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Giving Thanks, Looking Ahead: An Open Letter to the Bookshare Community

2014 November 24
Betsy Beaumon head shot

Betsy Beaumon, General Manager, Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech’s Global Literacy Program

Dear Friends,

I always appreciate hearing from our members and getting a glimpse into how Bookshare is making a positive difference in their lives.

Oftentimes, the stories our members share with us are deeply moving, but there’s something especially rewarding in hearing someone new to our community commenting on what they’re able to accomplish with Bookshare.Consider the following statement that one of our members has anonymously shared with us:

“I recently activated my account, and am thrilled with your service and how it works seamlessly with my iPad. This is the first time I have been able to read books unavailable [as commercial digital spoken audio products] in over fifteen years. In addition, your service is enabling me to develop a career that would otherwise be impossible. I am very grateful for Bookshare!”

This note is a powerful reminder of how grateful I am for you—our Bookshare members, parents, educators, volunteers, donors, and partners—and for the tremendous achievements we have accomplished together over the past year.

Thanks to your support, Bookshare is now serving more members than ever with a collection of hundreds of thousands of accessible ebooks, and with tools that offer a “read now” experience on multiple devices of their choosing, whether at school, at home, at work, or on the go. We just launched a major update to the Bookshare website, carefully making major improvements to it in order to better support our members and enable them to get even more out of our vast and growing collection.

We aren’t stopping here, though. We believe that our technology and services offer a new world of opportunity for millions of readers around the world, and are setting our sights on further revolutionizing the fields of accessibility and education. These goals are embodied in the mission of Benetech, the nonprofit parent company that operates Bookshare and that advances the use of technology as a force for social good. We’re therefore expanding not only the scale of our work through Bookshare but also our scope across the Benetech Global Literacy Program.

This means that our team is taking on multiple new, cool projects. For example, we’re working hard to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for students who have visual disabilities or learning differences. We just launched a new project to explore new ways in which 3D printing technology in libraries and museums can be used to improve learning and accessibility in a range of educational contexts, especially in STEM classes. Earlier this year, we began developing a cloud-based app to help publishers and educators deliver accessible math.

As these projects illustrate, we’re extending what we’ve learned from our extensive work with Bookshare to help publishers and other content creators realize the promise of the digital age and ensure that all content that’s born digital is also “born accessible.” We’re also expanding the proven Bookshare model internationally, so that people with disabilities all around the world, including many who currently have little or no access to education, benefit from the same service that our members enjoy in the United States. In fact, Bookshare is the only major library of its kind that’s actively delivering services in conjunction with partners across the world.

Thank you to our thriving Bookshare community for everything you have done to make these efforts possible. As we look forward to 2015, we know that much work remains to be done—people to empower, places to reach, new accessibility tools to explore and build, and new partnerships to develop in order to better address the global need for accessible content. All this mission-focused work goes beyond what we’re funded to do, and we definitely need your generous help to carry it forward: to provide additional books; create unprecedented opportunities to benefit from accessible math; extend our services to developing countries; and keep improving and increasing the ways to use Bookshare.

This giving season, you may be receiving communications from our team with an appeal for financially supporting Bookshare. Please take a look and give whatever you can to allow us to continue these efforts and do even more, for more people. We build our technology-for-good products and reach dollar-by-dollar, and therefore every gift of any size makes a difference for the individuals we serve.

I look forward to continuing our shared journey, and to accomplishing much more together over the coming year and beyond. Thank you in advance for your support.

Warm regards and happy holidays,

Betsy Beaumon

General Manager, Bookshare

Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech’s Global Literacy Program

Learn About Thanksgiving With These Bookshare Titles!

2014 November 21
by Bookshare Team Member
Happy Turkey Day! Fun photo of two pumpkins and a cross-eyed turkey

Happy Turkey Day! Fun photo of two pumpkins and a cross-eyed turkey.

