Many thanks to Kate Owen at Thetford Academy for sharing her advocacy of Bookshare and for training more teachers to be proponents of accessible ebooks.
As an educator and librarian, I have always worked to build an inclusive library service to meet the needs of all learners. This year, over one-third of our students are eligible for extra services according to their IEP or 504 plans. Many of these students qualify for Bookshare. The online accessible library has become an integral part of building an inclusive library to accomplish my goal.
Not So Long Ago…
When I first became a school librarian, serving students with print-based disabilities meant surmounting some very real hurdles. The process to obtain accessible formats was tedious and often a barrier to the adoption of accessible materials. Lots of paperwork was given to parents and their child’s physician. Once enrollment was complete, we had to hope that the book assigned to a class was available in audio format. Wonderful volunteers read many books aloud, but even so, it was not uncommon to find that the book we needed simply was not available.
If there was an audio recording it could only be played on a special playback machine. If you were serving more than one or two students in a class, logistics became even more challenging. Once, we had to buy special headphone splitters, which meant a trip over an hour away to the nearest Radio Shack. Bookshare has transformed this process for schools, educators and librarians.
Real-Time Access to Digital Books
Today, with Bookshare, I can instantly provide real-time reading for qualifying students. I can develop Reading Lists ahead of a semester and easily manage last minute curriculum changes.
Bookshare’s library collection is vast, including more than 400,000 titles and the latest versions of textbooks through a partnership with NIMAC. Almost every book we need is available in Bookshare too. Only once, have I requested a book. The process was easy and the title was soon made available.
Help a Student With a Print Disability Read for Life
I want every student to be empowered with tools such as Bookshare that help them become independent and self-directed learners. One way to accomplish this goal is to support classroom teachers by helping them to learn how to use Bookshare’s library effectively. If I am doing my job well, more teachers will become proponents of digital accessible materials and books, just as I am.
In the long run, when qualifying students leave our school with both a high school diploma and an Individual Membership, they can use the online library for a lifetime of learning.
I hope that all students, no matter where they live or the challenges they may face, can accomplish great things, including the freedom to read and explore every book available to mankind.
Are you a librarian or teacher who works with students with visual, learning or physical disabilities? Bookshare can open the world of reading for these students through accessible ebooks and reading tools. Remember, Bookshare is free for qualified U.S. students and schools.
- More books to read. Access over 400,000 titles for school, work, and fun.
- Easy reading. Read directly on an Internet browser with Bookshare Web Reader.
- More ways to read. Read on laptops, Chromebooks, tablets, smartphones and more.
- Better organization. Save books on Reading Lists.
- Easier sharing. Assign books with a Student Login and let them read on their own.
Note: Thetford Academy is the oldest continuously-operating secondary school in Vermont. It is a private school with a public mission — to serve as the high school for students in several surrounding towns. In 2019, the Academy will celebrate its 200th anniversary. Congratulations!
Special thanks to Adair Apple, a Librarian in Evans Elementary School, Corpus Christi, TX for sharing the reasons why she chooses Bookshare to support students with print disabilities.
“In our district, librarians are responsible for both print and digital accessible resources as well as adaptive technologies. Bookshare is one of the resources we use to support students with qualifying print disabilities, such as visual impairments and physical and learning disabilities that hinder reading.
For effective learning, and since many children are more tech-savvy today, we want to get reading resources and technologies into their hands as early as possible. Now, when teachers and students walk into our library and ask if a book is available for a student with a print disability, I’ll check the online accessible library.
As an elementary librarian, I appreciate that I can tap into Bookshare for children’s literature and required chapter books. And, by assigning logins to the students on my Bookshare account, I can give them immediate access to books. This saves students and teachers time and effort. Some of our school librarians have also begun to mark books with stickers to indicate that they are available in accessible formats on Bookshare.
On the Bookshare website, we have access to information to teach parents about accessible ebook formats and reading tools that help students. I like having the ability to go online and view the archived Bookshare webinars and training tutorials.
We are now exploring how Bookshare can be a beneficial resource not only for students who are blind or visually impaired or who have a physical disability, but also for students with a learning disability, such as dyslexia.
Additionally, in Texas, our schools can request on-site Bookshare training through the Accessible Books for Texas (ABT) program, which is funded by the Texas Education Agency. Through this state initiative, teachers, specialists, and librarians learn about the benefits of accessible education materials and how to establish Bookshare organizational and individual student memberships. We are taught how to manage books for students and how to create Reading Lists that make it easy for students to access books independently.”
