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Benetech Wins All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development Grant to Improve Literacy for Primary School Students with Disabilities in India

2015 February 18

Young boy who is blind reading with a portable device.

This article was originally posted on Benetech’s blog on February 5, 2015.

We are delighted to share that USAID, World Vision, and the Australian Government awarded Benetech a 2015 grant to improve literacy for primary school students who are blind in India. The new grant, under the three partners’ All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development literacy innovations competition, funds our proposed winning project to provide Indian students who are blind with mother tongue instruction and reading materials through Bookshare, our digital library of accessible books. This supports Benetech’s commitment to extend the benefits of Bookshare across borders to empower individuals with disabilities around the world, especially in developing countries, to live fuller lives.

USAID, World Vision, and the Australian Government established the All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development partnership in 2011 to improve reading for children in early grades through cost-effective innovations. Benetech is one of fourteen new grantees selected through a highly competitive process that elicited over two hundred proposals from fifty countries.

This project will allow us to tackle a pressing problem: in the developing world, students who are blind or have other print disabilities face formidable barriers as they pursue their education in the midst of a widespread book famine. In countries with several regional languages, such as India, even when a child with a print disability does receive an accessible text, it is the bare minimum to participate in class, with little or no reading materials to strengthen their learning outside the classroom, and few opportunities to complement their braille learning with other modes, such as audio. Preliminary data from teachers at our partner schools for the blind in India shows very low levels of early grade reading skills, ranging between 10-15%.

With support of the All Children Reading grant, we will address this challenge by developing and launching a pilot project to provide accessible educational content for primary school students who are blind in the Maharashtra region of India, where we will be able to capitalize on multiple existing Bookshare partnerships. Our two-year project will pair targeted literacy pedagogy focusing on braille reading with human-narrated audio content in Marathi, which is the language that is primarily spoken at home and in the community in Maharashtra. While Bookshare has revolutionized the availability and reach of accessible materials through digital text production and delivery, we are undertaking this human-audio effort to support languages where digital text-to-speech is of poor quality or not available.

We will pilot this new capability with at least one hundred students spread across three schools for the blind in Maharashtra, offering age-appropriate, high-interest books in their mother tongue in both human-narrated audio and hard-copy braille. This will allow the students to benefit from a multimodal approach to learning early reading skills, while ensuring that they receive a strong foundation in braille literacy and an early familiarity with assistive technology for educational purposes.

We will support this work by providing training on assistive technology and on Bookshare services to teachers, administrators, and parents in our target region. Our goal is to have 30-35% of our target students reading at grade level at the project’s end. In order to measure the benefits of our project and improvement in the students’ reading scores, we will implement a rigorous evaluation plan. This evaluation will inform our future development plans as we seek to replicate our pilot project on a larger scale.

Benetech has been working to provide accessible books in India since 2008. During that time, we have built a powerful coalition of partners located in India and the United States, and a solid ecosystem serving over 2,200 Indian Bookshare members with a collection of more than 180,000 English, Hindi, and Tamil accessible books. Bookshare’s work in India—the first country to have ratified the “Marrakesh Treaty” easing access to books for people with print disabilities—models how we can transform the lives of millions of individuals with disabilities through rapid growth of accessible content around the world.

 * * *

Kristina Pappas

Kristina Pappas, International Program Manager, Benetech Global Literacy

Kristina Pappas is the International Program Manager for Benetech’s Global Literacy initiative.  She has an extensive background in book publishing and international business. Under her direction, Bookshare International has grown to encompass members in nearly 50 countries, books in more than 13 languages, and partnerships with organizations serving people with print disabilities around the world. Kristina received a B.A. from Stanford University and an MBA from the Presidio Graduate School.

NEW Bookshare Academy! Essential Training Resource Has The Answers!

2015 February 11

Educators learning together seated at a table.

Are you looking for video tutorials or webinars to help you use Bookshare better? Do you need materials to train your school staff, parents or volunteers? Do you want to learn and earn continuing education credits? Bookshare Academy has the answers and resources for you!

The Bookshare Academy is our new learning and training platform. It’s packed with information and learning opportunities for Bookshare members, teachers, parents, community service providers and trainers. What can you find in the Academy?

  • Online learning – take online courses about Bookshare through our partner, Perkins eLearning, and earn continuing education credits.
  • Video tutorials and member videos – learn at your own pace with short, instructive Learn-It-Now video tutorials and watch and share inspiring member videos with others.
  • Webinars – view and sign up for upcoming webinars, watch pre-recorded webinars, or request a webinar for your school or district (must have at least 20 participants).
  • Tools for Trainers – find training tools such as demo accounts, power point slides and handouts, a great resource for busy AT specialists, Bookshare mentor teachers, and parent ambassadors!
  • Flyers and user guides – find, print, and share Bookshare brochures and user guides to advocate and train others on Bookshare benefits.
  • Other resources – explore additional information about accessible educational materials, assistive technology, literacy, and services to support people with print disabilities.

