Skip to content

Happy Holidays and to All Good Cheer!

2013 December 9
by Bookshare Team Member
colorful books stacked high with a red ribbon tied in a bow.

Colorful books stacked and tied with red ribbon.

Whether you’ve just celebrated Hanukkah or are getting ready for Christmas, Kwanzaa, or many other wonderful holiday traditions, we are sending much good cheer from our family to yours!

December is a great time to wrap up important events—like wrapping up a handmade gift or wrapping up with a cozy blanket to read a good book with a child or loved one.  Here at our offices, we’re wrapping up the year with more than 200,000 titles for our Members to enjoy!

We thank our Bookshare collections team for putting together this joyous list of winter holiday titles for all ages.

 Twelve Winter Holiday Books

Bear Stays Up For Christmas (grades PK-2) Who’d want to sleep when there’s so much Christmas magic going on?

The Story of Holly and Ivy (grades K-3) Holly and Ivy each want a home for Christmas—see if the little girl and the beautiful doll get their wishes.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblin  (grades K-3) It will be a dismal Hanukkah for the villagers unless Hershel can outwit these unwanted visitors!

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells (Junie B., First Grader (grades 1-4) Ho ho, oh no! Junie picks tattletale May’s name in the class Secret Santa drawing.

Hanukcats (grades 2-5) You can bet your blintzes that when it comes to the Jewish holidays, cats have just a few things in mind: treats, toys, and mischief.

Kwanzaa (grades 3-5) Learn about the African roots of this wonderful tradition.

On Christmas Eve (grades 3-5) Tess really wants to meet Santa this year because she wants to ask him for something special—a gift that isn’t for herself.

When Santa Fell to Earth (grades 4-7) Twinklestar the reindeer lands Santa in a heap of trouble when they make a bumpy and unplanned landing.

Moominland Midwinter (grades 4-7) Who covered up all Moomintroll’s favorite places with this wet, cold, white stuff? Off he goes to find out!

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (grades 8-10) New York teenagers carry on a wintry scavenger hunt, neither knowing quite what—or who—they will find.

Winter of the Candy Canes (grades 9-12) Candace is working as an elf at the theme park this holiday season—but sometimes it’s hard to keep things merry and bright.

Isaac Asimov’s Christmas (grades 9-12) Ten thought-provoking stories that ask the question “What does Christmas Future look like?”

NYC Tech Coach for Visually Impaired Students Shares Value of Bookshare’s Online Library

2013 November 29
by Bookshare Team Member

David Cohen, the Vision Technology Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s District 75/Citywide Services, is considered the go-to guy for anything tech-related. David has 18 years experience working with students who are visually impaired (VI) in one of the largest districts in the United States. He says a good portion of VI students in his districts now attend general education classes and that “technology is an empowering learning solution for students and the district.”

David Cohen Bookshare Mentor Teacher sitting at his desk.

David Cohen, a Bookshare Mentor Teacher sitting at his desk.

David’s main job is to work with staff, students, and parents to help them evaluate personalized learning needs. Whether it’s assistive technology, digital accessible curriculum, or other accommodations, David wants everyone to know about the hardware, software, and resources that are available. “Our district does a great job of encouraging and supporting technology integration,” he says.

This forward-thinker is always looking for the next tool or cost-saving learning solution to provide students with low vision greater technology access and digital accessible books.

In 2011, he wrote an article for the ATMAC blog called “Putting Bookshare Books on the iPad.”  ATMAC  is a blog focused on assistive technology and Apple devices.

“I remember embracing the iPad early for VI students,” he recalls. “While there are numerous options for students who are auditory or braille readers, there’s always been a disconnect in technology for students who require large print and alternate contrast for visual reading. “That’s where Bookshare comes in.” David is a Bookshare Mentor Teacher. “One reason I joined the national network is to keep abreast of the access movement,” he says. “I also like to share what my district has been able to accomplish using the free library and reading tools.”

