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The Sharjah International Book Fair: Towards Accessibility without Borders

2014 January 31
by Bookshare Team Member

Have you ever wondered how Bookshare builds such a rich and varied collection of titles so quickly in the library? Each month, we add more than 3000 titles to engage the hearts and minds of members of all ages. We currently have 223,000+ (and counting) titles in the collection. Educational and general interest trade titles in English comprise the majority of our collection, but our goal is to bring Bookshare services to many more people with print disabilities in more geographies and languages. To that end, we’re working hard to expand partnerships with the international publishing community.

That’s where Robin Seaman, Benetech’s Director of Content Acquisition for our Global Literacy Program, steps in. Robin’s job is to engage publishers and other industry stakeholders in a deep conversation about the power of ebooks to change lives both in the U.S. and around the world.  Thanks to the generosity of publishers who grant us the rights to distribute their books internationally, people with print disabilities in nearly fifty countries around the world have access to over 100,000 of the books in our collection.

In pursuit of making Bookshare a worldwide resource, Robin travels across the country and around the world to talk with publishers from every sector of the business about making their content available through Bookshare and giving us the rights to distribute internationally.

Robin visited the Emirates Association for Visually Impaired (EAVI) at their Headquarters in Sharjah. Adel Abdullah Alzamar, Chairman of the Board (left) and Dr. Ahmed Alomran Alshamsi, Vice President (right).

Robin visited the Emirates Association for Visually Impaired (EAVI) at their Headquarters in Sharjah. Adel Abdullah Alzamar, Chairman of the Board (left) and Dr. Ahmed Alomran Alshamsi, Vice President (right).

Last November, Robin took a long flight to attend the Sharjah International Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates’ (U.A.E.). This prestigious book fair is organized by the U.K. Publishers Association and more than 35 countries were represented. Robin kept a journal of her travels, including wonderful photographs, and wrote about her journey on Benetech’s Blog. Robin says, “In the U.S., Benetech and many others are making excellent strides toward solving the ‘accessible book famine.’ However, we know that our work to meet the global need for accessible content has just begun. I’m excited to talk with new publishers about our Bookshare International initiative and extend an open invitation to the publishing community to join us in this quest.”

Teacher-Recommended Titles for Black History Month

2014 January 28
by Bookshare Team Member
Donna Schneider, Assistive Technology Specialist and Bookshare Mentor Teacher

Donna Schneider, Assistive Technology Specialist

Earlier, we wrote about Black History Month.

In this blog, we want to share some great reading recommendations from one of our amazing sponsor members, Donna Schneider.  Donna is an Assistive Technology Specialist and Bookshare Mentor Teacher.  She gave us her list of teacher-recommended books to read and learn about  black history.  Some titles meet Common Core Standards, so please share them with other teachers and students.

Here’s a tip! Use Reading Lists to save, organize, and share these books with students who have Individual Memberships.  View this tutorial for educators or this tutorial for Individual Members.

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Illustrated image of two children holding a stack of books.

Illustrated image of two children holding a stack of books.

Recommended Reading for Children

Free to Be You and Me by Marlo Thomas

Comics, songs, and the stories that give messages to young children about why they are in this world.

 A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams

A child, her waitress mother, and her grandmother save dimes to buy a comfortable armchair after all their furniture is lost in a fire.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, Caroline Binch

Although classmates say that she can’t play Peter Pan in the school play because she’s black and a girl, Grace discovers that she can do anything she sets her mind to do.

Anansi the Spider: A Tale from Ashanti by Gerald McDermott

Anansi the Spider is one of the great folk heroes of the world. He is a rogue, a mischief-maker, and a wise, lovable creature that triumphs over larger foes. In this traditional Ashanti tale, Anansi sets out on a long, difficult journey.

The Drinking Gourd: A Story of the Underground Railroad by F.N. Monjo

A young boy and his father help a family of slaves escape to freedom via the underground railroad.

Sounder by William H. Armstrong

It was a horrible nightmare. The boy’s father was taken away by the sheriff, and his dog Sounder was hit by a shotgun blast. The boy has to save Sounder.

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Recommended Reading for Adolescents and Older Readers

Illustrated image of two  teens sitting on a stack of books reading.