There’s nothing more satisfying than curling up with a good read.  So, we’ve selected these fun Thanksgiving titles for Bookshare readers of all ages to learn why the holiday is so special.  As we turn indoors for some good ole fashion fun, we hope your holiday is warm and enjoyable!

You never know what you can learn from a good book. Gobble, gobble!

* * * * * *


For younger readers:

Thanksgiving_Dinner_Platter book cover.  Young girl in lovely blue dress holds a plate with cake for a pet.

Book Cover of The Thanksgiving Dinner Platter by Randa Handler

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie

Ready, Freddy! #15: Thanksgiving Turkey Trouble

The Thanksgiving Day Platter

Junie B., First Grader: Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message

Don’t Be Such A Turkey!


the_gift_of_thanks boo cover. Youg maidens dancing in the woods.

Book Cover “The Gift of Thanks” by Margaret Visser

For adult readers:

Thanksgiving 101

Our Founding Foods

The Gift of Thanks


Bless This Food

The Wordy Shipmates



Updated Bookshare Web Reader Now Lets You Read on Safari!

2014 November 17

Bookshare Web Reader, the popular and free reading tool, can now be used on current versions of the Safari browser for Mac!


Screen capture of Bookshare Web Reader reading Romeo and Juliet from an Internet Browser.

With this newest update to Bookshare Web Reader, Mac users can use Safari to find, open, and read Bookshare books directly within the browser. In addition, they can also listen to words read aloud and follow along with synchronized word highlighting. This full set of reading features was previously only available only on Google Chrome.

This is a particularly great update because in addition to using the Safari browser, Mac users can take advantage of high-quality voices available in Mac OS X!

What other improvements were included in this update?

  • Access to full reading features on Safari.
  • On current versions of Google Chrome, simply find a book and select “Read Now.” You no longer need to install the Chrome extension the first time you use it.
  • Select voice preferences on Safari and Chrome.

Note that Bookshare Web Reader can still be used with screen readers on other browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer. Learn more about compatible browsers. In addition, Bookshare Web Reader is not yet fully supported on mobile devices, but you can learn about other compatible mobile reading tools.

Visit Bookshare today and try reading a book with Bookshare Web Reader on Safari or Chrome!



Donor Spotlight! Carole H. Lake

2014 November 14
by Bookshare Team Member
Image of Carole Lake

Image of Carole Lake

Thank you Carole H. Lake, Bookshare Member, for this wonderful guest post!

Why do I support Bookshare, the accessible online library for people with print disabilities operated by the Benetech Global Literacy Program?  Well, I support it for a number of reasons, but first let me tell you a story.

My grandmother was a highly educated woman and an avid reader. Sadly, she developed glaucoma, and lost her eyesight in her 60s. I used to go down to the Texas State Library and pick up books on records for her. No, not books on tape—books on vinyl! They were heavy, clumsy, and annoyingly scratched. Moreover, the choice of subject matter was absurdly limited to biographies of long-dead historical figures, obscure (but sincere!) religious tracts, books on etiquette, and the occasional Pearl Buck novel (for light reading). It was depressing, and worse, it was boring. There was no way to request more interesting (or more recent!) books for her, so she dwindled into dozing and listening to soap operas on the TV for the last twenty years of her life. If she couldn’t listen to it on TV, it wasn’t readily available for her.

Like my grandmother, I have always been a reader. By the third grade, I had read every book in our elementary school library, though I definitely missed some of the nuances in Gone With the Wind! As a young adult, I was the kind of person who took ten books along to read on a trip, just in case we got stuck somewhere. Now, I have over five thousand (seriously!) books on my iPad/Kindle, because you just never know what you’re going to want to read! I have eclectic tastes in literature. If I find an author I like, I want to read everything he/she wrote. If I like the first book in a series, I want to read the whole series, and I don’t want to wait! I unapologetically read racy romance books (sexy vampires!), but I’m also working on reading a biography of every president (I read Bill Clinton’s first!).

