flower” by Brian Jacques and she also enjoys titles by Scott Westerfield and P.C. Cast, who writes the “House of Night” series. A quick search in the Bookshare library on science fiction holds more than 10,100 titles.
When Fairy Sight was published, Jessie’s friends asked how they could read her book. “That’s when I knew I had to get it into Bookshare. I wanted teens, like me, to enjoy reading as much as I do and it only took a week to get it into the collection.”
In addition to her fans online, Jessie recently met a local fan at a youth church. The fan was reading Fairy Sight for a back to school writing assignment. What about a sequel? Jessie is writing a dystopian thriller. Bookshare looks forward to adding it to the collection. Watch an interview with Jessie on a local TV station on You Tube and visit her blog, “Musings from a Blind Writer.
Brian Higgins is a six-year member of Bookshare. He is also a member of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and a Supervisor of Computer Access and Technology in the Western Blind Rehab Center located in Palo Alto, California.
Brian likes the Bookshare library because of its vast collection of titles and the team’s responsiveness to his professional needs. “I’ve taken college textbooks for a Veteran returning to college in to Bookshare and they scan it,” he said. “And I also like to recommend Bookshare’s new special collection of military titles to my friends at the BVA.”
At work, Brian trains young adults, seniors, and disabled Veterans about computers, technology, and access. Individuals who come to his center may be returning to school, learning a new vocation, or using a computer for the first time. Brian teaches them about digital accessible books.
Since suffering vision loss 15 years ago, Brian has counted on the library for personal and professional eBooks. “Bookshare provides resources that I could not readily find prior to membership. I like to read history and am always on the hunt for books on electrical engineering, and computer programming, as well as college textbooks and technical manuals. Bookshare has them!”
Brian uses an iPad with Bookshare’s easy-to-use eReader app, Read2Go. He just downloaded “Natural Language Processing with Python” to investigate computer programming for an electronic guide dog robot he developed. “Some of your independence goes away, like driving, when you lose your vision,” he said. “I’m always thinking about how to use technology to help others—a similar mission to that of Benetech, Bookshare’s parent nonprofit organization. A robotic guide dog may be another good alternative to man’s best friend.”
Bookshare for Disabled Veterans
Today, Bookshare serves over 250,000 members with qualified print disabilities, including persons who are blind or have low vision, a physical disability, or a severe reading disability like dyslexia. The library is free to any U.S. student who qualifies, including disabled Veterans, thanks to awards made by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.
For nonstudent disabled Veterans who qualify, Bookshare offers a free 30 day trial membership where 20 digital accessible books can be downloaded and free reading tools and apps can be used.
After the trial, an annual fee of $50 allows full access to Bookshare’s collection of over 210,000 accessible eBooks, including a special military collection. Titles can be easily searched, downloaded, and read on a variety of devices like a computer, tablet, smart phone, MP3 player, or refreshable braille device.
Disabled Veterans receiving services from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs through the Vocational, Rehabilitation and Employment Program (VET Success) may also be eligible for a free membership. Veterans’ hospitals and related associations can contact Veterans@bookshare.org.
To sign up and for more information visit: http://veterans.bookshare.org/2013free.
Kevin Leong is a bright fifth grader in Palo Alto, CA, the heart of Silicon Valley. He is an avid Apple computer fan, and on a typical day he may use several technology devices at home, school, or on the go. As you watch Kevin adeptly use these devices, you would never guess that this voracious learner with impeccable social skills is visually impaired. Kevin has optic atrophy, which makes reading time very slow and frustrating for him.
“It takes me much longer to read than other students,” he says. “By the time I look up a page in the table of contents, everyone is ahead of me. It tires me out!”
Kevin’s parents, Drake and Jessie, knew that their son needed more support, so they tried digital accessible books. “We hoped it would be easier for him to grasp the technology and use accessibility features that enable him to enlarge fonts or see highlighted words in color on a screen,” said Drake. “Now he can more easily track the words with his eyes.”
Drake and Jessie signed Kevin up for an individual membership with Bookshare. Individual memberships help students build independence by finding their own books and using Bookshare’s free reading tools.