David saw the potential in Bookshare to be a cost- and time-saving resource when expediting digital books for his schools and students. “In the past, there was always an issue to get reading materials in braille, large print, and audio formats, and the cost of these materials magnified the challenge. When you see a visually impaired or blind student carrying heavy volumes of books around, you know there is a problem. Once we initiated the Bookshare process, digital accessible books opened up a new era of learning and reading freedom for them.”

David also says that kids don’t want to look different. “When they carry odd-looking devices or heavy volumes of books, they are embarrassed. Now they have over 1,000 books from Bookshare on a Braille Notetaker, and many use iPads for homework. With the Read2Go app, it’s much easier to download and read accessible books. And it doesn’t take long to train them because they get the technology! They understand the value and want to learn more.”

When teachers see how fast students catch on, David says, “they get the value, too!” Today, as many as 80 VI teachers have organizational memberships to Bookshare and serve an estimated 800 to 1,000 students. David reminds them at the beginning of each school term to get their reading list together. “That way, our staff can help them download the books from Bookshare on Reading Lists, and they are easily available for students to get them on time. When you translate the free Bookshare membership and reading tools to the number of students who can qualify, it’s quite a good investment of time and dollars. This is the reward I get for doing my job—better access and learning equality for students and time management and cost savings for our schools.”

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:

November – A Time to Give Thanks!

2013 November 25
by Bookshare Team Member

Any day is a good day to honor people, and November is the time to celebrate families, sacrifices made and the human spirit.  So today, we give thanks for you! Our members, volunteers, teachers, sponsors, parents, disability advocates, Veterans, and everyone who works to make the world a better place.

Original artwork by Bookshare member Elina Hughes of her beloved grandparents.

Original artwork by Bookshare member Elina Hughes of her beloved grandparents.

There are many ways we can express gratitude, such as painting a picture of loved ones, praising your child for reading a book, honoring a Veteran, sharing a life experience, hugging a pet, or enjoying a movie that is closed-captioned and accessible.

Whatever holiday or tradition you celebrate this week, here’s to life’s special moments!  And with that, we give you a list of titles about Thanksgiving to delight our young members in grades K-12.


Thanksgiving Mice   (grades K-2)

Four young mice share the story of how their ancestors came to America with the Pilgrims.

Thanksgiving Rules  (grades 2-4)

Percy Gifford offers ten rules to make the most of this holiday—but do they all center around food?

Nickommoh: A Thanksgiving Celebration  (grades 2-4)

Native Americans on Narragansett have long celebrated the harvest with a joyous gathering.

If You Were at the First Thanksgiving (grades 2-5)

Over half of the Pilgrims were children. What would life be like if you were among them?

Thanksgiving Day Parade Mystery  (grades 3-5)

How could a whole marching band just…disappear?

Turkeys, Pilgrims and Indian Corn  (grades 4-6)

Learn more about how the Plymouth settlers lived, thought, worked, and celebrated through this lively examination of holiday symbols.

Smashed Potatoes and Other Thanksgiving Disasters (grades 4-6)

When Megan and Jeremy’s mom can’t make their traditional holiday meal, the kids figure it can’t be too difficult to do themselves.

 Thanksgiving Thief (grades 4-6)

Nancy Drew and her friends are hot on the trail of a no-good turkey snatcher!

Constance  (grades 6-8)

Experience the first years of the Plymouth colony through the eyes of a young woman discovering what paths her life will take in this new world.

A Great and Godly Adventure  (grades 9-12)

An entertaining peek behind the legends that surround our Thanksgiving traditions, looking at how the first year of the Plymouth settlement really unfolded.

Special thanks to our Bookshare Collections Department for always creating super fun reading lists!


Jessie Rogers, Bookshare Member and Teen Author Talks About Her New Book, Fairy Sight

2013 November 18
by Bookshare Team Member
member party

Bookshare Member Party at NFB 2013 Conference. A crowded room of members raising their hands in game quiz.

Earlier this year, at our member party at the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) conference (2013), we met lots of cool members!  One of these members, was 17 year old, Jessie Rogers, a budding teen author.  Jessie’s first book is Fairy Sight, about a magical orb and it’s now available in the Bookshare collection and on Amazon.