Illustrated image of two teens sitting on a stack of books reading.

Through My Eyes  by Margo Lundell and Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges recounts the story of her involvement, as a six-year-old, in the integration of her school in New Orleans in 1960.

 My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Christine King Farris

Looks at the early life of Martin Luther King, Jr., as seen through the eyes of his older sister.

I Never Had It Made: The Autobiography of Jackie Robinson by Jackie Robinson

A straightforward yet inspiring story of what it took to be the first man of color to break into the white world of professional sports.

The Gold Cadillac by Mildred D. Taylor

Two black girls living in the North are proud of their family’s beautiful new Cadillac until they take it on a visit to the South and encounter racial prejudice for the first time.

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

A black family living in Mississippi during the Depression of the 1930s is faced with prejudice and discrimination, which its children do not understand. This text is listed as an example that meets Common Core Standards in English language arts in grades 6-8.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill a Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. Meets Common Core Standards in English language arts in grades 9-10.

Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals

In 1957, Melba Pattillo turned 16. That was also the year she became a warrior on the front lines of a civil rights firestorm.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

“Never before, in the entire history of the American theater, has so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage,” observed James Baldwin shortly before A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway in 1959. Meets Common Core Standards in English language arts in grades 11-12.

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.


Leading Accessible Communities – LIVE Discussion with Online Community Managers

2014 January 25
by Bookshare Team Member
BJ Wishinsky, Bookshare Social Media Coordinator

BJ Wishinsky, Bookshare Social Media Coordinator

Allison Hilliker, Benetech Operations Associate

Allison Hilliker, Benetech Operations Associate

January 27, 2014 is Community Manager Appreciation Day and we’re thrilled that two of Benetech’s employees, BJ Wishinsky, Bookshare’s Social Media Coordinator, and Allison Hilliker, Benetech’s Operations Associate, will team up to talk with community managers around the country on the important topic of accessibility.

Online Community Managers help individuals and organizations build connections online around common goals and personal, social, or business interests.

BJ and Allison’s goals are to help more community managers understand their role in removing barriers to access and inclusion for community members with disabilities. They will help other leaders in the field to learn about accessibility factors on social platforms including Facebook, Linked-In, and Twitter. Their panel discussion will ask the question, “What practices, tools, and resources can an online community use to remove barriers for people with disabilities?”

The hangout and online discussion will air live on Monday, January 27, 2014 at 9:00 pm Eastern time.

Visit the Leading Accessible Online Communities page for full bios of panelists, the questions that will be discussed, and to watch the live hangout.

You can also follow the simultaneous Twitter chat using the hashtags #CMAD and #a11y.

Accessibility Tip: When sharing an image with an online community, include a text description as a caption or metadata. This will allow screen readers used by the blind to read aloud the description of the image.

Learn more about accessibility and the importance of image descriptions at the DIAGRAM Center, managed by Benetech in partnership with the WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) and the US Fund for DAISY.


January Is Braille Literacy Month

2014 January 23
by Bookshare Team Member
Head shot of Louis Braille

Louis Braille

Louis Braille was born on January 4, 1809, in Coupvray, France.  He is the inventor of the braille code, and students of all ages can read and learn about him in many titles in the Bookshare library.

At age 16, Louis attended the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. He and other blind students would read by tracing raised letters in print with their fingers. Writing required memorization of these letter shapes to reproduce them on paper. The task of reading and writing were painfully slow, and few blind students mastered the technique. Some say that Louis would poke holes in paper trying to come up with a more efficient way to represent letters and numbers tactually.

Louis spent three years improving upon the invention of Charles Barbier, a retired artillery officer, whose note-taking system used embossed dots to represent sounds. Today, Louis’s braille code is used in almost every country in the world and adapted to most known languages. Louis Braille was a great inventor, a teacher, a researcher and an accomplished musician. He died on January 6, 1852, at the age of 43, and each January we celebrate his legacy.

Louis Braille: The Boy Who Invented Books for the Blind by Margaret Davidson

Louis was 12 years old and blind, but he made up his mind that he was going to invent an easy way for all blind people to read and write. It took him three years to work out his alphabet of raised dots.

The Picture Book of Louis Braille by David Adler

A biography of the inventor of the braille code, for kids.