When Kevin and his classmates go to the school library now, Kevin goes online, logs on to Bookshare, and searches for his own reading assignments in English and other subjects. He uses the new Bookshare Web Reader to access his books. “I don’t have to download any software,” he says. “I just select “Read Now” to open a digital book directly in my web browser. I’ve always been good at math and science, but now I’m good at reading and using technologies. A couple of minutes on Bookshare and I’m ready to go!”
“The reading technologies allow Kevin to be more independent and self-reliant with his reading assignments,” says Jessie. “He can adjust the brightness and contrast of text according to how his eyes feel. The flexibility of manipulating digital content encourages him to read more. His grades and reading ability level shot up in one year. In addition to his academic progress, he became more social. He doesn’t feel different in school and talks with everyone about what he reads.”
According to the STAR test performed in his elementary school, Kevin was behind grade level by midyear in fourth grade. His writing and science grades were borderline; he ranked in the 50th percentile. One year later, he was in the 70th to 80th percentile, and his reading comprehension was above the norm.
Experts in dyslexia have for many years focused on teaching children to read in the conventional way. But there are hidden costs that impact many children who have a hard time in a mainstream classroom: shame and bullying.
I’m dyslexic. When I was a kid, my mom read aloud to me. When I went away to college, I used to fax my term papers home to her in New Hampshire and have her read them to me over the phone so I could find my own spelling mistakes. I went on to become the Director of Access Technology at Intel Corporation, where I invented a device called the Intel Reader that could take a photograph of any printed material and read it aloud on the spot.
Inventing this device taught me that there are in fact three types of reading: eye reading, ear reading, and finger reading. Blind people read with their fingers, mainstream people read with their eyes. In my case, I use my ears. Here is a demonstration of how to read with your ears by using speech built into a standard iPad. This technology comes from Headstrong Nation, the national organization for dyslexic people.
Many children who have difficulty learning to read with their eyes may be able to listen keenly. In my case, I was able to go on and complete a law degree and a business degree at Stanford, and I recently wrote a book called The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning, published by Random House. People need to understand that I did all this without reading with my eyes—instead I used books on tape or digital books like those available on Bookshare (which carries my book!).
It is very important for all children to get a fair chance at learning to read with their eyes. Think of reading with your eyes like walking up stairs into a building. If you can do it, it makes learning in a standard school convenient. However, if you can’t walk up stairs, a ramp makes all the difference in the world.
There is a hidden cost to focusing on eye reading in perpetuity—rather than spending two to three years working on it, ideally using an Orton-Gillingham-based methodology, and then shifting to other modes of learning such as ear reading. This hidden cost is shame. Shame is different than guilt. Guilt is feeling bad about something you did. Shame comes from not liking something you are.
We treat people who have difficulty learning to read as though they have a disease. Some experts say that they are “diagnosed” with dyslexia or that they “overcame” dyslexia. I’m from New Hampshire. We do not diagnose me as being from New Hampshire. I do not need to overcome the fact that I am from New Hampshire (unless you talk to my friends from our archrival Vermont).
I interviewed over 200 people who are dyslexic to create the Intel Reader. There was a pronounced pattern of children self-harming: cutting themselves, starting to abuse drugs and alcohol, or developing an eating disorder because they felt unworthy. Another cost to focusing on eye reading as the only form of reading is bullying. Bullies often taunt a child for not being able to do what a school system considers to be “normal.” But we have to remember, “normal” is only a setting on your dryer! I encourage you to embrace a new way of thinking and to protect your child from shame and bullying. In the process, you might just ensure that your child will love learning and have a bright future.
Read Ben’s “Native Tongue”
I have found that people have a hard time believing my dyslexia when they see only the final product of my written work. These days, I generally speak to a computer and use Dragon Naturally Speaking to have it transcribed, greatly increasing my speed and accuracy when writing. For this blog, that material went through a few rounds of edits, including structural, content, and proofing. This further polished the material.
Below, you will see the first two paragraphs of this blog written again — as I would write it in raw format. In this case, I listened to the text and transcribed it without the benefit of spell-check or word correction, which are now standard in most word processors. I publish it so you can see “behind the curtain.” Yes, I am dyslexic for life and proud. Consider this my—and all dyslexics’—native tongue.
dysleix ahousl be abl strenths not chame.