Photo of Jessie Rogers (third in photo with blue and white dress) with three friends.

Photo of Jessie Rogers (third in photo with blue and white dress) with three friends.

Fairy Sight is about a magical orb that protects the kingdom of Adoraun. When the orb disappears, the prince believes his betrothed bride has taken it. He sets out on an adventure to regain the stolen magic and is thrust into a perilous battle with evil. Jessie had the inspiration to write the book after a visit to a local museum where she touched a plasma ball. Now, she goes by the pen name, ‘Blind Writer,’ and when asked about her disability, she says, “Yes, I’m blind, but I will never let that fact darken my world.”

This avid reader fell in love with words in 3rd grade through the encouragement of her teacher aide, Gladys Justice. Jessie pays tribute to Mrs. Justice in her book for the love and support.  As a young child, Jessie was encouraged to write poetry, songs and short stories. She also loved spending time in her library in Churchill TN reading/listening to audio books.  In 7th grade, a vision teacher introduced her to Bookshare. “That’s when my voracious appetite for reading grew exponentially!” shared Jessie. “You can find and read books faster in digital accessible formats.”

Jessie says, “I love Bookshare because the collections are vast and include my favorite genres — magic, vampires, and science fiction.  Books are easy to download directly to my smart phone with Read2Go or to my Victor Reader Stream.”  She estimates that she has 20 books downloaded on her reading list today and typically reads two books at a time. Her favorite book is “Moss Flower” by Brian Jacques and she also enjoys titles by Scott Westerfield and P.C. Cast, who writes the “House of Night” series.  A quick search in the Bookshare library on science fiction holds more than 10,100 titles.

When Fairy Sight was published, Jessie’s friends asked how they could read her book. “That’s when I knew I had to get it into Bookshare. I wanted teens, like me, to enjoy reading as much as I do and it only took a week to get it into the collection.”

In addition to her fans online, Jessie recently met a local fan at a youth church. The fan was reading Fairy Sight for a back to school writing assignment. What about a sequel?  Jessie is writing a dystopian thriller.  Bookshare looks forward to adding it to the collection. Watch an interview with Jessie on  a local TV station on You Tube  and visit her blog, “Musings from a Blind Writer.

Vision Loss Hasn’t Stopped Veteran from Pursuing Career and Personal Goals

2013 November 11
by Bookshare Team Member
Brian Higgins standing with his cane

Brian Higgins preparing for the white cane walk.

Brian Higgins is a six-year member of Bookshare. He is also a member of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and a Supervisor of Computer Access and Technology in the Western Blind Rehab Center located in Palo Alto, California.

Brian likes the Bookshare library because of its vast collection of titles and the team’s responsiveness to his professional needs. “I’ve taken college textbooks for a Veteran returning to college in to Bookshare and they scan it,” he said. “And I also like to recommend Bookshare’s new special collection of military titles to my friends at the BVA.”

At work, Brian trains young adults, seniors, and disabled Veterans about computers, technology, and access. Individuals who come to his center may be returning to school, learning a new vocation, or using a computer for the first time. Brian teaches them about digital accessible books.

Since suffering vision loss 15 years ago, Brian has counted on the library for personal and professional eBooks. “Bookshare provides resources that I could not readily find prior to membership. I like to read history and am always on the hunt for books on electrical engineering, and computer programming, as well as college textbooks and technical manuals. Bookshare has them!”

Brian demonstrates his robotic dog for Bookshare staffer, Cherie Miller.

Brian demonstrates his robotic dog for Bookshare staffer, Cherie Miller.

Brian uses an iPad with Bookshare’s easy-to-use eReader app, Read2Go. He just downloaded “Natural Language Processing with Python” to investigate computer programming for an electronic guide dog robot he developed. “Some of your independence goes away, like driving, when you lose your vision,” he said. “I’m always thinking about how to use technology to help others—a similar mission to that of Benetech, Bookshare’s parent nonprofit organization. A robotic guide dog may be another good alternative to man’s best friend.”