In addition to the Academy, watch for new training tips, events and support information in our monthly blog post series. Stay tuned and visit the Bookshare Academy today!

* * *

Kristina King Cohen, Senior Education Program Manager

Kristina King Cohen is a Senior Education Program Manager with Benetech Global Literacy Programs.  Kristina brings over fifteen years experience working in public education and human and health services. She has a proven track record in building successful and sustainable enrichment programs specifically focused on K-12 public schools. Kristina holds a Masters in International Relations from San Francisco State University where she focused her research on global access to education. Her main focus is to educate communities about the various resources Bookshare brings to schools across the country.

 

Bookshare and Benetech Take Center Stage at LDA 2015!

2015 February 7
by Bookshare Team Member

 

LDA logo for the 2015 Conference. A photo of the city of Chicago with hotels and and the water line

We are very excited about the upcoming Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) 2015 Conference in Chicago. Why?

Because we get to meet you, our members and supporters! Make sure that you attend these must-see events:

We look forward to seeing you at LDA 2015!

 

Student Transforms from Reluctant Reader to Top Accelerated Reader with Accessible Books!

2015 February 4

ABT logo new URL

This post was originally featured on the Accessible Books for Texas (ABT) website.  It features Reagan Reeves, a bright student with dyslexia, who not only used Bookshare to stay on track with his reading goals, but far exceeded them to become a top Accelerated Reader.

Michelle Reeves and her son, Reagan

This Texas eighth grader proudly says to his mom with a big smile, “I’ve downloaded and read over 200 digital books!”  His mom, Michelle, smiles too! Inside she is beaming because, finally, her son has embraced an educational resource that supports his reading challenges.  Reagan listens to accessible ebooks read aloud on portable technology devices. Last year, he received an award for having accumulated the most Accelerated Reader points in his class.

“This is a big deal!” says Michelle. She knows firsthand how difficult it is for her son to read standard print because both she and Reagan are dyslexic. “In his early years, Reagan did not like to read at all. Now, he downloads digital books on his iPhone by himself and uses an iPad Mini to read with an app called Read2Go. He even reads for pleasure outside of school. This is a common practice for children, but not for my son, until recently.”

A year and a half ago, Michelle signed up her son for Bookshare, an online library of accessible ebooks that is free to U.S. students with qualifying print disabilities such as blindness, low vision, physical disabilities, and reading disabilities. The resource and technology helped Reagan become more confident and tech savvy.

“He feels cool now that his teachers allow him to read school assignments on his phone,” said Michelle, who is a Bilingual/ESL and Dyslexia Specialist for the Region 8 Educational Service Center in Texas. She often trains teachers and parents in reading resources to support students with dyslexia. “Every opportunity I get, I share Reagan’s story and tell them about Bookshare and accessibility. I say, get your kids Individual Bookshare Memberships and give them a library in their pocket!”

Book Cover of Harry Potter Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Reagan downloads and reads many popular book series from Bookshare. His favorites are: Mortal Instruments, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Divergent, and Harry Potter. He likes to listen to the text read aloud, often called text-to-speech or TTS. Michelle says, “TTS helps him to read longer, because he quickly tires from looking at standard print.

“His teachers tell me that he’s always reading, even when he shouldn’t be,” she chuckles. “My son has fallen in love with reading! Last year, he read on a fourth-grade level. Today, he reads on an 11th grade level. This transformation speaks volumes for identifying the right resources to help children who are dyslexic be successful.”

Visit Accessible Books for Texas to learn more about local professional development and training for Texas educators and families.  Sign up today for an Individual Membership to Bookshare and to learn more about opening a new world to reading.

* * *

Christine Jones, Sr. Education Program Manager

 

Christine Jones is a Senior Education Program Manager for Bookshare and Accessible Books for Texas.  She has more than two decades of experience in technology marketing, education, and nonprofit program management.  Christine received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley and her Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix.

 

Celebrate and Learn About Black History with These Awesome Titles!

2015 January 31
by Bookshare Team Member
Photo collage of historic black individuals in American History

Photo collage of historic black individuals in American History

February is Black History Month, when we celebrate the achievements of African Americans and honor the generations of people who struggled to achieve equality in American society. Did you know that black history is also celebrated in other countries like Canada and the United Kingdom? In this blog, we have collected a number of worthy titles, many written by black authors*, that you can use in your classroom, read with your child, or read on your own.