Instructional Strategies for Braille Literacy by Diane P. Wormsley and Frances M. D’Andrea

Braille instructors can find specific and practical strategies for teaching braille reading and writing. This includes learning general guidelines and strategies; fostering emergent learning; making the transition from print to braille; teaching braille to students with special needs and those who speak English as a second language; assessing the literacy skills of students who are blind or visually impaired; and learning about technology and braille.

Honoring Black History Month – February

2014 January 20
Photo collage of historic black individuals in American History

Photo collage of historic black individuals in American History

February is Black History Month. Did you know that Carter G. Woodson originated Black History Week in 1926 in an effort to place African American history into the study of American history?

In preparation for this event, here are titles to check out in the Bookshare library in honor of many individuals who impacted American history.

We also invite you to join our discussions on Facebook about these courageous men and women.

Carter G. Woodson—A Life in Black History by Jacqueline Goggin (HS, College, Adult)

In 1912, Woodson (1875­­–1950) became the first and only individual of slave parentage to earn a Ph.D. in history. He founded the Journal of Negro History, wrote and edited numerous books and publications, and through his research and writing established black history as a legitimate field of inquiry.

African American History  by Darlene Clark Hine, Stanley Harrold and William C. Hine (HS, College, Adult)

Textbook that traces the history of black people in America from colonization to present day.

The African American Almanac—9th Edition by Jeffrey Lehman and Andrew P. Jackson (HS, College, Adult)

The African American Almanac provides a range of historical and current information on African American history, society, and culture.

Freedom Flyers—the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II by J. Todd Moye (High School, College, Adult)

As the country’s first African American military pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen fought in World War II on two fronts: 1) against the Axis powers in the skies over Europe and (2) against Jim Crow racism and segregation at home.

Booker T. Washington—The Wizard of Tuskegee 1901–1915 by Louis R. Harlan (Adult)

Booker T. Washington was the most powerful black American of his time. The author reveals Washington’s complex personality—in sharp contrast to his public demeanor, he was a ruthless power broker.

Frederick Douglas—American Heroes by Kevin Cunningham (K-12 NIMAC Textbook)

Available to public K-12 schools and organizations in the U.S. for students with an IEP.

I am Rosa Parks by Rosa Parks (Children’s Book, 3rd Grade)

Rosa Parks is the black woman whose acts of civil disobedience led to the 1956 Supreme Court order to desegregate buses in Montgomery, Alabama. She explains what she did and why.

Bessie Coleman—First Black Woman Pilot by Connie Plantz (Children’s Book)

Explores the personal and professional life of an exemplary woman.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Thank You Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Eleanora E. Tate (Children’s Book)

The children of Gumbo Grove Elementary School discover the contributions of many famous Afro-Americans during Black History Month.

Two FREE “Bookshare for Educators” Workshops during ATIA 2014 Conference in Orlando

2014 January 13
by Bookshare Team Member
Photo of teachers learning together seated at a table.

Educators seated at a table learning together.

Educators near or close to Orlando, Florida, and those who will attend the ATIA 2014 conference, reserve your seat now for FREE Bookshare training workshops on Friday, January 31.

This is your chance to get hands-on training and answers to questions directly from our Bookshare trainers.

You do not have to register for ATIA to participate.  The events will take place at the Caribe Royal Hotel in conjunction with ATIA 2014. Once we reserve your spot, we’ll send you details in a confirmation email.  Space is limited, so please sign up on the waiting list for these in-depth training sessions:

1)      Bookshare for Beginners – New members and sponsors can learn how to get started with Bookshare and download their first book for students.

2)      Bookshare Advanced – Learn how to use Bookshare across different assistive technologies as well as effective ways to get more out of your account with the latest tools and features.

3)      Bookshare Member Feedback Meeting – This is a great opportunity to get to know our staff and let us know what you think about Bookshare and how it can be improved.

Kristina Cohen working on a computer.

Kristina Cohen, Bookshare Sr. Education Program Manager in a training session using a computer and projector.

