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.
Reading challenges are a common occurrence in the Gutierrez household in Redwood City, California. Mrs. Judie Gutierrez loves to read and likes to challenge her twelve-year-old daughter, Laura, who was diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning disability, in third grade.
Several times a month, this mother-daughter duo challenge each other to make reading fun and interesting by visiting their public library and local bookstores to find titles worthy of discussion.
“Story time is sacred,” says Judie, a Ph.D., busy mom, scientist, and president of the Redwood City Education Foundation. “We like the sport of reading, and you can learn a lot about your child this way.”
As a young girl, Laura enjoyed listening to her mom read, but did not enjoy reading by herself. As time went on, Laura almost hated to read. “I always felt on the offensive trying to help my daughter cope with a lot of frustration,” says Judie. “A Bookshare Individual Membership changed this feeling of hopelessness.” Laura says, “For the first time, I’m doing better in school. Bookshare has helped me to read on my own and enjoy reading. ”
At a recent Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting at Laura’s school, Judie was thrilled with her daughter’s academic progress in English and language arts. This chart highlights her progress from 2012 to 2015.
Judie said, “Laura’s comprehension and fluency skills have steadily increased. Her teachers say that she is well on her way to reading at grade level. We also noticed that the extra academic support she needed in English has decreased. This is, in part, due to her use of an iPad with Bookshare’s Read2Go app and the accessible library.”
The Gutierrez family notes that Laura now appreciates the freedom and flexibility she has to read on her own. “Using my iPad, I can watch word highlighting on the screen and listen to text-to-speech,” says Laura. This multi-modal process of seeing and hearing text can help readers with dyslexia to maintain a steady pace and comprehend more of a story.
At bookstores, Laura’s mom often purchases a book for her daughters, and then Laura downloads the accessible format from Bookshare. “The act of shopping for a book is cool to my daughters,” she said. “It’s a fun and grown-up thing to do. We all benefit.” In one month, Laura may read eight to ten books, including titles her mother has selected for her, such as Two Old Women, a native Alaskan folktale by Velma Wallis. “She loved this book,” says Judie. “I also select classics, like Call of the Wild and Little House on the Prairie, to push her reading boundaries.”
Laura also likes to read at bedtime, a nightly ritual, and with her younger sister. Her favorite books are about mermaids, superheroes, and dog breeds. Here is a list of books she has read:
- Shelter Dogs – Amazing Stories of Adopted Strays by Peg Kehret
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
- My Little Pony books by various authors
- Sounder by William H. Armstrong
- Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Prior to Bookshare, Laura wanted nothing to do with reading, visiting the library, or going to the neighborhood Barnes & Noble. Now, she loves to read, has a virtual stack of books in her My Bookshare reading list, and comes alive in a library or bookstore. “Laura has had tremendous success with Bookshare,” adds Judie. “The resource has made a huge difference – not only in her ability to read and keep up academically – but in her exploration of titles on grade level and pursuit of her own interests. My daughter’s transformation is truly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Thank you, Bookshare, for all of your hard work and dedication to helping children with dyslexia and other print disabilities benefit from your library. I hope our reading challenge will spark other families to take the initiative.”
Do you know a student like Laura who faces a reading challenge with dread? Bookshare can help! Bookshare is the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks for people with print disabilities and is FREE to all qualifying U.S. students. Find out if your student qualifies for Bookshare.
Benetech Announces Partnership with RNIB and Publication of BISG Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing
Today, at the 31st Annual CSUN Conference in San Diego, Benetech is excited to announce the launch of two major efforts in the areas of literacy and disabilities.
Launch of RNIB Bookshare
The first is the groundbreaking partnership with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) that will dramatically expand access to Bookshare, the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks for people with print disabilities. The new online service, called RNIB Bookshare, will deliver accessible materials to schools and colleges in the United Kingdom and will provide curriculum materials for blind or partially-sighted, dyslexic, or otherwise print-disabled students. It offers an independent learning experience, allowing members to read books in ways that work for them – audio, large print, braille, and more – while enabling learners to read the same books at the same time as their classmates.
Neil Heslop, Managing Director, RNIB Solutions, said: “We are delighted to be working with Benetech. This partnership offers the potential to reach every student in the UK that struggles with standard print. It is so important that learners are able to access the books and textbooks they need when they need them.”
The new platform replaces Load2Learn, a similar service run by RNIB since 2012, and offers an increased number of titles (over 220,000) as well as new features such as reading apps and reading lists. It will be available beginning March 29, 2016.