Photo of young black boy with image of a quarter.

Book Cover of Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

Titles for Younger Readers by Grades

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

True story of an ingenious man who mailed himself to freedom. (grades K–2)

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill

Inspiring tale of a nineteenth century man who rose from slavery to fame as an artist. (grades 1–3)

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin A. Ramsey*

Ruth’s family travels from Chicago to Alabama to visit her grandmother with a very special guidebook. (grades 2–5)

Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge

Focuses on the children who marched in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (grades 4–8)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor*

An African American family fights to stay together in the face of racism and poverty in the 1930s. (grades 5–8)

Oh, Freedom!: Kids Talk About the Civil Rights Movement with the People Who Made It Happen by Casey King

A fourth-grade class interviews parents, grandparents, and friends to learn exciting true stories of the Civil Rights Movement. (grades 5–9)

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose

An impassioned African American woman refuses to give up her seat on a bus. Rosa Parks? No—teenager Claudette Colvin. (grades 6–8)

 Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson*

Memoir of a poet growing up in the 1960s and 70s, learning her own history and telling her own story. (grades 6–8)

Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair*

Coming-of-age novel about a young girl discovering herself and the world during the tumultuous Civil Rights era. (grades 9–12)

The People Could Fly: American Black Folk Tales by Virginia Hamilton*

We have two versions of this celebrated collection of classic legends and folktales shared by African Americans across time. One is a richly illustrated picture book for grades K–2; one is the longer original text for older readers, grades 4–8.

Book Cover of Freedom's Daughters by Lynne Olson has a young black woman holding up her hands.  The unsung heriosm of the civil rights movement from 1830 to 1970.

Book Cover of Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson

Titles for Adults

Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson

Portraits of the dynamic women who played crucial roles in the success of the Civil Rights Movement.

Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery by Leon F. Litwack

Pulitzer Prize–winning account of the transition from slavery to freedom experienced by four million African Americans.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson*

Epic history of the decades-long migration of black citizens to northern and western cities in quest of a better life.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston*

Classic novel of an independent and indomitable African American woman meeting life head on.

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates*

Memoir of two African American brothers and their passionate father seeking to raise his children to adulthood under inner city pressures.

The Peculiar Institution by Kenneth M. Stampp

A remarkable, pioneering examination of the disastrous impact of slavery across society in the American South.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones*

Winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, this complex novel follows the career of a former slave and farmer.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander*

Do we live in a “colorblind” society—or are there new and devastating ways that racial biases are impacting African American lives?

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines*

In the tradition of To Kill A Mockingbird, a wrenching story of death and identity exploring the tragic aftermath of a murder.

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable*

Complex and multifaceted, Malcolm X rewrote his own story again and again, until his assassination at 39.

* * *

BKS-cmykSign up today for an Individual Membership to Bookshare and to learn more about the benefits of accessible books and reading technologies for learning.

Benetech Names New President, COO to Massively Grow Social Impact

2015 January 28
by Bookshare Team Member

PrintBenetech, the parent organization of Bookshare just announced the appointments of Betsy Beaumon as president and Mark Roberts as chief operating officer. Founder Jim Fruchterman continues as Benetech’s chief executive officer, evangelizing Benetech and advancing the technology-for-good field. The goal of the senior appointments is to increase Benetech’s social impact at scale and its capacity to create new social enterprises that use technology to deliver social good.

Through its recently launched technological innovation arm, Benetech Labs, Benetech has been increasingly focused on developing business models, partnerships, and technologies that deliver new solutions to unmet social needs while also implementing and scaling its existing social enterprises. “In their expanded new roles, Betsy and Mark set Benetech on a path to launch new enterprises, scale our existing ones, and grow our global impact by at least a factor of ten,” says Fruchterman. In a related development, Benetech also announced the promotion of Anh Bui to vice president of Benetech Labs. Bui formerly served as director of product strategy in Benetech’s Global Literacy Program.

Over the past six years, Beaumon—an engineer, technology executive, and social entrepreneur—has spearheaded the Global Literacy Program as its general manager, leading it through a tremendous expansion in both size and breadth of impact. She has grown Bookshare, Benetech’s accessible online library, tenfold, delivering over seven million books and transforming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities across the United States and internationally. Beaumon has spearheaded the movement to see that all new digital books and courses are “born accessible” to all, and is driving that vision forward through research and development partnerships with corporate, technology, university, and nonprofit communities.