Take the Next Step with Bookshare!
If you are a U.S. teacher, librarian, or parent supporting students with qualifying print disabilities, please spread the word about Bookshare, especially to your school’s administrators. You can share the key points in this blog about reading independence and emphasize that Bookshare is free for qualified U.S. students and schools. If you are a Texas K-12 public or charter school educator, contact the Accessible Books for Texas Outreach Coordinator in your region for free on-site training.
One of the things that makes Bookshare so special is the community of volunteers that we have the privilege of working with. In recognition of National Volunteer Week (April 10-16), we wanted to acknowledge their contributions and share just how much we appreciate each and every one of them!
The Bookshare volunteers are an amazing group of 182 individuals. Over the past year they have scanned, submitted, and proofed over 2,000 books for Bookshare, the world’s largest online accessible library for people with print disabilities.
Bookshare receives the majority of its titles in the form of digital files directly from the 850 publishers who partner with us, but our volunteers continue to build the library by scanning and proofreading titles unavailable to us, as well as books of personal interest.
Bookshare volunteers are a tremendously passionate, dedicated, and inspiring group. Carol James, Bookshare Digital Collection Development Manager, can’t sing their praises enough. “I’m so often delighted and amazed by what our volunteers are adding – they fill so many wonderful corners of our collection, and put so much love and care into the books they make possible for others to read.”
And she’s right. The Bookshare volunteers have played a key role in making Bookshare what it is today. We are eternally grateful for their willingness to donate their time and skills to helping us not only provide accessible reading material, but also become pioneers for accessibility and social change.
A group of volunteers working together.
Judy Stouffer, a Bookshare volunteer says, “Bookshare gave me back the ability to read what I wanted, when I wanted, including access to specialized technical books I never thought I’d have after becoming disabled. I volunteer because I want to help to open the world of books to other disabled readers the way it has for me.”
Bookshare Volunteers Rock!
Raised in Berkeley, California, Amaya has a background in neurobiology, anthropology and art. Today, she works in a project and community management role for Benetech’s DIAGRAM Center and also supports external partners and technical volunteers to develop resources for making digital graphic content accessible for people with print disabilities.
Fifteen years ago, Michelle Thomas, a seasoned special educator, crossed into the realm of assistive technology (AT) to help more students with disabilities become independent readers. Thomas says, “It is a universal right to read. Instead of viewing AT as a crutch, I wanted to help more teachers view it as an effective learning tool.”
Academic Achievement through Bookshare and Chromebooks
Thomas’ role in one of the largest school districts in Colorado — Adams 12 Five Star School District — is an important one. She works with students who have physical, cognitive, and behavioral issues to improve their academic achievement. Most days, you will find her supporting teachers across 50+ schools to use and understand the benefits of Bookshare and AT. She says, “The right accommodations can change a child’s life!”
In her district, an increase in the number of Chromebooks has expanded teachers’ use of Bookshare to find accessible books. “Children are accustomed to digital technologies,” she says. “Text-to-speech is a natural occurrence to them. This multimodal approach can significantly reinforce reading comprehension which leads to improved learning.”
Reasons to Try Bookshare
Thomas notes another important benefit of Bookshare is the development of independent readers. “Students rely less on their parents, friends, and teachers and more on themselves. We see their anxiety diminish and in its place a renewed sense of self-worth.” She encourages teachers and parents to give the online library a careful look for these reasons:
- Bookshare’s processes to set up and manage student memberships are now streamlined.
- Membership is free for U.S. schools and students who qualify.
- The collection has grown and will soon top 400,000 titles, including a variety of academic books, literature, newspapers and magazines, vocational resources, nonfiction, and bestsellers, that appeal to many reading interests.
- Using Bookshare Web Reader on a Chromebook makes it fast and easy for students to read classroom textbooks with the benefit of text-to-speech and word highlighting.
- Student Login makes it much easier for teachers to assign reading and for students to access their assigned books from home or anywhere.
To support the district’s teachers in finding age-appropriate books and prepare for parent discussions in IEP meetings, Thomas created these resources:
- Pinterest account contains book lists so teachers can easily find titles that engage students and address curricular needs.
- A password protected web page on the Adams 12 Assistive Technology Google Site to highlight helpful training tips and Bookshare information for parents. On this site, additional documentation demonstrates how teachers can use AT in a universal design for learning (UDL) fashion.