Bookshare for Disabled Veterans

Today, Bookshare serves over 250,000 members with qualified print disabilities, including persons who are blind or have low vision, a physical disability, or a severe reading disability like dyslexia. The library is free to any U.S. student who qualifies, including disabled Veterans, thanks to awards made by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

For nonstudent disabled Veterans who qualify, Bookshare offers a free 30 day trial membership where 20 digital accessible books can be downloaded and free reading tools and apps can be used.

After the trial, an annual fee of $50 allows full access to Bookshare’s collection of over 210,000 accessible eBooks, including a special military collection.  Titles can be easily searched, downloaded, and read on a variety of devices like a computer, tablet, smart phone, MP3 player, or refreshable braille device.

Disabled Veterans receiving services from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs through the Vocational, Rehabilitation and Employment Program (VET Success) may also be eligible for a free membership. Veterans’ hospitals and related associations can contact

To sign up and for more information visit:

FREE Trial Membership to Online Library Opens Lifeline to Reading for Disabled Veterans

2013 November 4
by Bookshare Team Member

Today, November 4, 2013, Benetech and Bookshare released this press announcement.

Disabled Veterans Who Qualify Can Download 20 FREE eBooks with 30-Day Trial Membership!

Bookshare FREE TRIAL logo displays veteran in wheelchair and link to sign up page.

Bookshare FREE TRIAL logo displays veteran in wheelchair and link to membership details.

The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that 13 percent of all U.S. Veterans, over 2.8 million individuals, now live with blindness, physical disabilities, or traumatic brain injuries. These print disabilities make it difficult, if nearly impossible, to read a newspaper, study a textbook or enjoy a bestseller.

With the evolution of digital accessible books, disabled Veterans may have a new lifeline to reading through Bookshare, the world’s largest online library of copyrighted books and periodicals for people with qualified print disabilities.

Today, Bookshare serves over a quarter million members who are blind, have low vision, a physical disability, or a severe reading disability, like dyslexia.

Betsy Beaumon speaking

Betsy Beaumon

“We want to ensure that all qualified disabled Veterans know about Bookshare and how to easily become a member,” said Betsy Beaumon, VP and General Manager of the Benetech Global Literacy Program.  “Digital accessible books can break down reading barriers and open a new lifeline to reading to go back to school, learn a new vocation or read for pleasure.”

For nonstudent disabled Veterans who qualify, Bookshare now offers a free 30 day trial membership to download 20 digital accessible books and use the free reading tools and apps until December 31, 2013.

After the trial, a minimal annual fee of $50 includes full access to a vast collection of accessible eBooks, (over 210,000), including military collections. Titles can be easily searched, downloaded and read on a variety of devices like a computer, tablet, smart phone, or MP3 player.  Titles can also be read on a refreshable braille display that uses accessibility features for quick navigation, bookmarking and text-to-speech.

Bookshare is free to any U.S. student who qualifies, thanks to an award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. This free membership includes qualified Veterans now attending a U.S. school or university.

Disabled Veterans receiving services from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, through the Vocational, Rehabilitation and Employment Program (VET Success), may also be eligible for free membership.

Veterans’ hospitals and associations please contact

For more information and to sign up, visit

Brian Higgins

Brian Higgins


Brian Higgins, CCAI, Supervisor of Computer Access and Technology, in the Western Blind Rehab Center in California, said, “Bookshare is a valuable resource and service.  I’m disabled and have used the library for more than six years personally and professionally to find all types of books from computer programming languages to history to college textbooks.”

* * *

About Bookshare

Bookshare is the world’s largest online accessible library of copyrighted content for people with print disabilities. Through its technology initiatives and partnerships, Bookshare seeks to raise the floor on accessibility issues so that individuals with print disabilities have the same ease of access to print materials as people without disabilities. In 2012 Bookshare received a second five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), to provide free access for all U.S. students, including disabled Veterans with a qualified print disability. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit which creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs.

The content of this press release was developed under a cooperative agreement, H327D120002 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.


