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Getting Ready for the Outside World: Bookshare Supports School’s Vocational Program

Jean Goodwin standing behind a student using a computer with head phones to read. Ken Merrill standing and observing the class training.
Jean Goodwin with student using Bookshare. Ken Merrill observing class.

Aha moments and big smiles are the cues Jean Goodwin looks for in her adult students, ages eighteen to twenty, who have complex language, learning, and cognitive challenges. Goodwin holds a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis on Mild-Moderate Disabilities. She is a lead teacher in the GROW transition program at Riverview School in East Sandwich, Massachusetts. The GROW acronym stands for “Getting Ready for the Outside World.”

About GROW

Structured like a college campus, this ten-month transition program enables students to live in dormitories, attend classes, and participate in an extensive internship program to learn how to function independently outside classroom walls. “In this extraordinary learning and living environment, students participate in three phases — academics, independent living, and workforce skills — that act as a bridge to build their proficiencies,” says Goodwin. They learn how to advocate for themselves, make mature choices, and take responsibility for their lives. They learn to use assistive technologies and resources such as Bookshare.”

In GROW, students gain firsthand experience in work settings to develop good habits and increased awareness of their personal strengths and interests. The curriculum includes direct instruction in academic subjects, but also provides students with authentic work and life skills such as how to be an informed passenger in a car with the goal of becoming a good driver, and how to work in food service occupations. “That’s where Bookshare comes in for our students who qualify for the accessible library,” says Goodwin.

In 2015, she completed her graduate ILP (independent learning project or thesis) by researching the importance of adaptive technologies for students with print and learning disabilities. “Accessible technologies enable students to experience multi-modal reading,” she says. “This simultaneous process proves to be a linchpin to motivate students to repeat the reading process out of need or interest.”

Students’ Reading Preferences and Successes

One young man, reading at a second grade level, wanted to read a particular book his brother was reading. He carried the book under his arm everywhere he went, but was unable to grasp the text. Goodwin signed him up for a Bookshare membership that is free to all U. S. students with a qualifying print disability. She helped him search for the book by its ISBN number, brought it up on screen, put headphones on, and taught him to adjust the speed.

Goodwin said, “As soon as the book began to play, he paused it, and with a smile so large it would light up a room said, ‘I know these words.’ That experience changed his vision of himself. Now he reads continually and is thrilled to talk to his family about books. Before accessible books, he never fully comprehended what he read. His fluency and vocabulary skills have improved. Adapted technologies are a proven motivator to help young adults read well and often.”

One young woman didn’t want to give up the printed book, but would often stumble over vocabulary words that made it difficult for her to stay interested in the story. “With audiobooks, she listens to a paragraph read aloud multiple times, and this feature helps her follow along in the printed book,” adds Goodwin.

Students at Riverview School working in food service.

Project Forward School-to-Work Program

Some students at the Riverview School also participate in the Project Forward school-to-work program at Cape Cod Community College. They study basic food services to pass the ServSafe certification test and prepare for actual work experiences in the Riverview Café, a restaurant that provides job training opportunities for students in the GROW program.

For this program, instead of scanning the textbook herself, Goodwin wrote to the publisher to request that the digital accessible file be added to Bookshare. “The key was getting the same edition and it worked beautifully,” she says. “With digital files, students can read what their peers are reading. They don’t look different in class. This is important to them. One student was elated that he could study along with his professor and learn the material. This curbed his test-taking anxiety and he aced the test. His mother was thrilled!”

Ken Merrill, assistive technology infusion instructor, confirms Goodwin’s assessment of the benefits of accessible books and adaptive technologies. Merrill and Goodwin routinely connect with parents to help them understand how students with qualified print disabilities log into the Bookshare library and download books using technologies like the iPad or compatible computer software.

Career Portfolios

Every student graduates with a career portfolio and a copy of their proof of disability form as verification of their membership into Bookshare. Parents are encouraged to assist their young adult child to continue to use their Bookshare individual membership so they will be productive after they graduate. Reading can continue to be a part of their everyday lives,” says Goodwin. “Bookshare levels the playing field in school and keeps students reading.”

In the Driver’s Seat

Riverview School also has a driver’s education program called In the Driver’s Seat. Over the past two years, eighty students with qualifying memberships to Bookshare have studied driver’s education. While taking this preparatory class, they are encouraged to access the driver’s manual (for their individual states) in the Bookshare library to learn the rules of the road.

Merrill says, “Because the materials for the driver’s permit and the food service exams are in Bookshare, it helps students navigate two important rites of passage: becoming drivers and becoming employed. Through GROW and our school-to-work programs, they have a real chance of finding their place in the world through authentic work experiences, and the access to digital text promotes lifelong learning.

Do you know any students like these who could benefit from access to Bookshare’s online accessible library? Learn more.


  1. Gloria Massey

    What is the process to register a qualifying student in our school in this free program?

    • Hi, Gloria. You’ll find instructions for adding students in the How-To Guide Add Sponsors and Members (PDF) (Word). Use the Request Help form for assistance from our Membership team.

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