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Bookshare Takes You to Hallowed Ground for Black History Month

2016 January 18

African-American history can be viewed through many lenses. The people, events, time frame, and historic places have all contributed to the tapestry of our nation’s story. Today, as we celebrate the Book cover for Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? by Nancy Harrison and Bonnie Baderbirthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s also reflect upon the theme for February’s Black History Month: Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories. From the “stations” on the Underground Railroad and the uprising at Harper’s Ferry, to the integration of Little Rock Central High School and the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem, these places are deeply embedded in the narrative of African-American history.

We invite you to explore the Bookshare collection and learn more about the lives of Frederick Douglass, Buffalo Soldiers, civil rights activists, and many more figures and places that have defined history.

For elementary school readers:

  • Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? by Nancy Harrison and Bonnie Bader. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was only 25 when he helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was soon organizing black people across the country in support of the right to vote, desegregation, and other basic civil rights.
  • What Was The Underground Railroad? by Yona Zeldis McDonough, James Bennett and Lauren Mortimer. When enslaved people chose to escape their bondage, who helped them? Where did they go? What dangers did they pass, and what feats of triumph and courage did they perform?
  • Uptown by Bryan Collier. Experience the sights, sounds, and history of Harlem through a child’s eyes.
  • Birmingham 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford. Remembering both the violence and the courage to withstand it experienced by civil rights activists in this crucial time and place.
  • John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry by Brendan January. John Brown hoped to spur a rising among enslaved people with this raiding “army” of eighteen. While he did not succeed in the short term, this event proved to be a crucial milestone on the road to ending slavery in America.

For middle school and young adult readers:

For adult readers:

All ages:

These titles and many more bring history to life for readers of all ages. Download your favorites and go on a journey through time from the slave ships and battlefields through the civil rights movement and struggle for freedom and justice. If you are not yet a Bookshare member, sign up today so you can explore the entire collection of over 380,000 online accessible books.

Students Talk about Accessible Books In Answer to Teacher’s Call to Read

2016 January 11

Head shot of Tanna GallaherTanna Gallaher, a Dyslexia Specialist at Raymond E. Curtis Elementary School in Weatherford, Texas, encourages good reading habits to support lifelong learning. Ms. Gallaher’s motto is to read, read, read, and she advocates for independent reading at school and at home.

Tanna is also a Bookshare Mentor Teacher and encourages parents to sign their student up for an Individual Membership to help them reach and exceed their academic goals.

“It is important that students are able to choose what they are most interested in reading, whether that is fiction, nonfiction, magazines, websites, or other materials,” she says. “I encourage all parents to discuss with their child what he or she likes to read and ask questions often about what they are reading at the present time.”

Taking her motto a step forward, this teacher recently asked her third through fifth graders to write a sentence about using Bookshare on their mobile devices (at home, in class, in the park, or in the car).

Students talk about Bookshare and accessibility features that help them accomplish their teacher’s mission:

Student listening to a book with headphones.“It gives me an example of how I would read fast and lets me choose the speed I listen to.” 

“I like being able to follow along as I listen to the words. Also, when I pause it I can read a word over and over again so I can memorize it.”

“The books are easy or hard, but I like being able to choose.”

“I like being able to read any book I want in my classroom.” 

“I like that my book is right in my pocket! Plus, if I am reading a book and I have trouble with a word, I can just listen to the word I need.”

“Bookshare helps during my class because it helps me remember what I’m reading. When I have trouble reading or cannot figure out a word, it reads it to me. I can understand the words and the story better.”

“Some books don’t have pictures and without pictures I don’t really have as much information. When Bookshare reads the words, I understand the whole story. What would a book be if you didn’t know the words?”

Student reading on a technology device.“I like it when people read to me, so Bookshare has helped because when it reads to me I understand the story better.”

“Bookshare makes reading much smoother and easier. I have been able to read books that I wasn’t able to read before.”

“Normally when I am reading I have a regular speed, but when I come to a word that I don’t know it slows me down. With Bookshare I can listen at one speed and it doesn’t mess up words.”

“Bookshare helped me read faster and I can read in the dark!”

Tanna Gallaher is a Bookshare Mentor Teacher and the 2015 grand prize winner for her efforts to promote Bookshare and lifelong learning in her school throughout the year. Today, eighty percent of her students successfully use technology for independent reading.