ATIA conference registrants are also invited to attend these great sessions by our staff:

  • Discovering Accessible Common Core Materials, Thu, Jan 30, at 8:00-9:00 AM in Bonaire 6
  • Digital Access to the Common Core, Thu, Jan 30, at 9:20-10:20 AM in Boca I
  • Route 66: Providing Access to Adolescent Literature, Thu, Jan 30, at 1:00-2:00 PM in Boca IV
  • What’s Next in Accessible STEM Learning Materials and Assessment? Fri, Jan 31, at 2:20-3:20 PM in Curacao 1

We look forward to learning more about your Bookshare goals in sunny (and hopefully warm) Orlando, Florida.

See you soon!

The Bookshare Staff

Calling All K-12 Bookshare Members: Enter the White House Student Film Festival by January 29 2014!

2014 January 7
by Bookshare Team Member

Are you or do you know a Bookshare student member in grades K-12 who enjoys filmmaking? Do you use Bookshare to help with your studies at school?  If yes, President Obama has a super cool contest for you!

President Obama looking over the shoulder of a young female student using a computer for learning.

President Obama looking over the shoulder of a young female student using a computer for learning.

Enter the White House Student Film Festival!

The White House is holding its first ever film festival to showcase the power of technology in schools and students who win may get to  visit the White House!

We know that you use Bookshare to learn all sorts of amazing things.  Do you use Bookshare Web Reader to read and listen to your textbooks and do projects or experiments?

Does Read2Go help you keep up with assignments wherever you go?

Are you accessing more books with Bookshare and a braille display than you ever did before?

This is your chance to let President Obama and the rest of the world know about it.  Finalist videos will be featured on the White House website, YouTube channel, and social media sites.

Here’s a fun video by Bill Nye, the Science Guy describing the contest.

Announcing the White House Student Film Festival

How to Enter

  • Create a short video (3 minutes or less)
  • Address one of these themes: 1) How you currently use technology in your classroom or school, or 2) the role technology will play in education in the future.
  • Read the official rules to make sure your entry is valid, and visit the White House Film Festival website for more information.

Entries are due by January 29, 2014. So think of a good idea or script, grab a video recorder or smartphone, and start filming!

We’re excited to see what you create. Feel free to share your videos on the Bookshare Facebook page as well.

Good luck!

The Bookshare Team




Praise for Accessible Books and Reading Technologies by Bookshare Mentor Teacher

2013 December 26
by Bookshare Team Member
Theresa Brousseau, MS, MS Ed, Teacher of the Visually Impaired and Bookshare Mentor Teacher

Theresa Brousseau, MS, MS Ed, Teacher of the Visually Impaired and Bookshare Mentor Teacher

As 2013 comes to an end, we want to send our heartfelt thanks to all educators, sponsors and Bookshare Mentor Teachers who continue to partner with us to provide accessible educational opportunities to their students.  With that sentiment, we’d like to share this letter from  Theresa Brousseau, a teacher of the visually impaired, who wrote us this letter.

“Thanks to Bookshare, I feel good that I’m able to help more students with print disabilities achieve their goals, make progress and be successful!  As a VI teacher, the students I work with require reading assignments in accessible formats to access the curriculum.  We find many teacher-recommended books and K-12 textbooks readily available in Bookshare in formats such as DAISY Text, DAISY Audio, MP3 and BRF (Braille Ready Format) to meet their needs.

“In the past, finding required schoolbooks took time at the expense of students, who would wait for books with long delays.  Now, they receive their books at the same time as their peers, making learning more uniform and equitable, especially when it comes to doing research and homework.

“Bookshare provides access to both the digital formats and the reading technologies they need to keep the pace.  Many students are more engaged in learning and there are no more excuses about not having appropriate materials to do class assignments or homework.

“Bookshare is great for students who are visually impaired, as well as for students with print disabilities who are struggling readers, such as those with severe dyslexia.  Now, these students can perform on grade level with audio materials that have text-to-speech.

“I also appreciate all of the portable devices that support students’ individual preferences and learning styles. Using technology is more socially acceptable, and students feel good about tapping into digital accessible books versus being seen as different using audio books on tape or CDs.”

About the Bookshare Mentor Teacher Program

The Bookshare Mentor Teacher program began in 2010 to support the nation’s top teachers and assistive technologists with training tools to engage educators, parents, and students in the effective use of Bookshare’s online library and reading technologies.  Since that time, over 500 educators and specialists have joined the network. They work in their local communities and schools to advocate on behalf of students with print disabilities.  They also develop and share best practices across the United States.

