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’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: http://communications.bookshare.org/mentor-teachers/