“I’ve shared my passion for Bookshare with the dyslexia therapists at six elementary schools and three secondary campuses in the district, and with a lot of teachers, parents, and administrators,” she says. “I will continue to promote the accessible library for reading anytime and anywhere.”

Stay tuned for more great stories of educators, individuals, and students who use Bookshare. Their experiences may inspire you to make new reading resolutions in 2016. Here’s to lifelong learning!


Get On Board with Unified English Braille

2016 January 4

Braille, the ingenious system of six dots invented by Louis Braille almost 200 years ago in France, has Photo of Louis Braille's headstone at his home in Coupvray, Francemeant literacy to millions of blind and visually-impaired individuals around the world. Since braille represents living languages, periodic modifications are necessary to reflect changes in languages and to keep braille vital and contemporary.

In the United States, English Braille, American Edition (EBAE) has been the predominant braille code. To keep U.S. braille consistent and up to date with the braille code used for international English, Unified English Braille (UEB) has been adopted as the official U.S. braille code. UEB is being implemented in the U.S. on January 4, 2016 in commemoration of Louis Braille’s birthday.

What does that mean for Bookshare members? You can immediately get on board with the transition to UEB. Bookshare’s English titles are now available in UEB, making it the largest collection of UEB titles in the world. Members can select from a huge variety of leisure, career, and educational books and read them in UEB on compatible reading tools.

Photo of hands on a BrailleNote deviceBookshare’s UEB titles are also an important resource for braille instructors. Teachers can help students learn how to read with the new braille code using a wide selection of fun and engaging titles for readers of every age and interest. Bookshare is committed to supporting the transition to UEB and hopes members will take full advantage of the breadth of its collection.

For members who wish to continue to read in the previous braille code, Bookshare will continue to provide books in EBAE. In addition, non-English books will continue to be available in their existing formats.

Are you ready to get started with UEB on Bookshare? Visit our Braille resource page for more details and instructions on reading Bookshare books in braille.

Looking Ahead

Bookshare strives to continually improve the quality of its braille. To produce our braille files, Bookshare uses an open source braille translator called Liblouis, which is also continuously updated. We encourage our members to report issues with our braille and our books in general. We collect this information and work to resolve bugs and issues where possible and partner with Liblouis when necessary.

Our goal is to provide braille readers with equal and timely access to the largest body of books and reading materials while continuously working to improve our braille quality. We are committed to serving our visually-impaired community by supporting the UEB standard.

To Louis Braille in honor of his birthday, we say “bon anniversaire” and “merci beaucoup” for giving the world braille.

‘Tis the Season to Cherish a Book

2015 December 17

Bookshare is your headquarters for winter reading

The Bookshare team is making a list and checking it twice – a list of books, that is. One of the best gifts you can give – or receive — this holiday season is a good book. And if it’s part of the Bookshare collection of over 375,000 titles, no wrapping is required.

Wherever your travels take you this winter, take some books along. You can enjoy the Cover for Star Wars: Battlefront Twilight Companybooks your friends have been talking about, such as the Hunger Games trilogy, the Maze Runner series, Harry Potter-themed titles, Percy Jackson and other works by Rick Riordan, and the beloved Magic Treehouse books, just to name a few.

The holiday break is a great time to catch up on the reading you’ve been meaning to do. Explore the full stories behind the blockbuster movies playing on the big screen, like Star Wars! You can enjoy New York Times bestsellers and 2015 book award winners. Or maybe you want to get into the spirit with some holiday-themed favorites. Bookshare has something for every reader, so check out our list of suggested winter break reads.

Read the books behind these blockbusters:Cover for Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Cover for The Adventures of Beekle


Dive into these special collections and award winners:

Enjoy these special holiday collections:

Load up your personal Reading List or help a student find favorite books for winter reading. We’re spreading the Bookshare cheer for the rest of the year and beyond. Oh what fun it is to read!

Advancing Literacy Outcomes for Children with Disabilities in India

2015 December 14

By Terry Jenna, Bookshare International Program Manager

Benetech’s mission is to serve communities in need by creating scalable technology solutions. As the operator of Bookshare, we are working diligently to extend our reach across borders to the international community.