Betsy Beaumon pink

Betsy Beaumon, President

As President, Beaumon is now responsible for a newly formed group encompassing field leadership in Benetech’s Labs, Global Literacy, Human Rights, and Environment programs; strategy, partnership, and business planning for all of Benetech’s new and existing initiatives and products; as well as funder development, marketing, and communications. “We believe in the power of engagement to address critical areas of unmet need, and our approach to creating transformative new social enterprises and scaling established ones for greater impact reflect that,” notes Beaumon. “I am tremendously energized to work with the entire Benetech team, as well as our user and partner communities, to achieve our ambitious goals.”

Mark Roberts, Chief Operating Officer

Chief Operating Officer Mark Roberts, who joined Benetech in September 2014 as vice president of engineering, brings to his new role extensive experience as a senior executive with several high profile Silicon Valley companies. Roberts was senior vice president of engineering and operations at TiVo Inc., where he helped build the company’s business systems and infrastructure to launch, deliver, and scale highly successful products and services. He will leverage this experience in leading Benetech’s core new group encompassing engineering, product management, and operations, with a focus on implementation, innovation, and scale for Benetech’s operating social enterprises and products. “I am motivated to harness the power of technology as a force for good,” says Roberts. “At Benetech, we leverage the deep technical and operational skills of our team and the open source community to maximize results.”

Anh Bui, Vice President

Vice President Bui, who provides dedicated leadership for Benetech Labs, oversees its multipronged charge to prototype new social good technology applications, launch new products with the promise of great social impact, and ignite cross-sector collaboration on technology-for-good ventures. Bui’s promotion follows her successfully leading the Global Literacy Program’s work on new frontiers of education for students with disabilities, including accessible digital images, 3D printing, and accessible math.

The new appointments are key to Benetech’s next stage of growth as an unusually diverse and exciting organization. Women are a majority of Benetech’s senior leadership team and workforce. Benetech is now recruiting for a vice president of global literacy and a director of engineering, with a total of seven positions being opened shortly—roughly ten percent of its current team size. It is looking for talented individuals who are passionate about using technology to empower underprivileged communities.

About Benetech

Jim Fruchterman standing along a wall of photos.

Jim Fruchterman, Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Benetech is a Silicon Valley nonprofit technology company that provides software tools and services to address pressing social needs. Each of its program areas—Human Rights, Global Literacy, the Environment, and Benetech Labs—offers the greatest social impact on funds invested.

Social entrepreneur and MacArthur Fellow Jim Fruchterman created Benetech in 2000 and leads the organization as its CEO.

For more information, please visit Benetech.org.

Media inquiries:  Noa Ronkin, Communications Manager, Benetech

 

 

 

 

Donor Spotlight: Lavelle Fund for the Blind

2015 January 26
by Bookshare Team Member

What is it like for a nonprofit to have a successful, lasting partnership with a private philanthropic foundation? And what are some of the social benefits and impact that may result from such a relationship?At Benetech, we’re fortunate to have had long-time support from funders who have been willing to bet on us. One foundation that has been a committed supporter of our work is the Lavelle Fund for the Blind. I’d like to share our experience with Lavelle, where they took a series of calculated risks in grantmaking.The Lavelle Fund exemplifies the tremendous social return that bold philanthropy can create. Embracing measured risk, The Fund has been willing to make early bets on Benetech, and has repeatedly chosen to invest in our prototype projects. These projects ended up becoming successful and found sustainable funding streams, allowing the innovation to go to scale without needing continued funding from Lavelle. That’s what a lot of foundations would love to see happen: in this case, it’s happened multiple times!The mission of the Lavelle Fund is to support programs that help people with visual impairments, including blindness, lead independent, productive lives. It funds primarily organizations that serve the New York City metropolitan area or New York State. Twelve years ago, the Fund made its first grant to Benetech, in support of the then newly launched Bookshare, our accessible online library for people with disabilities that get in the way of reading print, including visual impairments and dyslexia. This first grant allowed us to pilot a Bookshare outreach project in the New York metro area, with a de facto focus on senior citizens with vision loss. Frankly, it didn’t go as well as we had hoped, and Lavelle worked with us to retarget the grant to focus on students with visual impairments. This revised project included the conversion of books into accessible formats and working with multiple schools.This pilot paved the way for our work in the education field. It gave us the opportunity to conduct for the first time a sizeable outreach campaign in education, provided us with informative user feedback and case studies, and supported the development of Bookshare’s initial K-12 collection. This experience helped us prove the potential of Bookshare to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Soon afterwards in 2007, we won our first major award from the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), which, in turn, allowed us to build Bookshare into a national asset. Today, Bookshare serves over 330,000 American students with a rapidly growing collection of hundreds of thousands of accessible ebooks. It is Benetech’s largest social enterprise and is making excellent strides towards solving the “accessible book famine” in the United States. Moreover, Bookshare basically breaks even in the United States thanks to contracts to provide the services, from the U.S. government and states like Texas.The Lavelle Fund also supports programs benefiting the developing world. In this grantmaking area, too, The Fund was key to Bookshare’s global expansion and to our ability to better serve low-income users, in developing and developed countries alike.We first extended Bookshare services internationally in 2008 with the launch of Bookshare in India. Worth Trust, an Indian social enterprise providing employment to people with disabilities, partnered with Bookshare to provide book-processing services and expand the library. This effort has now resulted in the addition of over 11,000 books to the Bookshare collection and was made possible through the initial support of the Lavelle Fund.When Bookshare really began to take off, we realized that we weren’t serving many low-income Bookshare members who lacked access to a personal computer or a smartphone. Even in the United States, this was true of probably a quarter of our student users. Of course, in India and other developing countries, the gap is even larger. It was again a grant from the Lavelle Fund (our third) that allowed us to develop the ability to provide accessible MP3 audio versions of our materials and realize the enormous potential impact of mobile reading options for individuals with print disabilities.Daisy Audio and MP3 formats offer Bookshare members more choices to read on the go

