November 10, 2016

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Bookshare Delivers Free Accessible Ebooks to Students with Disabilities

Today's guest blog post comes from Jim Fruchterman who is the founder and CEO of Benetech.  

 Imagine if each book needed by your students with disabilities was instantly available for free.  That reality is already mostly here, thanks to Bookshare, a national service funded by the federal Department of Education.

Bookshare has more than 480,000 accessible ebooks in its online library, including textbooks, literature, pleasure books, reference books, and books spanning almost every genre.  It has already delivered more than 10,000,000 ebooks to over 400,000 registered student users.  Bookshare can instantly convert these ebooks into braille, large print or audio books to meet the needs of students with vision impairments, physical disabilities or learning disabilities such as dyslexia that get in the way of reading print.

Thanks to national funding from the Office of Special Education Programs, Benetech continues to make extensive improvements to Bookshare to meet the needs of educators, both special educators and mainstream classroom teachers.  We know how busy teachers are, and we want to make it as easy and straightforward as possible to create reading lists of books for students with disabilities.  For students who are reading the books, we support just about every kind of technology, from specialized technology such as braille displays, to smart phones, dumb phones and inexpensive MP3 players.  And, the all-digital nature of the service and assistive technology software means it is just as easy for rural school districts to access Bookshare’s library as urban and suburban districts. 

Benetech is not only providing the largest online library for students with disabilities, but we’re also working closely with the publishing industry to see that mainstream digital educational materials are fully accessible from the start – or Born Accessible.  We believe that any book that is published can be published accessibly. The best long-term solution to book accessibility is universal design, where the same ebook that works for the student without a disability works terrifically well for the student with a disability. We’ve published a guide for districts on how to buy accessible: Buy Accessible: What to Look for in eBooks

As a final note, many national special education programs like Bookshare were defunded in the latest federal funding bill coming out of the House of Representatives.  It doesn’t make sense to go back to the days when teachers had to scan the same books over and over again at the district level.  The original dream of Bookshare was to solve that issue: scan once and share over and over again.  And, as you can see, that vision is now reality.  If you value helping students with disabilities read books, please contact your Congressional representatives today to ensure they continue. Thank you for supporting Bookshare and students across the country.