While technological breakthroughs are creating new opportunities and lowering barriers for society as aTerry Jenna with project team members in India whole, the sad truth is that millions of individuals with disabilities around the world are still left behind. This is a particular reality for students in the developing world who cannot read traditional books due to blindness and other print disabilities. They grapple with formidable challenges as they attempt to pursue education in the midst of a widespread book famine. This is especially true in countries with several regional languages, such as India, where classrooms lack accessible reading materials that would allow these students to learn like their peers without disabilities.

Nearly a year ago, Benetech set out to address this challenge with the support of a grant from USAID, World Vision, and the Australian government. The grant, under the three partners’ All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development competition, funds our winning project to provide Indian students who are blind with mother tongue instruction and reading materials through Bookshare. I am delighted to report that we are quickly moving ahead with this project. Let me briefly describe this innovation and provide an update on our progress.

Thanks to the All Children Reading grant, we are developing a pilot project to provide accessible educational content for primary school students who are blind in Pune, India, where we will be able to capitalize on several existing Bookshare partnerships. We are applying a targeted literacy pedagogy that pairs braille reading with human-narrated audio content in Marathi, which is the primary spoken language in the Maharashtra region. Our goal is to pilot this new audio capability with students at three schools for the blind, thus offering them age-appropriate, high-interest books in their mother tongue in both human-narrated audio and hard copy braille.

Young boys with visual impairments sitting at desks in a classroom in India in IndiaI recently traveled to Pune where we held workshops with project members, focusing on team building and creating cost-effective strategies to promote our project including a Bookshare drive to increase local language content and a plan for expanding relationships with publishers in Hindi, Tamil, and other regional languages. One important aspect of the project is that we are complementing the provision of accessible educational content with training on assistive technology and Bookshare services for teachers, administrators, and parents in our target region. Teachers and administrators for first through third grade students recently attended a workshop on these topics led by Mr. Nirmal Verma, a specialist in visual impairment teaching methodology.

In the meantime, Benetech’s engineering and product teams have been adding Marathi human-narrated audio capabilities to Bookshare, and the collection development team has been increasing the offerings of Marathi human-narrated audio books, with the government of Goa providing the latest additions. We are also adding books in Hindi to the Bookshare collection.

Finally, in order to measure the benefits of our project and improvement in the reading scores of target students, we are working with School-to-School International—a prominent global monitoring and evaluation organization—on implementing a rigorous evaluation plan. This month, our partners will conduct baseline testing on 135 students in our three target schools.

We are looking forward to carrying out the subsequent phases of this project with our funders and Adult student in India reading an accessible ebook on a computerpartners. Benetech and the Bookshare team are excited to leverage a multimodal approach to help students develop early reading skills. We believe that the delivery of accessible educational content, when combined with teacher training and parent outreach, is the best approach to address the massive lack of accessible educational materials that so many individuals with disabilities still face. Moreover, this project is poised to demonstrate how the availability of accessible educational content in the students’ mother tongue impacts academic outcomes for students who are blind, and will inform our plans as we seek to replicate this work on a larger scale and in other countries.

I hope you join in our efforts to empower individuals with disabilities around the world to improve their lives. I invite you to learn more about Benetech’s work to extend access to books and information to all people who need our services, regardless of where they live. Because inclusion matters.

The Future Is Now: Bookshare and CSEdWeek Prepare Students for 21st Century Careers

2015 December 8

“Computers are going to be a big part of our future…and that future is yours to shape.” President Obama

Graphic showing the one million increase in computing jobs between 2015 and 2022Technology is all around us and an integral part of our everyday lives. And we know that whatever field students choose to go into as adults, their ability to succeed will increasingly hinge on understanding how technology works. In fact, employment in all information technology occupations is expected to increase by twenty-two percent through 2020. But only a fraction of students today are learning computer science and even fewer students are studying it than a decade ago.

Closing the Gap

Book cover for Python for KidsComputer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek) is an annual program dedicated to inspiring K-12 students to take interest in computer science. It was founded in 2009 by as a call to action about the need to elevate computer science education at all levels and to underscore the critical role of computing in all careers. From December 7-13, CSEdWeek offers resources, learning activities, and tutorials to help kick start students’ interest in computer science.

What Students Can Do

Scratch. Python. Java. Visual Basic. C++. C#. Ruby. Perl. HTML. JavaScript. PHP. SQL. XML. Do you want to know what these programming languages are all about? Start by joining the largest learning event in history: The Hour of Code. More than 100 million students worldwide have already tried an Hour of Code by exploring online tutorials for all grade levels and abilities by Codecademy, CodeHS, LightBot, CodeSpark, Thinkersmith, Tynker, Codable, Google Education, and many more.