In this case, we upgraded the Bookshare website to allow direct downloads of accessible MP3 files for a small number of Bookshare ebooks. The idea is that a member could go to a school, library, or other nonprofit agency with an internet connection, and walk out with the books they wanted to read on any MP3 player or MP3-enabled mobile phone (this is true of most of the inexpensive phones being sold). Since we first began offering this option three years ago, Bookshare members have downloaded over 150,000 MP3 files from the collection. This pilot created strong interest in mobile Bookshare among educators and students, and laid the groundwork for eventual integration of audio download capability via Bookshare at large, when we convinced the Department of Education to scale the pilot up to cover all of our books in English and in Spanish.

With this new capability for making audio files available, we have returned to the international field with many more books available to many more people on the device they actually have in their pocket or in their bag. In 2013, with the most recent (and fourth!) grant by the Lavelle Fund and with welcome changes to Indian copyright law in effect, we embarked on a new project to increase service and expand the number of accessible books for people who are blind in India. As part of this project, we are working with our lead Indian partner, the DAISY Forum of India, as well as other Indian disability organizations. We are committed to increasing our impact in India by an order of magnitude. Benetech announced this commitment at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. We’re very excited about this project: it allows us to pilot Bookshare at scale in India and show its potential to address the needs of people with disabilities globally.

The Lavelle Fund for the Blind has been a wonderful partner to Benetech. Over and over again, it has allowed us to pilot and eventually scale technology solutions that empower disadvantaged communities. The Fund demonstrates the incredible social impact that private philanthropy can create through smart investing strategies and risk tolerance. We are deeply grateful to the Fund for its continued support and commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities.

 

– See more at: http://benetech.org/2015/01/05/donor-spotlight-lavelle-fund-for-the-blind/#sthash.sH5rCQhz.dpuf

What is it like for a nonprofit to have a successful, lasting partnership with a private philanthropic foundation? And what are some of the social benefits and impact that may result from such a relationship?

At Benetech, we’re fortunate to have had long-time support from funders who have been willing to bet on us. One foundation that has been a committed supporter of our work is the Lavelle Fund for the Blind. I’d like to share our experience with Lavelle, where they took a series of calculated risks in grantmaking.

The Lavelle Fund exemplifies the tremendous social return that bold philanthropy can create. Embracing measured risk, The Fund has been willing to make early bets on Benetech, and has repeatedly chosen to invest in our prototype projects. These projects ended up becoming successful and found sustainable funding streams, allowing the innovation to go to scale without needing continued funding from Lavelle. That’s what a lot of foundations would love to see happen: in this case, it’s happened multiple times!

Logo for the Lavelle Fund for the Blind.The mission of the Lavelle Fund is to support programs that help people with visual impairments, including blindness, lead independent, productive lives. It funds primarily organizations that serve the New York City metropolitan area or New York State. Twelve years ago, the Fund made its first grant to Benetech, in support of the then newly launched Bookshare, our accessible online library for people with disabilities that get in the way of reading print, including visual impairments and dyslexia. This first grant allowed us to pilot a Bookshare outreach project in the New York metro area, with a de facto focus on senior citizens with vision loss. Frankly, it didn’t go as well as we had hoped, and Lavelle worked with us to retarget the grant to focus on students with visual impairments. This revised project included the conversion of books into accessible formats and working with multiple schools.