Journey with Dyslexia – Guest Blog by Robbi Cooper, a Bookshare Parent Member

2013 October 31
by Bookshare Team Member
Robbi, Andrew and Ben Cooper

Robbi, Andrew and Ben Cooper. Ben is holding a printed book, an iPad and a smart phone.

Special thanks to Robbi, Andrew and Ben Cooper for their story and to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) for showcasing the Cooper Family.  Our October blog recognizes National Learning Disabilities Month.


My husband and my son are dyslexic. My husband, Andrew, did not understand that he was dyslexic until adulthood, long after reading difficulties in school left him frustrated – a fate that we did not want for our son.

My son, Ben came into the world a bright and vibrant child, but when he entered kindergarten we were told that he was not learning the way he should. We waited for the school to tell us how they were going to help him, but instead of holding Ben back, we asked for early testing.  He was diagnosed with dyslexia in first grade. That’s when we decided as a family that we needed to be a part of the solution so we began to research ways to help our child and to support our local school system with ideas.

My quest led me to NCLD – the National Center on Learning Disabilities, a quality source of information that I rely on still today. We also started private tutoring for Ben with the Orton Gillingham method-based reading intervention and signed Ben up for an individual Bookshare membership.  I began downloading accessible children’s books that I thought he would enjoy. We also made a pivotal decision to place Ben in Special Education where he could receive a different learning approach that would fit his needs. We never regretted this decision.

Special Education Presents Opportunities to Partner with Schools

For most families, interaction with a school is typically through parent-teacher conferences, teacher emails and IEP meetings. Many parents tend to rely on administrators and teachers to provide answers to their child’s education issues. In Special Education, a parent’s role changes this dynamic.  You become part of the team and are involved in the decision making process to craft your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

In Texas, my state, this team is called ARD (Admissions, Review and Dismissal). During the ARD meeting an IEP plan takes shape around these main tenets:

  1. What your child’s diagnosis is and needs are
  2. Academic goals and how to achieve them
  3. Testing and classroom accommodations for your child to be successful

Andrew and I always tried to collaborate with school officials and share information prior to meetings. My focus was on future skills that would allow Ben to stay academically challenged throughout school while receiving help with his reading difficulties and to keep him on track for college and career.

Reading interventions are a big source of contention between schools and parents, and it helps to find out what the school currently offers and then research the resources before dismissing them. Remember, the more informed you are — the less confrontational you’ll be. A good resource for investigating reading interventions is The Florida Center of Reading Research.

In your meetings, aim for an IEP that will enable your child to be focused on remediation while becoming as independent and self-reliant as possible. We did not want Ben to rely on human support and Bookshare is a key resource to address this goal and to save schools money.

Memberships and reading technologies are free for U.S. students with qualifying print disabilities. Find out if your child’s school has an Organizational Membership to Bookshare. If so, it is easy for your child to get an Individual Membership so he or she can read books at school or home or on the go. This ability to read anytime and anywhere fosters a love of wanting to read longer and to read more topics of interest – a key to build stronger vocabulary and comprehension skills in feeble readers. Accessible books enabled our son to participate in general education courses that he was capable of mastering.

Remember to request a list of textbooks and reading assignments for your child’s classes in advance of a semester so these materials can be found, potentially in the Bookshare library or made accessible. I also encourage you to ask for training for your child on assistive technology tools, such as how to keyboard (type) and use software that has text-to-speech such as Kurzweil 3000 or iPad apps. These tools encourage independence and can help to prepare your child for postsecondary work.

Austin TX AT Specialist Carye Edleman with Ben Cooper

TX AT Specialist Carye Edelman, from Austin ISD with Ben Cooper

In the early years, Ben struggled in school, but he never doubted himself. He had the support of our district’s technology specialist and the school librarian who embraced his new digital reading tools. These educators supported his reading growth by selecting stimulating material in accessible format for him to enjoy. Today he is a straight “A” student taking advanced courses, and his confidence is unwavering. Yes, he will always be dyslexic and struggles with reading, spelling and handwriting, but his mastery of the technologies he was introduced to in Special Education helped him tremendously. Last month, we stacked hardback versions of all of the digital books that Ben has read in one year. We were astounded at the volume of content.  Through Bookshare, he is self-reliant and we both know that he has a bright future.