Bookshare can help too. It has over 11,000 books and resources on computers and the Internet including Book cover for Starting Out with Javatitles like these:

What Teachers Can Do

Research shows that kids pick up programming concepts before they know how to read and write. In fact, their brains are more receptive to computer languages at a young age, just like foreign languages. Even if you aren’t experienced in computer science, you can introduce students to basic concepts and encourage them to give programming a try. These resources will help you get started:

  • Check out Bookshare’s resources for teachers such as: Guide to Teaching Computer ScienceBook cover for Guide to Teaching Computer Science
  • Check out CSEdWeek’s computer science resources
  • Bring an Hour of Code to your classroom
  • Bring computer science classes to your school or district
  • Host a computer science tech jam
  • Encourage students to give introductory programming a try

Regardless of what career path students ultimately choose, whether they go into medicine, business, politics, or the arts, knowing how to build technology will give them the confidence and skills to navigate today’s tech-saturated world. The future is already here.

Why We Are #Thankful

2015 December 1

The Bookshare community is amazing. It’s over 370,000 people strong with an even larger cast of parents, teachers, and supporters. They live in over seventy countries and read more than a million and a half books every year. They dream big, accomplish great things, and live life to its fullest. The holiday season is a time for thanks, and we at Bookshare are thankful for this community. Let’s meet some of them.

Jessica and Lily PrestLily loves to read, especially books about horses. She didn’t always like reading though. In fact, Lily disliked it because of her dyslexia. That changed when she started using Bookshare, and her mom, Jessica, tweeted, “A year ago, she hated to read. Today, she finished a twenty-five-page chapter book!”

Amber SteetAmber 
loves gripping cover-up stories and Jim Marrs novels. There’s something about conspiracies that gets her going. She devours books in braille and wants to help others learn how to read. She is preparing to become a teacher of the visually impaired.


Photo of Tim Hornik and Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Timothy knows about service. He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom where he lost his vision to sniper fire. Today, he serves returning veterans by helping them make successful transitions to school and civilian life through technology training and peer support.
Two hands with hearts and caption that says it's time for giving


Thank you to Lily, Amber, Timothy, and all members who make Bookshare the amazing community that it is. This holiday season, consider the Bookshare community in your end-of-year giving on Giving Tuesday or make a tax-deductible donation today!

U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, now Economist, Appreciates Bookshare’s Vast Collection

2015 November 30

Tim Fallon“The online library helps me to stay current on in-depth issues and research for my profession,” says Tim Fallon.

Four years ago, after losing much of his sight in an IED explosion in Afghanistan, Timothy Fallon, a former First Lieutenant in the U.S. Marines, learned about Bookshare at the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital.

“The staff and the program at Hines for visually-impaired veterans are great,” he said. “They take the time to get to know their clients and knew that I wanted to return to college. They encouraged me to sign up for a Bookshare membership that is free to any U.S. student with a qualifying print disability, including veterans.

Book Cover of A Savage War of Peace Today, Tim is an experienced analyst and economist for the U.S. Department of Defense. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. For many of his postsecondary courses, Tim downloaded textbooks and journals from Bookshare to read on his smart phone using the Voice Dream Reader app. An example of a book that he needed for class is A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horn. Tim found it in Bookshare.

“The library easily has the largest selection of accessible reading materials available today,” he says. “I like the collection’s diversity from general to specific titles, and I appreciate that any time a member requests a book for their own use the book is added to the library and available to all members. This process causes a snowball effect for readers to do a deep dive into any topic. You would be surprised at the range of titles you can find in the library.”

To stay current in his field, Tim downloads complex research and government publications. His interests range from the economy and regional issues to books on security, the military, and congressional and government documents. Tim also reads monographs and reports from the RAND Corporation, a global policy think tank. These reports present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors including executive summaries, technical documentation, and synthesis pieces.

“Employers expect workers to stay current on the issues to maintain our professional fields of interest,” said Tim. “Bookshare’s library empowers me for my career and for recreational reading. There are topics for anyone to get smart and bestsellers for everyone to enjoy.”

For pleasure reading, Tim enjoys nonfiction as well as science fiction and fantasy by authors like Andy Weir who wrote The Martian and George R.R. Martin who wrote A Game of Thrones. Tim also likes books by James D. Hornfischer, a U.S. Navy historian.