This pilot paved the way for our work in the education field. It gave us the opportunity to conduct for the first time a sizeable outreach campaign in education, provided us with informative user feedback and case studies, and supported the development of Bookshare’s initial K-12 collection. This experience helped us prove the potential of Bookshare to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Soon afterwards in 2007, we won our first major award from the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), which, in turn, allowed us to build Bookshare into a national asset. Today, Bookshare serves over 330,000 American students with a rapidly growing collection of hundreds of thousands of accessible ebooks. It is Benetech’s largest social enterprise and is making excellent strides towards solving the “accessible book famine” in the United States. Moreover, Bookshare basically breaks even in the United States thanks to contracts to provide the services, from the U.S. government and states like Texas.

The Lavelle Fund also supports programs benefiting the developing world. In this grantmaking area, too, The Fund was key to Bookshare’s global expansion and to our ability to better serve low-income users, in developing and developed countries alike.

We first extended Bookshare services internationally in 2008 with the launch of Bookshare in India. Worth Trust, an Indian social enterprise providing employment to people with disabilities, partnered with Bookshare to provide book-processing services and expand the library. This effort has now resulted in the addition of over 11,000 books to the Bookshare collection and was made possible through the initial support of the Lavelle Fund.

When Bookshare really began to take off, we realized that we weren’t serving many low-income Bookshare members who lacked access to a personal computer or a smartphone. Even in the United States, this was true of probably a quarter of our student users. Of course, in India and other developing countries, the gap is even larger. It was again a grant from the Lavelle Fund (our third) that allowed us to develop the ability to provide accessible MP3 audio versions of our materials and realize the enormous potential impact of mobile reading options for individuals with print disabilities.

Bookshare member reading a Bookshare book in audio format on an assistive technolgoy device.

In this case, we upgraded the Bookshare website to allow direct downloads of accessible MP3 files for a small number of Bookshare ebooks. The idea is that a member could go to a school, library, or other nonprofit agency with an internet connection, and walk out with the books they wanted to read on any MP3 player or MP3-enabled mobile phone (this is true of most of the inexpensive phones being sold). Since we first began offering this option three years ago, Bookshare members have downloaded over 150,000 MP3 files from the collection. This pilot created strong interest in mobile Bookshare among educators and students, and laid the groundwork for eventual integration of audio download capability via Bookshare at large, when we convinced the Department of Education to scale the pilot up to cover all of our books in English and in Spanish.

With this new capability for making audio files available, we have returned to the international field with many more books available to many more people on the device they actually have in their pocket or in their bag. In 2013, with the most recent (and fourth!) grant by the Lavelle Fund and with welcome changes to Indian copyright law in effect, we embarked on a new project to increase service and expand the number of accessible books for people who are blind in India. As part of this project, we are working with our lead Indian partner, the DAISY Forum of India, as well as other Indian disability organizations. We are committed to increasing our impact in India by an order of magnitude. Benetech announced this commitment at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. We’re very excited about this project: it allows us to pilot Bookshare at scale in India and show its potential to address the needs of people with disabilities globally.

The Lavelle Fund for the Blind has been a wonderful partner to Benetech. Over and over again, it has allowed us to pilot and eventually scale technology solutions that empower disadvantaged communities. The Fund demonstrates the incredible social impact that private philanthropy can create through smart investing strategies and risk tolerance. We are deeply grateful to the Fund for its continued support and commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities.

– See more at: http://benetech.org/2015/01/05/donor-spotlight-lavelle-fund-for-the-blind/#sthash.sH5rCQhz.dpuf

Head shot of Jim Fruchterman

Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech

This blog post was first published on January 5, 2015 on the Benetech blog. It was written by Jim Fruchterman, Founder and CEO of Benetech, the parent organization of Bookshare, to address what it is like for a nonprofit to have a successful, lasting partnership with a private philanthropic foundation.

 At Benetech, we’re fortunate to have had long-time support from funders who have been willing to bet on us. One foundation that has been a committed supporter of our work is the Lavelle Fund for the Blind. I’d like to share our experience with Lavelle, where they took a series of calculated risks in grantmaking.

 

Logo for Lavelle Fund For The Blind, Inc.The Lavelle Fund exemplifies the tremendous social return that bold philanthropy can create. Embracing measured risk, The Fund has been willing to make early bets on Benetech, and has repeatedly chosen to invest in our prototype projects. These projects ended up becoming successful and found sustainable funding streams, allowing the innovation to go to scale without needing continued funding from Lavelle. That’s what a lot of foundations would love to see happen: in this case, it’s happened multiple times!