Having two dyslexic loved ones has helped me to understand the challenges this disability presents, but I also celebrate a successful husband and a young son who already demonstrates remarkable academic achievements. I know that through hard work and collaboration with schools, we can accomplish amazing things. So I continue the journey to advocate for children, to discover their talents and potential and to celebrate the ways in which technology helps us all overcome our differences.

Watch the Cooper family tell  their story on video. 

Learn more about Accessible Books for Texas.

White Cane Awareness Walk 2013: National Disability Employment Awareness Month

2013 October 28
by Bookshare Team Member

The Bookshare staff would like to share highlights from the Palo Alto White Cane Awareness Walk, in which we participated on Wednesday, October 16th in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  This blog was originally published on the Benetech website.

Photo of participants at the 2013 Palo Alto White Cane Awareness Walk.

Participants at the 2013 Palo Alto White Cane Awareness Walk.

This annual event is held each October on or in proximity to White Cane Safety Day, a national observance celebrating the ability of people with impaired vision to lead independent lives. With the white cane as a symbol of their independence, the Awareness Walk is open to all: white cane users, support cane users, human guides, walker users, power mobility users, dog guide users and sighted folks.

Last week, for the fourth consecutive year, Benetech and Bookshare proudly supported the White Cane Awareness Walk tradition in Palo Alto and we were delighted to join this celebration in partnership with the Palo Alto Lions ClubVista Center and the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center (WBRC), the event’s host.

Photo of Chris Kliks and Brian Higgins of WBRC participating in the 2013 Palo Alto White Cane Awareness Walk.

WBRC’s staff members Brian Higgins (right) and Chris Kliks (left) with his guide dog Marge.

Four years ago, Brian Higgins—a computer access specialist at WBRC, which is part of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System—walked into Bookshare’s office and invited us to join what was to be a stroll about downtown Palo Alto. This year, the walking route was planned well in advance and close to home, along California Avenue. We registered a great turnout of over 60 participants and the wonderful team effort demonstrated by the Benetech team made my job of coordinating this event a breeze!

The walk began outside the offices of our neighbors over at the Vista Center, proceeded along California Avenue and was followed by a gathering outside Benetech’s offices, including a meet-and-greet session with refreshments. Nicole Sandlan, WBRC’s Director, and Jane Simchuk, our VP of Human Resources and Administration, welcomed the participants and thanked all the organizers and volunteers who made the event a success.

Photo of participants at the 2013 Palo Alto White Cane Awareness Walk outside Benetech's offices in Palo Alto. In the Center, Jane Simchuk, Benetech's VP of Human Resources and Administration, and Nicole Sandlan, WBRC’s Director, addressing the participants.

Jane Simchuk (second from left) and Nicole Sandlan addressing the participants.

Cherie Miller, Program Manager with our Global Literacy Program, then followed with a brief overview of Bookshare and described some of the ways in which our Global Literacy initiatives help people with print disabilities live fuller lives.

The eventwrapped up with WBRC’s presenting Bookshare, Vista Center and the Palo Alto Lions Club with certificates of appreciation for each group’s commitment to promoting independence among the blind and visually impaired population.

At Benetech, we’re honored to support this important cause and to help increase community awareness of White Cane Day. We also know that we’ve just scratched the surface of the need for access to books and information, and we’re continuously expanding our efforts to bring Bookshare to more people, both globally and nationally.

Photo of participants at the 2013 Palo Alto White Cane Awareness Walk outside Benetech's offices in Palo Alto.

Meet-and greet outside Benetech’s offices.

Here in the U.S., we’re especially focusing on reaching more veterans with disabilities. Qualified veterans who are students are eligible for free Bookshare memberships and those receiving Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment services can have the cost of a membership reimbursed through the VA. Our Bookshare library includes a special collection of books for returning veterans and nearly 2,880 books of military interest.