As I’ve grown older, my vision has changed and is not what it used to be, as my grandmother’s eye problems seem to run in the family. I don’t expect to be seriously vision-impaired, but it certainly makes me think, “What if I couldn’t read?”

In my grandmother’s day, well-meaning people picked her reading material. Can you imagine the number of hours it took volunteers reading for the blind to finish just one book? The books they chose had to be not only appropriate for a wide range of readers, but also politically correct. About ten years ago, I discovered that, in many ways, nothing had changed. Many of the books I wanted to read were simply not available to people with disabilities. And this is because someone on a committee somewhere was deciding what is appropriate. To me, that feels like censorship. It surely isn’t equality of access!

I believe people should be able to read whatever they want to read—from history to urban fantasy to light romance, gory mysteries, current events, classics, paranormal, New York Times bestsellers, to inspirational books and, of course, sexy vampires.

Which brings me to Bookshare.

When I first discovered Bookshare, I realized that its members could CHOOSE what they wanted to read from any book in the collection. Technology had made it much faster to convert a standard book to an equivalent in an accessible format, and the Bookshare team was willing to add any book to the system, if someone volunteered to scan it. I was so excited. No censorship. No judgment.

It turned out, however, that many books still weren’t in the collection after all. Because the vast majority of its members are students, Bookshare was funded by grants to scan the books that students need for school. At first, I contributed to Bookshare books (not textbooks!) that I love and would want to be available to me if I were visually impaired. That was fun! But gradually, I began to realize that it wasn’t all about me. Thousands of others were out there, wishing for books that simply weren’t in the collection—yet. To me, not being able to read that book one wants is a bad thing.

I decided, therefore, to help increase the Bookshare collection by financially supporting the purchase, processing, and proofing of books that are requested by members and that are not covered by grants or otherwise made available directly as digital files by Bookshare publisher partners. If one person wants that book, that’s good enough for me.

You see, I realized that it isn’t about what I want to read, and it’s certainly not about what I think you ought to read. Rather, it’s about each individual member being able to read exactly what he or she wants. Today. Right now, by immediate download. Now that’s a good thing!

About Bookshare:

For more information about Bookshare, visit  We appreciate your support in helping Bookshare add more titles and collections to the library.  Please donate today!  Thank you.

Blind U.S. Army Captain Teaches Us to Keep Learning and Serving!

2014 November 11
Timothy Hornik, Co-Founder of TAVVI, with friend and colleague, Dan Standage, Director of Disability in Education, Student Veterans of America

Timothy Hornik, Co-Founder of TAVVI, with friend and colleague, Dan Standage, Director of Disability in Education, Student Veterans of America  (

In honor of Veterans Day, we salute Timothy E. Hornik, a Bookshare member and U.S. Army Captain who has a lifelong ambition to help Veterans who are visually impaired make successful transitions to civilian life.

In 2002, Tim earned his military commission from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. In September 2004, he was deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom. That same year, sniper fire caused Tim to become blind.

For the next eight years, Tim remained on active duty managing operations, and he was able to fulfill his desire to serve others. Today, he is a Licensed Master of Social Work at the University of Kansas and is pursuing his PhD in Therapeutic Sciences.

Tim is also the cofounder of TAVVI, The Technology Association for Veterans with Visual Impairments, a working group under the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) in Kansas.  TAVVI develops programs and services to offer educational resources and personalized transition support to disabled Veterans pursuing postsecondary education.

The Blinded Veterans Association reports statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs that there are over 158,000 visually impaired Veterans in the U.S.  This rate may increase by 7,000 each year.  Today, more than ever before, Veterans are taking advantage of military-related educational programs and enrolling in universities, community colleges, and vocational institutions.