The mission of the Lavelle Fund is to support programs that help people with visual impairments, including blindness, lead independent, productive lives. It funds primarily organizations that serve the New York City metropolitan area or New York State. Twelve years ago, the Fund made its first grant to Benetech, in support of the then newly launched Bookshare, our accessible online library for people with disabilities that get in the way of reading print, including visual impairments and dyslexia. This first grant allowed us to pilot a Bookshare outreach project in the New York metro area, with a de facto focus on senior citizens with vision loss. Frankly, it didn’t go as well as we had hoped, and Lavelle worked with us to retarget the grant to focus on students with visual impairments. This revised project included the conversion of books into accessible formats and working with multiple schools.

This pilot paved the way for our work in the education field. It gave us the opportunity to conduct for the first time a sizeable outreach campaign in education, provided us with informative user feedback and case studies, and supported the development of Bookshare’s initial K-12 collection. This experience helped us prove the potential of Bookshare to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Soon afterwards in 2007, we won our first major award from the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), which, in turn, allowed us to build Bookshare into a national asset. Today, Bookshare serves over 330,000 American students with a rapidly growing collection of hundreds of thousands of accessible ebooks. It is Benetech’s largest social enterprise and is making excellent strides towards solving the “accessible book famine” in the United States. Moreover, Bookshare basically breaks even in the United States thanks to contracts to provide the services, from the U.S. government and states like Texas.

The Lavelle Fund also supports programs benefiting the developing world. In this grantmaking area, too, The Fund was key to Bookshare’s global expansion and to our ability to better serve low-income users, in developing and developed countries alike.

We first extended Bookshare services internationally in 2008 with the launch of Bookshare in India. Worth Trust, an Indian social enterprise providing employment to people with disabilities, partnered with Bookshare to provide book-processing services and expand the library. This effort has now resulted in the addition of over 11,000 books to the Bookshare collection and was made possible through the initial support of the Lavelle Fund.

When Bookshare really began to take off, we realized that we weren’t serving many low-income Bookshare members who lacked access to a personal computer or a smartphone. Even in the United States, this was true of probably a quarter of our student users. Of course, in India and other developing countries, the gap is even larger. It was again a grant from the Lavelle Fund (our third) that allowed us to develop the ability to provide accessible MP3 audio versions of our materials and realize the enormous potential impact of mobile reading options for individuals with print disabilities.

Daisy Audio and MP3 formats offer Bookshare members more choices to read on the go - See more at: http://benetech.org/2015/01/05/donor-spotlight-lavelle-fund-for-the-blind/#sthash.sH5rCQhz.dpuf

In this case, we upgraded the Bookshare website to allow direct downloads of accessible MP3 files for a small number of Bookshare ebooks. The idea is that a member could go to a school, library, or other nonprofit agency with an internet connection, and walk out with the books they wanted to read on any MP3 player or MP3-enabled mobile phone (this is true of most of the inexpensive phones being sold). Since we first began offering this option three years ago, Bookshare members have downloaded over 150,000 MP3 files from the collection. This pilot created strong interest in mobile Bookshare among educators and students, and laid the groundwork for eventual integration of audio download capability via Bookshare at large, when we convinced the Department of Education to scale the pilot up to cover all of our books in English and in Spanish.

With this new capability for making audio files available, we have returned to the international field with many more books available to many more people on the device they actually have in their pocket or in their bag. In 2013, with the most recent (and fourth!) grant by the Lavelle Fund and with welcome changes to Indian copyright law in effect, we embarked on a new project to increase service and expand the number of accessible books for people who are blind in India. As part of this project, we are working with our lead Indian partner, the DAISY Forum of India, as well as other Indian disability organizations. We are committed to increasing our impact in India by an order of magnitude. Benetech announced this commitment at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. We’re very excited about this project: it allows us to pilot Bookshare at scale in India and show its potential to address the needs of people with disabilities globally.

The Lavelle Fund for the Blind has been a wonderful partner to Benetech. Over and over again, it has allowed us to pilot and eventually scale technology solutions that empower disadvantaged communities. The Fund demonstrates the incredible social impact that private philanthropy can create through smart investing strategies and risk tolerance. We are deeply grateful to the Fund for its continued support and commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities.

 

 

Attending ATIA 2015? Get Bookshare Updates and Give Us Your Feedback!

2015 January 20
ATIA 2015 15th Anniversary Banner. January 27-31, 2015 at the Caribe Royale Hotel and Convention Ctr. in Orlando, FL

ATIA 2015 15th Anniversary Banner

Are you going to the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) Conference in Orlando, FL?

