Bookshare helps Antonio Guimaraes navigate continents, schools, cities, and careers
Antonio Guimaraes remembers those laborious days in college when he spent hours at the scanner using an OCR reader to convert his printed textbooks to digital text and audio. “I queued up some music and fired up my Kurzweil 1000. Two hours later I still wasn’t finished scanning my textbook, so I would take breaks and mark the next starting point with a paper clip,” says Antonio.
Fortunately, for Antonio and others like him who are blind or visually impaired, the technology supporting reading software and assistive devices has advanced tremendously. Antonio first read about Bookshare in the Braille Monitor, the leading publication of the National Federation of the Blind. He became a Bookshare member as a student in the early 2000s to gain free access to its library of accessible ebooks that now exceeds 540,000 titles. “The technology has advanced so much,” says Antonio, “that now I can open my favorite reading app, search for a title, download it, and start reading while I wait for my latte at Starbucks. I can go to a lecture by an author and download his or her book in seconds, often before a sighted person can get a copy.”
From Brazil to Brooklyn
Antonio has taken full advantage of all the benefits that technology offers persons who are blind or visually impaired. Born in Brazil, he moved to Florida at age fourteen where he attended the Florida School for the Deaf & the Blind in St. Augustine. In addition to learning English, he also had to learn a new braille code including Nemeth, which is a code for mathematical and scientific notation using standard six-dot Braille cells for tactile reading.
In 2016, he graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, with a bachelor of arts in communication. In the past, he has lived in Fall River, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island, but found those cities didn’t offer enough in terms of opportunity, transportation, and independence for a blind person who prefers to navigate himself rather than rely on paratransit services. He now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys the flexibility and availability of public transit services in New York City.
Bookshare is the Path to Knowledge and Self-Improvement
Antonio mostly reads how-to and nonfiction books using Voice Dream Reader on his iPhone. “Today I can benefit from anything books provide, from how to form a nonprofit to how to program in Swift for iOS,” he says. Books on those topics have come in handy for Antonio as president of Access to Places LLC, a company he founded in 2015 that is developing a public transit app to help blind commuters find their way in and out of metro stations. Antonio is the idea person behind the app, and the team includes a designer and an app developer. “The app will eventually include written descriptions of metro stations. The first version will allow the user to list the train stations on a specific line or trip. In this way, users can look ahead and keep track of their destination station and know when to get off the train,” explains Antonio. He anticipates that the app will be available in the app store later this spring.
“There is no shortage of books to read that help me become the person I want to be,” he says. Antonio is a braille reader, but he doesn’t use it a lot for reading Bookshare books. But, he says, “It’s certainly an option and a great way to check spelling on words I want to know.”
What advice does Antonio have for others who are blind? “I have a little secret. I went for months not knowing exactly how to read books in Voice Dream Reader. I finally asked someone to show me how to use the app, and it is one of the apps I use the most now. All I had to do was ask. So if you don’t know something, ask around and someone is bound to know it and patient enough to teach you.” That’s a secret worth sharing.
On Antonio’s Digital Bookshelf
I Never Knew That About New York by Christopher Winn
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – by Angela Duckworth
Starting and Building a Nonprofit by Peri Pakroo
Nonprofit Meetings, Minutes, and Records by Anthony Mancuso
Project Management: Absolute Beginners Guide by Greg Horine
Writers Market 2017 – by Robert Lee Brewer
Crock-Pot Recipe Collection by Lou Weber