Tim estimates that within two years, TAVVI may serve 400 to as many as 800 Veteran students. To develop his program, he networks with colleagues at Veterans organizations and universities and advocates for digital accessible ebooks and technologies to be readily available for Veterans with print disabilities. Among the educational resources he recommends is Bookshare’s online library.  Membership to Bookshare is free for Veterans with qualified print disabilities who attend U.S. schools. Tim likes the varied collection of educational ebooks, technical and professional journals, and popular sci-fi he reads for pleasure.

Tim’s preferred technology device for reading accessible books is his iPhone with the Voice Dream Reader App. He was also an early adopter of Bookshare’s Read2Go app. Tim likes accessible books with synthesized text to speech (TTS) because the uniformity of voices helps him to read and skim information fast.  He also recommends that fellow Veterans read titles in Bookshare’s special military collection to help them better understand the challenges of transitioning back to civilian life. Titles Tim has read and recommend include:

In addition to his work at TAVVI, Tim writes a blog, Blind, but Not Alone, and has published a series of guides on features and applications for visually impaired iOS users. Last year, he represented wounded warriors at the M-Enabling Summit and provided evidence for a congressional hearing on the VA’s 508 usability survey for screen readers.  Tim also downloads children’s books from Bookshare to read with his young daughter and spends time volunteering with these organizations: Heartland Regional Group of Blinded Veterans in Kansas, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, and the University of Kansas, School of Social Welfare.

Logo for the Coalition to Salute America's heros. Image is a sillouette of a person in military with red stripes of a flag waving.

Logo for the Coalition to Salute America’s heroes. A sillouette of a military person saluting red stripes in a flag.

The Bookshare staff would like to thank Tim and all Veterans for their extraordinary service to our country. Together with Tim and organizations like TAVVI, we extend our thanks and salute university programs and organizations that bring people, resources, and information to serve disabled Veterans.

Happy Veterans Day!

For more information about Bookshare, visit or email  We appreciate your support in helping Bookshare add more titles and collections to the library for Veterans to read. Please donate today!  Thank you.

Understood.Org – A Resource Network In Support of Parents of Children with Learning and Attention Issues

2014 November 5
Adult and child sitting happily together working on a learning project. Source:

Adult and child sitting happily together working on a learning project. Source:

The Internet can be an amazing resource for finding out about everything from ancestry to zoology. As a parent of three children, I spent countless hours each month reading sites like “What to Expect When You Are Expecting,” and then checking their developmental growth on “Baby Center” only to be completely panic stricken when one of them did not reach their milestones when they were supposed to.

Likewise, for parents who are trying to get answers to help their child succeed in school and at home, the Internet can be an overwhelming and scary place. Even the savviest of parents are confused, and they often find themselves wading through an abyss of conflicting reports on the exact same topic.

Bookshare, an initiative of Benetech Global Literacy, and 14 other nonprofits have come together to create, a new website for parents of children with learning and attention issues.  Developed by parents, experts, and people with their own learning and attention issues, brings together all of the information parents need to support their children at home and school.

Screen caption of Understood website.Screen caption of Understood website.  Parent Toolkit. 15 nonprofits come together.  Dive in! Image of a hand holding a tablet with logos of participating organizations

Screen capture of Understood website. Parent Toolkit. 15 nonprofits come together. Dive in! Image of a hand holding a tablet with logos of participating organizations.

With, you can connect with other parents on the same journey through a secure online community. You can ask questions from a variety of experts and get advice on how to deal with challenging behaviors. You can participate in daily chats and webinars and get personalized information that is most relevant to you. You can even experience what it is like for your child, who may have trouble with reading, math, organization, or attention, through the online simulation tool “Through My Child’s Eyes.” And all of this is free!

So if you are struggling with finding reliable information and support on the Internet, check out today!


Image of Lisa Wadors

Bookshare’s Manager of Parent Outreach

This blog post written by Lisa Wadors Verne. Lisa has her doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, and is a former special education teacher.

Lisa is the Educational Manager for the Bookshare Parent Ambassador Program and has three children.


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.


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: or