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Benetech Wins “Do-Gooder” Award

Atlassian, developers of software that helps innovators everywhere plan, build and launch great software, holds an annual “Do-Gooder” competition, in which they ask their customers with Community Licenses to talk about how they use their products.  After 6 months at Benetech, one of our product managers felt compelled to express her wonder at how much good we do for people.  Her entry below was the winning entry, for a prize of $10,000 of unrestricted funds for Benetech and 2 passes to the 2012 Atlassian Summit.

Thank you, Ginny Grant, for your great work at Benetech, your haiku,

Ginny Grant, a Bookshare product manager, is holding a 4-foot check.
Ginny Grant accepts award.

and your application for a “Do Gooder award.” Ginny’s words below:

Darkness… Blurry words…
Bookshare has opened my world.
So many books now!

A single haiku can hardly begin to express the joy that Bookshare members of all ages experience when they are able to search through the collection of titles and find the titles that their friends are reading, the textbooks that their teachers have assigned, or those titles in our special collections that instantly “click” with the user. These collections include New York Times bestsellers, Summer Reading Clubs, collections for veterans, and so on. There are currently more than 140,000 books live in the collection, and numerous publications available through the National Federation of the Blind, with thousands more being added per month. Some of these new additions are hand-scanned, and then proofread to ensure full accessibility, by volunteers, many of whom are members themselves! Other additions come directly from the publishers as digital books, and “all” we need to do it to convert the content to adhere to the accessibility standards. What matters to the 200,000 Bookshare members is that literature is available to them quickly and in a format that works best for them.

Bookshare, a Benetech literacy solution, is celebrating its 10th anniversary of providing books and publications to people around the world who are “print-disabled,” predominantly those who are blind, visually-impaired, or have severe physical disabilities that prevent them from picking up a printed title. In this era of e-books everywhere, this may not sound all that innovative, but go back a decade, and think about how novel this idea of scanning printed books, and then converting these digital files into ones that could be played on a Braille reader, or another Assistive Technology device.

In addition to an ever-growing library and user-base, the capabilities of the system continue to expand every three weeks as we develop and deliver code using an Agile approach. The Engineering team is located across the US, so having a single, shared toolset is essential to productivity. The Atlassian product suite is foundational in being able to keep up this rapid pace of planning and delivering accessible web functionality in Bookshare itself, and also to design and build new mobile reading apps (Read 2 Go for iOS and Go Read for Android devices). Our Confluence Wiki enables cross-team communication, collaboration and tracking of ideas and operational processes. The Planning Board has been an incredible tool for product management to use when looking across multiple iterations and in prioritizing the backlog. This backlog has jokingly been dubbed “Jira Mountain,” but because of all of the standard and custom attributes, we are able to find and address common issues and enhancements.

We track many different development projects, including those of Assistive Technology devices that are developed by other organizations, but are important to our end-users as their only means of accessing literature, and then work closely with those development teams to address user concerns. As a nonprofit organization, we have to remain lean and flexible, so engineers and QA are often pulled onto different projects. Having a single, integrated system for managing all of the development efforts is essential. Some of Benetech’s employees are also print-disabled, so it is even more important that we can share technology. In addition to Bookshare, which serves over 170,000 students in the US alone, Benetech’s Literacy Program offers a product called Route 66, which is geared at helping adolescents and adults who have very low literacy levels to learn to read. Over the coming year, additional functionality that enables switch-devices and multi-media learning tools, in conjunction with the pedagogy defined by Dr. Karen Erickson of UNC-Chapel Hill, will offer even richer capabilities for these emerging readers and those learning (or re-learning) activities of daily living.

Other solutions within Benetech also use the Atlassian products to benefit humanity. Benetech’s® Human Rights program takes tens of thousands of stories and systematically turns them into analysis that strengthens the arguments made by human rights defenders. The team relies on software referred to as Martus, the Greek word for “witness.” On another front, Benetech’s technology is environmentally-focused, offering Miradi, a user-friendly software program that allows nature conservation practitioners to design, manage, monitor, and learn from their projects to more effectively meet their conservation goals. Miradi is a Swahili word meaning “project” or “goal.”

Benetech greatly appreciates the Community License that Atlassian has provided to us, allowing us to make a revolutionary difference in so many lives around the world. We look forward to being a part of your future as well.

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