Experts in dyslexia have for many tears focus on reaching children to read in the coventional way. But there are hidden cos that impace many chillren in a mainstrem classroom. Shame an Bullying.
I know first habe about difficultly leanring to reach in a conventional way. I am dyslexic. When I wans a kid my mom read aloud to me. When I went to college I use fto fax them home to her in new hampshire and have her read them to me over the phone so I could find my won spelling mistakes. I want on to be come the director acees technology at Intel, and invent a device called the intel reader. Thank could take phot graph of any printed material and read it aloud on the spot.
Ben Foss is dyslexic and the founder of Headstrong Nation, a national organization for dyslexic adults and parents of dyslexic kids. He earned a JD/MBA from Stanford and invented the Intel Reader, a mobile device that takes photos of text and recites it aloud on the spot.
Ben is the author of The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning. Bookshare members can download Ben’s book in the library.
Dyslexia Specialist Says, “Introduce Children with Print Disabilities to Technology Early to Help Them Be Independent!”
Cathy Wilson is a dyslexia specialist at Coppell ISD, TX, and a Bookshare mentor teacher. She trains her colleagues and students who qualify how to use the online Bookshare library and reading technologies.
Last year, Cathy had nearly 40 youngsters on her Bookshare organizational account. This allowed her and other approved teachers, or sponsors, to find and download books for students who qualify. She has helped more than 90 percent of these students get individual memberships.
“Introducing children with print disabilities to technology early helps them to be more independent and eventually find and download books on their own,” she says. Cathy encourages children as early as first and second grade to be reading independently with technology. “Technology is a great equalizer for kids. Children’s minds are open and less constrained by labels or stigmas from their reading disabilities.”
This busy mentor teacher begins each school year talking with parents and sending pre-filled individual membership forms home so they can sign up their children. This makes signing up for Bookshare easier because proof of disability has already been verified through the school on the pre-filled forms.
In face-to-face meetings, Cathy likes to discuss the benefits of digital accessible books. “Parents are busy people, and we need to help them understand the value of educational resources, like Bookshare and reading technologies that may help their child succeed. I create my own guides, use video tutorials, and write email alerts to keep them abreast of updates. We also talk about dyslexia-related topics and new reading tools, like the Bookshare Web Reader. In addition to parent discussions, Cathy works directly with students. “They need practice to use the library and reading technologies so their knowledge of these tools and resources will stick,” she says.
Every week, Cathy spends ten minutes reviewing how to go online, log in with usernames and passwords, search for a book, download it, open it on a device or software and explore navigation features. Many students practice reading digital books on laptops and then demonstrate the login and download process on a Smart Board for class members. “When you empower kids with technology and let them demo it, they get it!”
Each of the ten groups of children (first through fifth graders) she works with are grouped by the reading levels which coordinate with the district’s dyslexia curriculum. “Each group knows my reading process well,” she says. “They come to class, huddle in the jungle corner on comfy pillows, and pull out a printed book or a personal device and read an accessible book with headphones. They are tech-savvy and independent readers.”
About the Bookshare Mentor Teacher Program
This program began in 2010 to support the nation’s top teachers and assistive technology specialists with training tools to engage educators, parents, and students in the effective use of Bookshare’s online accessible library and reading technologies. Over 500 educators and specialists have now joined the network and work in their local communities and schools to advocate for students with print disabilities. Bookshare Mentor Teachers also develop and share best practices with other teachers across the United States. Learn more at http://communications.bookshare.org/mentor-teachers/
Throughout October, parents and educators often meet to discuss how students are progressing through the school year. Parent-teacher conferences, IEP meetings, and other face-to-face opportunities are the perfect time to discuss how students can take reading and studying to the next level with Bookshare. How?
Get qualified students access to Bookshare at home.
Most of our student members access Bookshare through their school account. This means that educators find and download books for students.
A fast growing number of students are also getting individual memberships. This allows them to discover books on their own, download independently, and develop a personal love for reading.
How can you help students be more independent?
Visit our October back-to-school guides, and sign your students up for Bookshare at home!
Still need to get started with Bookshare for back-to-school?