Teachers Use Bookshare in Various Settings
Today, teachers in Adams 12 use Bookshare in various learning settings. Deb Bolger, a Learning Specialist at The Studio School, takes her students to the library to search for preferred books. She believes the process of selecting a physical book is an interesting and fun ritual. “Once they find a book they like, they know they can read it in an accessible format,” she says. “That’s where Bookshare plays a critical role.”
Bolger also assigns reading a digital book as a calming technique for students who become overly stimulated in class. “Students find the act of listening to an audio book soothing,” she says. “One young man routinely arrives in my class for a needed break and automatically opens his latest Bookshare book on a Chromebook and is quite content.”
Technology Accommodations and Bookshare’s Digital Accessible Books
Thanks to Ms. Thomas, Ms. Bolger, and thousands of educators in schools across the U.S., there is a constant nudge to use technology accommodations in the classroom, library, and at home to acquire and demonstrate knowledge.
Thomas reiterates, “Reading a book independently is a universal right that all students deserve. Technologies, like Chromebooks and Bookshare, support this goal as teachers strive to deliver a quality reading experience. We want to tear down the barriers and move toward a reading revolution. In the process, we will develop more confident and independent achievers.”
Michelle Thomas is a Bookshare Mentor Teacher who inspires equity and accessibility for lifelong learning on behalf of students with print disabilities. This training and support network was formed in 2010 to help the nation’s top teachers and specialists share best practices on using accessible learning materials. Today, more than five hundred educators participate.
Benetech and the American Library Association Team Up at SXSW to Share Expertise on 3D Printing for Diverse Learners
At the recent 2016 South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, Benetech teamed up with the American Library Association (ALA) to present a session titled: “No More Yoda Heads: 3D printing 4 Diverse Learners.” Lisa Wadors Verne, Benetech Program Manager of Education Research and Partnerships, and Charlie Wapner, an information policy analyst for the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, discussed ways in which the education community – including libraries, museums, and schools – can leverage 3D printing to create learning opportunities for students with print and other disabilities.
Research suggests that 3D objects are important for learning and reinforcing complex spatial concepts that are difficult to convey or explore in any other way (e.g., cells and DNA). Although many schools have access to 3D printing technology, many machines are underutilized and used to print novelty items. In Lisa and Charlie’s session, attendees learned about new collaborations with libraries and museums to help support teachers in providing multimodal access to complex STEM topics as well as utilizing student talent to create innovative learning tools.
An often overlooked piece of the potential of 3D printers in education is their power to create a level playing field for learners of all abilities. “3D printers have the capacity to yield tremendous progress in the field of education,” says Lisa. “When educators and technologists speak of this capacity, they often point to the power of 3D printing to facilitate connected learning, demystify complex STEM topics, and build critical skills for the modern workforce. Our session is devoted to exploring the world of 3D printing and how it can help open the world of learning to all students.”
In their session, Lisa outlined how 3D-printed learning tools can animate the learning process for students who have print, learning, and physical impairments. (If you’re not quite sure what that means, think about how a 3D-printed double helix or H2O molecule might bring science to life for a visually-impaired student.) Charlie described why libraries, as creative, non-judgmental spaces, are the ideal institutions to support the development of assistive technologies through the use of 3D printing technology.
After the presentation was over, several individuals wanted to learn more about Benetech’s 3D printing initiative to create educational equity. Lisa summarized the learning from a convening last summer that brought together practitioners from key institutions and industry to develop ideas for using 3D printers to put all learners on an even footing. In addition, the presenters urged attendees to visit the DIAGRAM Center, a Benetech initiative that is exploring new technologies for creating tactiles and tactile experiences that offer revolutionary ways of conveying spatial information. Says Charlie, “No one else is doing what Benetech is doing in the 3D printing space.”
In response to the inquiries about the role today’s libraries play in their communities, Charlie reiterated that libraries are one-stop community hubs, replete with informational and digital resources that people of all ages and backgrounds can use to engage in creative learning, seek government services, pursue entrepreneurial opportunities, and a great deal more.
Benetech would like to thank Charlie and the ALA for their worthwhile collaboration at SXSWedu and support of our Global Literacy program initiatives.
To learn more about the SXSW experience from Charlie’s perspective, read his blog post on the District Dispatch, the official ALA website in Washington, DC.