Members can use Bookshare’s advanced search feature to easily find and filter categories to identify their favorite authors and genres. Now is the time to join the online accessible library. New adult members can save 33% on an annual subscription from now until December 15, 2015.

A New Perspective on Literacy for Students with Low Vision

2015 November 24

By guest author Allison Hilliker

Photo of Allison HillikerImagine a reading solution where students with low vision could read for an extended period of time without eye fatigue. A solution where their ability to distinguish among letters was not dependent upon print size, contrast, lighting, color, or font style. Where skimming or rereading a paragraph or page wouldn’t be cause for frustration or eye strain. Where students could easily discern the subtleties of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and paragraph layout. Imagine a reading option in which individuals didn’t have to hold the book close to their face or hunch over a tablet screen in order to read. Well, there is a reading solution that enables students to accomplish this and more. That solution is Braille.

Braille? Seriously? Why?

Braille readers who have varying degrees of usable sight have demonstrated how they have been able to read on or above grade level simply by using Braille. For decades, Braille has enabled individuals to compete effectively with their sighted classmates while in higher education and with colleagues in the workplace. Studies have shown that, while there is a high rate of unemployment among adults who are blind or visually impaired, the majority of those individuals who are employed use Braille. (Bell & Mino, 2013; Ryles, 1996). These facts demonstrate that there is a tremendous benefit to students who obtain Braille skills and use Braille consistently.

But Wait!  These Students Have Partial Sight

An individual need not be totally blind, or even close to it, in order to benefit from reading Braille. Many young students with low vision are able to keep pace with their peers in primary grades because the print is large and/or minimal on any one page. As these students progress to upper grades, however, the print decreases in size and increases in volume. These changes often cause frustration and lead students to avoid reading altogether or resort to using audio only. This causes a wider gap between students with visual impairments and their peers. In contrast, when a student with partial sight becomes proficient in Braille, the student has the option to choose which reading media (print or Braille) works best in any given situation. As a result, low vision Braille readers will be equipped with multiple tools to obtain success.

Isn’t Braille Difficult and Time Consuming to Learn?

No. It’s often believed that Braille is difficult, tedious, and time consuming to learn, and it results in low comprehension levels. However, experiences reported by Braille-reading adults have demonstrated the opposite. Many adult Braille readers read with a proficiency level equal to that of their sighted friends and colleagues. (Ryles, 1996). Students who learn Braille and are encouraged to practice it daily emerge with reading speeds and comprehension skills that are comparable to their sighted peers.

During preschool, a sighted child typically begins to learn reading skills in print. When a preschool-aged child with a visual impairment learns reading in a similar manner to sighted classmates, but uses Braille instead of print, both learners typically develop similar reading abilities. It may or may not take a little longer for older students just beginning Braille to become proficient readers. However, with daily encouragement and practice, all students can develop Braille skills quickly and become fluent readers like their sighted counterparts who use print.

Braille itself is not inherently slower or more difficult to read than print, it’s just that when individuals learn anything later in life, it may seem harder at the beginning. The important thing is for teachers to have a positive attitude about Braille so that students will be motivated to use it even if it is difficult in the beginning.

Won’t My Students Resist Learning Braille?

If an instructor is excited about Braille, students are likely to be as well. Enthusiasm for Braille will reduce resistance to using it. Exposing students to role models who use Braille (especially individuals who are the same age as the learners), can be encouraging. Often, students learning Braille feel isolated because they believe they are the only Braille readers in the area or because they are the only Braille reader they know. Introducing students with low vision to other Braille users can normalize Braille and motivate them to learn to read just as well or better as others in either Braille or print.

It is normal for children, and some adults for that matter, to resist working on tasks that are difficult at first. Just like with other skills, daily practice will make Braille much easier. A positive attitude about Braille will go a long way toward encouraging students. If an instructor has the attitude that Braille is important, exciting, and fun to use, students will be more likely to believe the same.

What about Audio Reading, Isn’t That Sufficient?

While listening to a book may seem to be a viable alternative, it has some limitations. Adults who primarily listened to books instead of actively reading for themselves when they were younger often discovered they later struggled with academic writing. The audio format prevented them from obtaining proficiency in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and other writing skills. Not every writing challenge can be resolved through spell-check, and two words that sound the same can be spelled differently. Limited opportunities for interacting with text while young can create difficulties with writing while pursuing higher education or employment. Braille, when presented in a positive way and reinforced with practice, eliminates those deficiencies.