RNIB Bookshare represents what Benetech hopes is the first of many similar partnerships that leverage a “white label” Bookshare platform to bring the online library of accessible ebooks to many more people with disabilities worldwide.
Book Industry Study Group Releases Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing
In partnership with the Book Industry Study Group, Benetech is pleased to announce our participation in the release of the Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing. This guide shares best practices around accessibility developed in collaboration with seventeen organizations, including international standards organizations such as DAISY, platform providers such as VitalSource, and publishing companies such as Pearson, Wiley, Hachette, and HarperCollins. It addresses why and how to create, distribute, and display accessible digital content. The guide is provided for free and can be downloaded by all.
According to Robin Seaman, Chair of the BISG Accessible Publishing Working Group and Director of Content at Benetech, “The work of this groundbreaking document represents an extraordinary year-long collaboration of over twenty-five leaders across the publishing ecosystem. It addresses one of the most daunting technical challenges in digital publishing and one of the least understood social challenges facing education and literacy today: how do we create content in such a way that every reader has equal access to information? As we see daily in such ubiquitous conveniences as curb cuts, closed captioning in sports bars, and Siri — all of which make the world ‘accessible’ for people with disabilities — the push to ensure that every book is ‘born accessible’ stands to revolutionize the way content will be consumed by us all.”
This is a critical and hopeful time, when technology and massive industry shifts are mitigating the constant catch-up effort that currently limits access and requires so much extra work to create accessible content. With BISG’s Quick Start Guide to Accessible Publishing, publishers will discover an invaluable resource. When all digital content is also “born accessible,” Benetech’s dream of equal access to information for everyone will be a reality.
Download the guide now. It is available in EPUB3 format as well as in Spanish, French, German, and Italian (and soon in Korean).
To learn more about both of these exciting launches, stop by Benetech’s booth #621/623 or Pearson’s booth #713A/B at the CSUN Conference this week or contact us for more information.
2016 National Education Technology Plan Resonates with Benetech Priorities of Equity and Accessibility
Benetech is a nonprofit company leveraging Silicon Valley technology and process to create and scale solutions for pressing social issues. Two Benetech initiatives, the DIAGRAM Center and Born Accessible, are cited in The 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) released by the Office of Educational Technology of the U.S. Department of Education. The report recommends that “education stakeholders should develop a born accessible standard of learning resource design to help educators select and evaluate learning resources for accessibility and equity of learning experience.”
More significantly, though, all of Benetech’s work closely aligns with these two key themes of the report: equity and accessibility. The NETP “sets a national vision and plan for learning enabled by technology” and is intended to help education leaders “create a shared vision for how technology can best meet the needs of all learners and to develop a plan that translates the vision into action.”
Benetech’s work focuses on the intersection of two inequities referenced in the NETP: an accessibility divide and the Digital Use Divide. In the report, accessibility “refers to the design of apps, devices, materials, and environments that support and enable access to content and educational activities for all learners,” specifically learners with disabilities, language deficits, varied learning styles, etc. As many of us are painfully aware, most learning materials are not created with “all learners” in mind, and the result is an accessibility divide.
The Digital Use Divide refers to the manner in which technology is being applied in learning environments. According to the NETP, students who are simply reading information on devices are only passively using technology. When applied to its fullest potential, technology can engage students in active learning, as shown in the illustration below.
Benetech has been beating the accessibility drum for nearly fifteen years. It could be said that one of Benetech’s first and most popular products, Bookshare, the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks, gives people with print disabilities the opportunity to participate even in passive learning. Benetech launched Bookshare in 2002, and today over 400,000 members can access a collection of more than 395,000 titles in ways that work for them. Many members also engage in active learning when they use one of several commercially-available reading tools that support further exploration and note taking.
Several years ago, as digital materials began to take on a more prominent role in learning environments, and given their great potential to transform passive learners into active ones, Benetech recognized the need to take its accessibility message to publishers who were creating digital content. Benetech’s drumbeat then became: if materials are “born digital,” they can be “born accessible.”
Last year alone, Benetech reached out to 70 publishers and vendors in the publishing supply chain to encourage them to adopt features and tools that would result in more accessible ebooks published in 2016. Our team offered these companies several tools to build accessibility into their products from the start. Benetech is now working closely with a number of them that have taken on this challenge. Highlights to date include:
- Benetech conducted an accessibility assessment of a top-selling EPUB 3 file for HarperCollins, which resulted in their implementing new accessibility practices.
- Pearson began to include the Poet Training Module and the Accessible Image Sample Book in their staff training programs.
- Several publishers, including O’Reilly Media and Hawkes Learning, have incorporated MathML Cloud into their workflows.