Learn more about the Bookshare Mentor Teacher program at:

Bookshare Listed Among World’s 100 Most Inspiring Applications of Digital Technology for Social Innovation

2013 December 19
by Bookshare Team Member

This post is reposted from the Benetech Blog.

Logo of the Nominet TrustThe Nominet Trust, a United Kingdom leading social tech funder, included Bookshare, a Benetech Global Literacy initiative, on its list of 100 global ventures using digital technology to solve some of the world’s biggest social problems.

Through its innovative technologies, Bookshare is raising the floor for people with print disabilities (such as visual impairments, physical disabilities, or severe learning disabilities) by providing them with the world’s largest collection of accessible copyrighted content and reading tools. Bookshare currently has over 250,000 members and a collection of more than 220,000 titles, which are delivered as digital files and available for download any time, day or night, in a variety of accessible formats. “It’s a life-changing service” for those with visual impairments or other print disabilities, states the Bookshare listing on the Nominet Trust 100.

The recently announced Nominet Trust 100, or NT100, identifies ingenious uses of technology changing lives in areas ranging from poverty to human rights, education and healthcare. A steering group, led by innovation expert Charles Leadbeater, compiled the list. The Nominet Trust calls it “a dynamic public database of social tech innovations around the world that will accelerate the use of technology as a tool for social change.”

The NT100 will form the basis for a growing online resource for social enterprises called “The Social Tech Guide.” It is designed to celebrate the people who are using digital technology to change the world for the better and to inspire social entrepreneurs to follow in the footsteps of these leading social technology pioneers.

The NT100 can be found online at More information is available on the Nominet Trust’s website.


Top Four “Hits the Solar Plexus” Good Reads for Bookshare Adult Members

2013 December 16
by Bookshare Team Member

This blog is contributed by Bookshare member and staff person, Liz Halperin.

Liz Halperin and her guide dog, Sir Welton with Jim Fruchterman in the Bookshare

Liz Halperin and her guide dog, Sir Welton with Jim Fruchterman in the Bookshare Offices

Hi everyone! I’m an avid reader and proofreader for Bookshare and work in the Collections Department. I’ve had the great fortune to read books that I might not have read otherwise.  This blog is about the books for adult readers I’ve recently read. These books took my breath away with the haunting power of their stories and quality of writing.

Alert!  Bookshare members might find some of these reads disturbing because of their sheer intensity.  My suggestions are NOT light-hearted books. If you are looking for something creative, intense, and well written, I hope you’ll read some of these titles!

Beloved, by Toni Morrison, 1993. I remember this book was popular when it was first published, and friends were telling me to read it. I thought it was going to be a typical adult-meets-adult story: they work through conflicts and end up together. So I didn’t bother with it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s a story about slavery and one woman’s astounding actions. This one haunts me with its ethical questions.

Room, by Emma Donoghue, 2011. This book amazed me with its creativity in building an environment for two special characters. A mother, held captive with her five-year-old son, creates his whole world in their one room. The book was unsettling to read, then became a literary déjà vu when three women were found trapped in a basement by two brothers. They had been captives for 10 years.

Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo, 1939. I knew this story was based on a stage play, so I assumed it would be light-hearted and upbeat. But the book was a standout because it was written completely from the perspective of a man terribly wounded in war. The added forewords by the author in 1959 and again in 1970 are thought-provoking.

Little Bee, by Chris Cleeve, 2008. Chronicling the immigration of Bee, there are serious surprises here. Some reviews warned of a very gruesome scene. But this was one action scene that was important to the plot, and it did not strike me as worth scaring readers away. This story exemplifies maximum loyalty.

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, by Heidi Durrow, 2010. Rachel is the daughter of a Danish mother and an African American G.I. When she is the only survivor of family tragedy, her African American grandmother takes her in. It’s the 1980s and the girl must find her way, both internally and in her community. This may sound like a trite coming-of-age story about racial issues, but believe me, it has reason to be on my “hits the solar plexus” list.

Many thanks to Liz for her top picks!

The Bookshare Staff