In addition, an audio format does not allow students to review notes while giving a presentation or reading a speech aloud. This may not seem like an important task for younger students, but presentation skills are often required in higher education and some employment settings. Holding a printed page close to one’s face, or speaking to a group with an ear bud in one ear, may not present a professional impression. On the contrary, a skilled Braille reader skimming Braille notes while facing and engaging the audience can be extremely effective. In this way Braille can enable students to read aloud with confidence and poise.

Braille may also be preferable to audio options for labeling important items such as medication bottles, school folders, etc. Braille can be useful for making board/card games accessible, reading books aloud to younger children, or even keeping lists for groceries, passwords, guests, and so on.

Does Learning Braille Mean That Students Can Never Use Print?

Absolutely not. Students with low vision are not required to use Braille exclusively. While individuals will become more proficient readers by using Braille daily, they may still read print when, and if, it meets their low vision requirements such as print size, color contrast, font style, etc. Having proficient Braille skills and the ability to read print presents students with two viable options: Braille or print. Many successful students with low vision are competent readers in both Braille and print (either large print or via magnification devices) and are skilled in deciding which reading media is best for any given situation. This expertise develops over time with practice and confidence. Experienced Braille readers often discover that Braille is the most effective option the majority of the time while other formats may be options when Braille is unavailable. In addition, students’ preferences for Braille over print are likely to increase as their reading becomes faster and more fluent. The optimal scenario for a student with low vision who is proficient in Braille is having several media options from which to choose.

Won’t Students Feel Self-Conscious About Reading Braille?

There is no shame in anyone with partial sight choosing to read Braille in addition to or instead of other formats. Braille has been a respectable method of media for over one hundred years. Many young students are amazed to learn that Braille was invented by a French boy, Louis Braille, at age fifteen — perhaps close to their own age. As with many subjects, an instructor’s positive attitude toward Braille helps students develop a positive attitude too.

Allison Hilliker demonstrating how she teaches braille using a muffin tin and balls Students with low vision may already feel self-conscious if they have to read enlarged text on oversized paper; hold papers close to their face; hunch over a table to read textbooks, worksheets, or tablets; or they must sit very close to a computer screen. Rather, students who perfect Braille reading skills may find that they are more like their sighted classmates because they are comfortable reading in a variety of settings.

Braille enables a student to sit up proudly while reading with confidence. Any student who reads well is more likely to be comfortable reading in groups, regardless of media choice. Moreover, Braille readers can read regardless of lighting quality or eye fatigue. The versatility of Braille may motivate a student to read more often. In addition, introducing students to Braille as young as possible can increase acceptance and lead to a smoother learning process.

Braille readers who can read fluidly, quickly, and without stress are more likely to be confident and have higher cognitive levels than poor readers who struggle to use the same media options (regular print) as their peers.

How Can Parents and Educators Get On Board with Braille?

The National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA) is a free assessment tool available to instructors that uses current research to determine whether a student with a visual impairment would benefit from learning Braille or print as their primary media. The results of this assessment may be shared with other members of a student’s education team such as parents, administrators, and other teachers. Seeing a demonstrated need for Braille instruction may help others understand the importance of Braille. With a positive approach toward Braille and the belief that Braille will help students be successful in education and employment, instructors may find that others will be more open toward Braille as an option. Feel free to explain to others that Braille does not mean the student with low vision will no longer use any remaining vision. Rather, Braille enhances one’s education by adding an additional literacy tool to use when vision may not be reliable. Through reading Braille, a student’s confidence grows because reading efficiently in any situation has occurred.

Does Bookshare Have Books in Braille?

Yes! All of Bookshare’s English language books are available in Braille Ready Format (BRF). Bookshare is currently testing Unified English Braille (UEB) which will be officially released on our site in early 2016. This feature will not only allow access to hundreds of thousands of books in this code, but will also allow instructors to be able to demonstrate the new UEB standard through books that will engage readers with diverse interests. Titles can be downloaded by logging into Bookshare, searching for a book, and then selecting BRF from the format dropdown box. Note that some DAISY readers can read the DAISY text format using an electronic Braille display. Such displays will show text in Braille even if it has not been directly translated into Braille by other means. We invite you to sign up and try one of our hundreds of thousands of Braille books today!