We also just launched our first crowdfunding effort, Bookshare for Veterans—part of the Skoll Foundation’s Social Entrepreneurs Challenge on CrowdRise—in order to give veterans the gift of reading with Bookshare. Funds raised through this Challenge will be used to enable the Bookshare team to expand our outreach so that we can help more veterans. If supporting disabled veterans resonates with you, please help us spread the word about our cause.

Finally, if you’re interested in further information about Bookshare and our services for veterans and other individuals with print disabilities, please visit Bookshare’s website.

Photo of Chris Kliks of WBRC talking to Benetech staff member Joe Berentsen at Bookshare's office.

Chris Kliks of WBRC talking to Benetech staff member Joe Berentsen at Bookshare’s office.

Photo of participants at the 2013 Palo Alto White Cane Awareness Walk outside Benetech's offices in Palo Alto. In the Center, Nicole Sandlan, WBRC's Director, addressing the group.

Nicole Sandlan presenting Bookshare, the Vista Center and Palo Alto Lions Club with certificates of appreciation.


Thanks again to everyone who helped make this year’s White Cane Awareness Walk a success, in particular to all the amazing Benetech staff members who joined the walk or helped with setting up, taking photos, contributing refreshments or chatting with our visitors. 

Special thanks to Cherie Miller and Jane Simchuk on the Benetech team, Pam Brandin of the Vista Center, Roger Stroud of the Palo Alto Lions Club, as well as Nicole Sandlan and Brian Higgins of WBRC.

Photos from the event are courtesy of Martin Quiazon and McKenzie Erickson.

Learn more about Benetech initiatives.

Fifth Grader Builds Independence with Bookshare’s Individual Membership and Reading Tools

2013 October 18
by Bookshare Team Member
Kevin Leong

Kevin Leong reading his smartphone on the go!

Kevin Leong is a bright fifth grader in Palo Alto, CA, the heart of Silicon Valley. He is an avid Apple computer fan, and on a typical day he may use several technology devices at home, school, or on the go.  As you watch Kevin adeptly use these devices, you would never guess that this voracious learner with impeccable social skills is visually impaired. Kevin has optic atrophy, which makes reading time very slow and frustrating for him.

“It takes me much longer to read than other students,” he says. “By the time I look up a page in the table of contents, everyone is ahead of me. It tires me out!”

Kevin’s parents, Drake and Jessie, knew that their son needed more support, so they tried digital accessible books. “We hoped it would be easier for him to grasp the technology and use accessibility features that enable him to enlarge fonts or see highlighted words in color on a screen,” said Drake. “Now he can more easily track the words with his eyes.”

Drake and Jessie signed Kevin up for an individual membership with Bookshare. Individual memberships help students build independence by finding their own books and using Bookshare’s free reading tools.

When Kevin and his classmates go to the school library now, Kevin goes online, logs on to Bookshare, and searches for his own reading assignments in English and other subjects. He uses the new Bookshare Web Reader to access his books. “I don’t have to download any software,” he says. “I just select “Read Now” to open a digital book directly in my web browser. I’ve always been good at math and science, but now I’m good at reading and using technologies. A couple of minutes on Bookshare and I’m ready to go!”

“The reading technologies allow Kevin to be more independent and self-reliant with his reading assignments,” says Jessie. “He can adjust the brightness and contrast of text according to how his eyes feel. The flexibility of manipulating digital content encourages him to read more. His grades and reading ability level shot up in one year. In addition to his academic progress, he became more social. He doesn’t feel different in school and talks with everyone about what he reads.”

According to the STAR test performed in his elementary school, Kevin was behind grade level by midyear in fourth grade. His writing and science grades were borderline; he ranked in the 50th percentile. One year later, he was in the 70th to 80th percentile, and his reading comprehension was above the norm.

Guest Blog: “Dyslexia Should Be About Strengths, Not Shame,” by Ben Foss

2013 October 16

Experts in dyslexia have for many years focused on teaching children to read in the conventional way. But there are hidden costs that impact many children who have a hard time in a mainstream classroom: shame and bullying.