On Thursday evening, January 29, we will host a special ATIA session to meet with Bookshare members, ask and answer questions, and share feedback. You can also learn more about new and exciting developments at Bookshare and our parent nonprofit, Benetech.

We hope you will join us!  Please RSVP.

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 What: Bookshare: Latest and Greatest

When: Thursday, January 29, 2015

Time: 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

Place: Caribe Royal Orlando Hotel in Rooms Cayman I and II

 Light refreshments will be served.

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Please also check out these Bookshare/Benetech sessions at ATIA:

Common Core Literacy Support for Adolescent Beginning Readers

Thursday, January 29, 2:00 P.M.–3:20 P.M., Curacao 5 – Session Description

3D Printing: New Educational Opportunities for Students with Disabilities

Friday, January 30, 9:20 A.M.–10:20 A.M., Curacao 7/8 – Session Description

 

 

 

Please Share this Amazing Video, Possibilities Abound with Bookshare!

2015 January 12

Did you know that in the U.S. an estimated 2% of all students have a print disability? And that by third and fourth grade*, students who are behind in reading, have a greater chance of falling behind in all their subjects?  You can help to reverse this trend by sharing this awesome video, Possibilities Abound with Bookshare, created by students at Cogswell Polytechnical College. Imagine the realm of possibilities for more individuals with qualifying print disabilities in school and beyond.

Watch the animated video now to learn:

  • What is a print disability.
  • How it affects a person’s ability and desire to read.
  • The importance of making the transition from learning to read to reading to learn.

Special Thanks to the Media Works Team at Cogswell Polytechnical College

Photo of students in the Media Works Team at Cogswell Polytech

Media Works Team at Cogswell Polytechnical College

Bookshare and Benetech, our parent nonprofit, send a special thank you to Cogswell Polytechnical College and the Media Works team for the creation of this inspiring, educational video.

Kristina Cohen, Senior Education Program Manager at Bookshare, said, “Bravo, Cogswell!  This collaboration was a powerful opportunity for all. We appreciated the fresh approach, energy and professionalism that the students and university team provided. The video exceeded our expectations and offers an extremely potent way to educate people about print disabilities and the need for accessible books.”

You can help to open new possibilities for learners by sending this video link to one, two, or ten people who can benefit now!

Thank you.

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Captions for this video are available on YouTube.  Click on the icon labeled CC in the lower right corner to enable captions.

For accessible transcripts, visit: Bookshare Academy or download the transcript directly: bit.ly/AnimationTranscript

 

*Source: Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters A KIDS COUNT Special Report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation

 

 

 

Monthly Support Tip: How to Get NIMAC Textbooks for Students with IEPs

2015 January 7
by Angela Griffith, Bookshare Customer Service Specialist

As one of your trusty support specialists, I often receive calls from teachers asking how students with Individual Memberships and IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) can access textbooks, particularly those from the NIMAC repository.

I tell them that this can easily be done with Reading Lists!

Bookshare Reading List

Bookshare Reading List

Reading Lists are virtual bookshelves that let teachers and members save books for future reading. Teachers can create Reading Lists with assigned reading, including NIMAC-sourced textbooks for students with IEPs, and share them with students linked with their organization. (Note: Students must have an Individual Membership to access shared Reading Lists.)

To read the books, students simply log into their own account and access books shared on the Reading List.

Here’s how it works:

  • Teachers, log into www.bookshare.org and go to My Bookshare
  • Select the “My Reading Lists” button and create a new Reading List.
  • Name it something meaningful and select “visible to all Reading List members.”
  • Share the Reading List with students by selecting the title of the Reading List. (Note: Make sure your student has an Individual Membership to guarantee access.)
  • Select the “Members” link and select the “Add Members” button.
  • Place a check mark next to the member’s name, then select “Add Selected Members.”
  • Find the textbook you wish to share with a student, select the “Add to Reading List” link, and select the Reading List you just created.

The student can now log into their account and access the book!

If a student has an Individual Membership that is not linked with your organization, see our article: How can I Link my Student’s Existing Individual Account to My Organizational Account?

For more information, visit our always helpful Support Center.

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Image: Bookshare Customer Support Specialist, Angela Griffith with her guide dog, Summer.

Angela Griffith with guide dog, Summer.

About Angela…

Customer Support Specialist, Angela Griffith, has a strong background in Customer Service, Assistive Technology, and IT (Information Technology).  For more than two years, she has served many Bookshare members in her role as part of our Technical Support staff.  Angela enjoys reading, music, spending time with close friends, and various activities.

We appreciate her support tips and article contributions to benefit Bookshare members and sponsors.