- A leading conversion vendor, Amnet, incorporated several accessibility tools into their workflow.
- John Wiley & Sons, the global publishing house that specializes in academic publishing, made the commitment to include alternative text (alt text) in nearly all of their frontlist books.
Aware of the need to create market demand for “born accessible” learning materials, Benetech launched its “Buy Accessible” initiative, which helps instructional materials purchasers identify and request ebooks that will provide an equal experience to students with print disabilities.
The focus of a separate but related Benetech initiative, 3D Printing for Education, was to identify new ways in which 3D printing technology can be used to improve learning and accessibility, particularly in STEM disciplines. 3D printed models and other tactile graphics can make complex ideas easier to comprehend — and not just for people with disabilities. One of the important outcomes of this project is the 3D Printing for Education Quick Start Guide.
Benetech will continue to beat the accessibility drum to help ensure that people with disabilities benefit equally from technology-rich, engaging learning environments. We are thrilled that the accessibility “drum circle” is widening to include many policy makers, governmental agencies (such as the Office of Educational Technology) and for-profit companies as well as nonprofits and advocacy groups. Our message to all who embrace the recommendations of the NETP? Pick up your drumstick and play along!
Christine K. Jones is a Senior Education Program Manager in the Global Literacy Program at Benetech and conducts outreach to professionals serving people with disabilities. She has a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.
“I’ve read more books this year than I’ve read in my lifetime,” says Stan Gloss, CEO of BioTeam, Inc.
Diagnosed with dyslexia over 50 years ago, Stan Gloss grew up with angst and worry about his reading difficulties. He recalls long hours muddling through printed books at a snail’s pace. Stan loved to learn, but his reading difficulty made comprehension and studying three times harder than for other students.
“I learned to persevere by using compensatory strategies like memorization, flash cards, rewriting notes, tape recording classes, finger tracking, and highlighting to help me through school,” he says. “Even in graduate school, I read just enough to pass my tests. That all changed when I found Bookshare. This year, I’ve read more books than I’ve read in my lifetime!”
Stan is a successful CEO and entrepreneur. He has completed his coursework toward a doctoral degree in education. He has worked in top career fields such as healthcare, education, biomedical technology, and computer science. Today, his company, BioTeam, Inc., builds supercomputing and cloud solutions to accelerate scientific discovery. “Who would have thought that my struggles in school would be the best preparation for the challenges I would face as an entrepreneur and CEO,” he says.
With Stan’s new-found love for reading and his research, he has learned that an estimated 35% of U.S. entrepreneurs are dyslexic. This statistic sparked a blazing desire for him to decode the reasons for such a high rate. Stan is now conducting in-depth research about dyslexic entrepreneurs with the goal to develop a training program for dyslexics of all ages. He credits advocates and mentors as the key to his success. “My parents were my advocates, and a childhood family doctor was my mentor,” he said. “They believed in me and nurtured my strengths. I’d like to see more kids and adults with dyslexia go from being labeled as lazy or stupid to a life of being recognized for their strengths and accomplishments.”
Last year, Stan sought the help of Dr. Erica Warren, learning specialist and fellow dyslexic. “It was through her guidance that I learned about Bookshare and Voice Dream Reader, he said. “Reading highlighted text while listening to audiobooks sped up my tracking, improved my comprehension, and enhanced my retention. I only wish I had this technology in grade school. It has opened so many new avenues of learning.”
Stan uses this three-step, sequenced approach to conduct his research:
- Capture Data – He finds information in Bookshare and reads it with Voice Dream Reader, a text-to-speech program with synchronized highlighting.
- Organize Data – He takes notes and tracks tasks using Evernote.
- Synthesize Data – He outlines his thought process using Inspiration 9, a software program for mapping information.
“Technology is finally catching up to dyslexics,” he said. “These tools are game changers for children and adults, and I am a living example that it’s never too late to try something new.”
Stan encourages people with dyslexia – young and old – to tap into resources like Bookshare so they can cultivate their inner strengths. He urges assistive technology to be readily available in schools and other learning environments. He stresses the importance of seeking mentors and learning specialists who can recommend best practices.
One of the books he recommends is The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain by Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide.
“Dyslexia is a gift that needs to be nurtured over a lifetime,” Stan says. “Each learning experience is like a Lego® block. When we build upon and leverage our strengths, we can reach new heights that we never thought were attainable at first.”
Special thanks to Stan Gloss for inspiring others, especially young entrepreneurs.
Do you know someone who could benefit from access to Bookshare’s online accessible library? Learn more.