I’m dyslexic. When I was a kid, my mom read aloud to me. When I went away to college, I used to fax my term papers home to her in New Hampshire and have her read them to me over the phone so I could find my own spelling mistakes.  I went on to become the Director of Access Technology at Intel Corporation, where I invented a device called the Intel Reader that could take a photograph of any printed material and read it aloud on the spot.

Inventing this device taught me that there are in fact three types of reading: eye reading, ear reading, and finger reading. Blind people read with their fingers, mainstream people read with their eyes. In my case, I use my ears. Here is a demonstration of how to read with your ears by using speech built into a standard iPad. This technology comes from Headstrong Nation,  the national organization for dyslexic people.

Many children who have difficulty learning to read with their eyes may be able to listen keenly.  In my case, I was able to go on and complete a law degree and a business degree at Stanford, and I recently wrote a book called The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning, published by Random House.  People need to understand that I did all this without reading with my eyes—instead I used books on tape or digital books like those available on Bookshare (which carries my book!).

It is very important for all children to get a fair chance at learning to read with their eyes. Think of reading with your eyes like walking up stairs into a building. If you can do it, it makes learning in a standard school convenient. However, if you can’t walk up stairs, a ramp makes all the difference in the world.

There is a hidden cost to focusing on eye reading in perpetuity—rather than spending two to three years working on it, ideally using an Orton-Gillingham-based methodology, and then shifting to other modes of learning such as ear reading. This hidden cost is shame. Shame is different than guilt. Guilt is feeling bad about something you did. Shame comes from not liking something you are.

We treat people who have difficulty learning to read as though they have a disease. Some experts say that they are “diagnosed” with dyslexia or that they “overcame” dyslexia. I’m from New Hampshire. We do not diagnose me as being from New Hampshire. I do not need to overcome the fact that I am from New Hampshire (unless you talk to my friends from our archrival Vermont).

I interviewed over 200 people who are dyslexic to create the Intel Reader.  There was a pronounced pattern of children self-harming: cutting themselves, starting to abuse drugs and alcohol, or developing an eating disorder because they felt unworthy.  Another cost to focusing on eye reading as the only form of reading is bullying. Bullies often taunt a child for not being able to do what a school system considers to be “normal.” But we have to remember, “normal” is only a setting on your dryer!  I encourage you to embrace a new way of thinking and to protect your child from shame and bullying. In the process, you might just ensure that your child will love learning and have a bright future.

Read Ben’s “Native Tongue”

I have found that people have a hard time believing my dyslexia when they see only the final product of my written work. These days, I generally speak to a computer and use Dragon Naturally Speaking to have it transcribed, greatly increasing my speed and accuracy when writing. For this blog, that material went through a few rounds of edits, including structural, content, and proofing. This further polished the material.

Below, you will see the first two paragraphs of this blog written again — as I would write it in raw format.  In this case, I listened to the text and transcribed it without the benefit of spell-check or word correction, which are now standard in most word processors.  I publish it so you can see “behind the curtain.”  Yes, I am dyslexic for life and proud. Consider this my—and all dyslexics’—native tongue.

dysleix ahousl be abl strenths not chame.

Experts in dyslexia have for many tears focus on reaching children to read in the coventional way. But there are hidden cos that impace many chillren in a mainstrem classroom. Shame an Bullying.

I know first habe about difficultly leanring to reach in a conventional way. I am dyslexic. When I wans a kid my mom read aloud to me. When I went to college I use fto fax them home to her in new hampshire and have her read them to me over the phone so I could find my won spelling mistakes. I want on to be come the director  acees technology at Intel, and invent a device called the intel reader. Thank could take phot graph of any printed material and read it aloud on the spot.


Ben Foss

Ben Foss

Ben Foss is dyslexic and the founder of Headstrong Nation, a national organization for dyslexic adults and parents of dyslexic kids. He earned a JD/MBA from Stanford and invented the Intel Reader, a mobile device that takes photos of text and recites it aloud on the spot.

Ben is the author of The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning. Bookshare members can download Ben’s book in the library.