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Special education teachers are opening a world of knowledge through accessible ebooks and technologies for students who cannot read traditional print. This is good news for tens of thousands of students who are blind, have low vision, a physical disability, or a learning disability. Students with print disabilities may require various accommodations to support grade-level reading and to improve skills like reading comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary.
One important reading resource for students who cannot read traditional print books due to print disabilities is Bookshare, the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks.
Bookshare is free for U.S. students with qualifying print disabilities and their schools thanks to awards from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that empowers communities in need by creating scalable technology solutions.
What is an Accessible Ebook?
Accessible ebooks let students with disabilities read in ways that work for them. They can listen to words read aloud, follow along with synchronized word highlighting, read in braille, read in large fonts, and more. Bookshare books come in digital text and can be read on more reading devices than any other library, including computers, tablets, smartphones, braille devices, assistive technology devices, and MP3 players.
Bookshare Membership and Collection
It is easy to sign up your school or qualified students with print disabilities for a free Bookshare membership. There are two types of memberships: Organization and Individual.
Through an Organizational Membership, teachers manage access to Bookshare for their students. They add qualified students to their member roster, find books (including K-12 textbooks sourced from the NIMAC), and set up students to read.
With an Individual Membership, students can manage their own accounts. They find their own books and read independently.
Bookshare is free while members are in school. Once students complete their education in college or beyond, they can continue enjoying their Bookshare membership for a modest fee.
A recommendation for teachers is to sign up for both types of memberships for qualified students. This allows teachers to access school books and to set up students to read books independently, including leisure books, in the future. With both memberships, members get access to a wide variety of reading tools, including free tools like Bookshare Web Reader that lets them read directly from an internet browser with ease.
The Bookshare collection has over 400,000 titles including textbooks, Common Core materials, college prep, children’s books, new releases, newspapers, and magazines. Titles are available for every grade level from K-12 curriculum to postsecondary, children’s books, novels, young adult, bestsellers, scientific journals, and periodicals. If Bookshare doesn’t have the title you want, members can request to add it to the collection.
Reading Experiences of Students with Print Disabilities Using Bookshare
Hailey Keeps Pace with Schoolwork
Hailey is a courageous teen, yet her childhood was filled with challenges due to blindness and chronic illness. She missed a lot of school, but luckily, a teacher of the visually impaired turned to the Bookshare online library so that Hailey could read assignments on an iPad. Her teacher created Reading Lists so that she could listen to ebooks during hospital stays and at home. Accessible ebooks made a huge difference in Hailey’s academic performance in school and her future.
Elina Pursues Passions in Reading, Art, and Languages
Elina’s mom and teachers noticed her natural love of art, but due to cerebral palsy, Elina could not hold a book or paintbrush. They taught her how to use assistive technologies and signed her up for Bookshare. By age twelve, Elina was listening to accessible ebooks on art. She used technology to draw and paint and won artistic awards. She excelled in many high school subjects, including Spanish and now attends a community college. Elina wants to work in public relations and communicate in other languages using an augmentative communication device. What a triumph for this artistic and smart teen.
Ben Breaks Down Reading Barriers and Becomes Tech Savvy
Everyone knew Ben was extremely bright, but challenges with reading and spelling were evident. He was diagnosed with dyslexia in first grade. Through support from his parents and teachers and a Bookshare membership, Ben broke through his reading barriers using ebooks and technologies. Today, he is very tech-savvy and excels in college and just about everything he does. He also advocates for more access to ebooks and technologies in schools and has presented his experience to members of Congress and at educational conferences. Ben is a courageous young man with incredible potential.
Universal Right to Read
Special education teachers agree that all students deserve a universal right to read, but for students with print disabilities, traditional print can be a barrier to reading, academic achievement and recreational enjoyment. You can help to maximize students’ learning potential by providing accessible ebooks and technologies. Sign up for Bookshare, an online accessible library at no cost to U.S. schools and students with qualifying print disabilities. It all starts with one accessible ebook to turn a reading experience into a love of knowledge, ability and wonder.