Additional Resources:

About the author: Allison Hilliker provides Bookshare customer support for Benetech’s Global Literacy program. She has a Bachelor of Science degree from Arizona State University, serves as secretary for the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, and has been a part of the Benetech team for over eight years. Allison and her fiancé maintain the Blind Access Journal website and podcast and are expecting their first child in January. As a legally blind individual who has experience reading both Braille and print, Allison has a special passion for the topic of literacy for people who are partially sighted.



  1. Bell, E. C., & Mino, N. M. (2013). Blind and visually impaired adult rehabilitation and employment survey: Final results. Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, 3(1). Retrieved from doi:
  2. Ryles, R., (1996), “The Impact of Braille Reading Skills on Employment, Income, Education, and Reading Habits,” Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness 90(3), 219-226.

Making a Direct Impact on the Lives of People with Vision Loss

2015 November 19

Disability advocates are often the first to say that people who are blind or visually impaired make excellent workers. Why? In addition to their unique strengths and talents, these workers are more likely to use assistive technology and have specific workforce training. They may have mentors, teachers, and close family members who support them. They may also take full advantage of knowledge resources, like Bookshare, to learn about their professional interests.

Bill Powell working with an adult student on a computerWhen it comes to knowing about workers who are blind and about braille literacy and resources to train blind workers, Bookshare member Bill Powell, an Assistive Technology Director for Bosma Enterprises, comes to mind. This Indianapolis nonprofit provides employment services, rehabilitation, and outreach for adults who are blind. The organization is one of the largest employers of people with vision loss in industries such as health and safety, printing, warehousing, contract packaging, hearing aids, and more.

Mr. Powell has been blind since birth with optic nerve hypoplasia. Early in his childhood, he attended the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and eventually went to public school. He graduated from college and taught in public school for twenty-five years. Bill credits his mentor, a high school coach, for helping him rise above lackluster expectations that had been set for him as an adolescent. “He taught me to wrestle by using math formulas in my head,” said Bill. “This coach taught me to live life to the fullest and not just to survive, and that’s what I tried to accomplish in my life.”

During his tenure in college, Bill trained future teachers at the University of Nebraska and Indiana State University to use the literary Braille code and assistive technologies. He developed educational curriculum and wrote books. He lectured at the University of Vienna, co-chaired a special thematic session on service delivery at the University of Paris, and authored two assistive technology training websites ( and for teachers and students.

Many of Bill’s students graduated from college and went on to become computer experts. Bill is extremely proud of one of his students who developed technical devices to assist persons with physical disabilities.

Bill Powell PhotoWhen asked how we can educate and change perceptions about the capabilities of blind workers, Bill said, “There are still misconceptions about what individuals who are blind can and cannot do. It is all a matter of matching individuals up with the right trainers, skills, and technologies. Today, individuals who are blind operate computers, work in manufacturing, and manage people. In schools and in business, we need to help all persons identify their unique talents and vocational opportunities. And, we need to use resources like Bookshare to help them succeed professionally and personally.”

Book Cover of The Goal A Process of Ongoing Improvementby Eliyahu GoldrattTo train workers and help students who are blind or have low vision expand their career opportunities, Bill and his staff download accessible books from Bookshare, including titles about computer programming, technology, finance, and specific training manuals.  Bill recently used these books in some of his workshops:

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt

Network Your Computers & Devices Step by Step by Ciprian Adrean Rusen

Ubuntu Hacks by Kyle Rankins, Bill Childers and Jonathan Oxer

“I deeply appreciate Bookshare and all programs of this nature for giving me the lifelong treasure of reading,” he said. “The best part of my work is the knowledge that people who did not have much hope of economic success have found work and increased their independence. I recommend membership to all my clients so they will benefit from professional and pleasure reading. We hope our mission at Bosma and my story will help more employers, educators, and advocates take notice of the true capabilities of a person with disabilities and will consider all of the technological advancements that have opened up new vocations for workers like us.”

There is no better time to join Bookshare. For a limited time, new adult members get 33% off an annual subscription, and qualified U.S. students are always free.

Bill talks on video about his life and mission.In 2012, Bill Powell received the 16th Annual Thomas C. Hasbrook Award for his work with the blind community.

Read Bill’s inspirational story and watch a video of his tremendous perseverance and commitment to helping all people experience work and life to the fullest.