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Seeing (and Hearing) is Believing: Bookshare’s Audio Support Unlocks Door to Reading

Oregon physical therapist /AT consultant shares insights for fast-tracking students to get accessible ebooks and reading accommodations

Bruce Alter is a physical therapist and AT Consultant for the Tigard-Tualatin and Woodburn School Districts in Oregon. “One of my students, a middle grade boy, was very bright but couldn’t read a word. He was always getting into fights and was headed for trouble,” he explained.

Bruce suggested audio support for reading since it would let the student circumvent the visual processing piece that was deficient and enable him to read. But the father was resistant. He said listening to books was cheating, and his son just needed to try harder. “So the student’s case manager, Dana, invited the father to watch a demo of a digital book in Bookshare with text-to-speech narration and word highlighting. He was so convinced that he bought an iPad on the way home and downloaded the Voice Dream Reader app for his son,” says Bruce. “The student graduated and now has his own landscaping business. He once told us that he was worried about getting ripped off because he couldn’t read the contracts. But now, he has a way to read them.”

Pro Tip: Don’t just talk about the benefits of accessible books in alternate formats, show it!

Identify Students Who Qualify for Bookshare and Get Parents on Board Early

“COVID has exposed all the cracks,” says Bruce. “When in-person learning shut down last year, communication with teachers and parents became more difficult.” At the same time, Bruce and his colleague, Jamie, had to provide resources and accommodations for students with IEPs and 504 plans quickly. They followed this streamlined process:

  1. Jamie uses the district database and the student’s eligibility to determine who would qualify for Bookshare.
  2. To educate general education teachers on the importance of auditory support for students with reading needs, they send letters that explain what Bookshare is and how it can be used.
  3. Jamie sends parents a letter and authorization form (in English and Spanish) to set up a Bookshare student account as well as an Individual Membership for home use.
  4. Jamie gathers required reading from teachers and creates grade-level reading lists to assign to students.

This approach allows students to have the books they need right away so they don’t fall behind. “As a result, we saw a huge surge in kids signing up for Bookshare Individual Memberships when given the option at the time of the school account set up,” says Bruce.

Pro Tip: Set up the Bookshare Individual Membership at the same time as the school account to give students the freedom and independence to select books at home.

Read Books Offline to Manage Internet Use

For the households that do not have internet access, the district tried several solutions. Early in the pandemic, the district boosted the wifi strength in district offices so kids could use wifi from the parking lots, but that didn’t work very well. At the same time, the districts purchased wireless access points for families without internet. This solution helped, but the bigger issue, however, is that households with multiple students quickly hit their data limit.

Pro Tip: Download Bookshare ebooks onto Google Drive so students can load books onto their Chromebooks when they have internet access and then read offline to conserve data. Browse popular reading lists.

Book Club Participation No Longer Out of Reach

Bruce described an eighth-grade girl with a specific learning disability (SLD). “She joined a book club but could never finish the book before the meetings,” he said. Bruce set her up with a Bookshare account, gave her an iPad, and loaded the book club books. “Her mom came to a meeting at school with tears in her eyes, and said, for the very first time, her daughter read the entire book and participated in the book club discussion,” said Bruce. “This experience turned her into a reader.”

Dyslexia is Personal

Bruce is also a Bookshare member with dyslexia. “I was a struggling student who flunked out of school twice. It’s remarkable that I made it since this type of assistive technology wasn’t available. Books on tape were expensive with a limited selection. With Bookshare, I have access to the full world,” he says. He listens to books constantly and wouldn’t be able to read as much without Bookshare.

“I have dyslexia. I love Bookshare. It has opened up so many doors for me personally and for the students I serve. I can’t thank you enough.” – Bruce Alter

Get started with Bookshare today.


  1. Petrea Hagen-Gilden

    I have known Bruce for decades. He is among the most devoted and talented teachers I have had the pleasure to know. He keeps up with every innovation and advocates for all students.

    • Bruce Alter

      Thank you so much Petrea! You were the one who gave me my start in our district. Thanks for the example you set for me!

  2. Jennifer Loucks

    Bruce’s passion for helping students learn and the role he has in Education is undeniable!


    Bruce has been so helpful I. Sharing in wealth of knowledge with so many of us! Your insight and determination is helping so many! The tips in this article really work. Thanks to Bruce’s process many more of our students in rural communities are having the access like never before!

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