Online Book-Sharing Service Increases Literacy Skills Among Students with Visual Impairments
NEC Foundation of America helps Bookshare expand into the classroom
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Islandia, NY, February 02, 2005: What started as an online book sharing service for people with print disabilities, Bookshare®, has grown into a cost-effective technology tool that is helping to improve literacy among K-12 and college students with visual or reading impairments by providing access to over 20,000 scanned books.
Today, more than 300 educational institutions use Bookshare to serve students with print disabilities, thanks in large part to a grant from NEC Foundation of America.
Bookshare was launched in February 2002 by Benetech®, a Palo Alto, California-based nonprofit organization. The online service follows stringent copyright exemptions that allow persons with print disabilities to access and share books in specialized formats, such as eText or Braille. Less than five percent of all books currently are available in these formats, according to Jim Fruchterman, president of Benetech.
"Book by book, collection by collection, we are steadily increasing the number of books accessible to persons with print disabilities," said Fruchterman. "With the help of NEC Foundation of America, we’ve added hundreds of books commonly assigned by teachers, and increased Bookshare’s teacher and student memberships."
Most of the Bookshare titles used in educational settings include award-winning children’s and adolescent books (including collections such as the Newbery Award winners from 1922 to 2005), literature classics and novels read in history, English and reading classes. Educators and students cite the chance to increase literacy skills as well as the immediate access to and increased portability of books as the key benefits of the service.
"Bookshare helps our students embrace the pleasure of reading a book, which in turn increases literacy skills," according to Sister Meg Flemming, Principal of the St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments, Upper Darby, PA. "The staff at Bookshare is really willing to make sure that our teachers and students understand how the technology works so it can be a regularly used tool, rather than a rarely used one."
Using Bookshare is simple. After documenting their disability with Bookshare, users download books onto personal notetakers (such as BrailleNote), laptops or even flash memory cards. Users also can emboss the downloaded book into Braille or listen to it with a variety of assistive technology devices.
This immediate access to a large selection of books is a key benefit, according to avid reader Estefanie Fabiola Colmenero, a 12th grade student at Escondido High School in Escondido, CA.
"Before, I had to wait at least two weeks to get a book in Braille or audio. I was constantly behind in class -- trying to catch up as well as keep up with the assigned readings," said Fabiola Colmenero. "Now I'm able to download the book ahead of time, stay current with the readings and follow along in class."
Bob White, who teaches visually impaired students in the New York City Public School System, cites the ability to make books more portable as a benefit.
"Downloading books from Bookshare onto personal notetaking devices makes the book more portable for our students with visual impairments," said White. "It's an immediate acquisition of the book and the digital format makes it much easier for students to search the book, take notes and work on a report."
Just this month, Bookshare's collection surpassed the 20,000 mark, and keeps growing. The nonprofit organization is working with groups and institutions, such as Digital Divide Data and Indiana University, to expand its collection of textbooks.
There are three ways to become involved with Bookshare: 1) individuals and organizations can join at www.bookshare.org; 2) volunteers can help scan and submit new books by visiting www.bookshare.org/volunteer; or 3) interested individuals or groups can make a donation by visiting www.bookshare.org/web/DonateNow.html.
Bookshare offers a collection of over 20,000 accessible digital books to its members. The books are protected by a comprehensive digital rights management plan, which features extensive controls, including file encryption, watermarks, fingerprinting and a security watch program. Bookshare builds on 15 years of work in the adaptive technology field, originally under the Arkenstone name.
Bookshare is a project of Benetech, an innovative Silicon Valley nonprofit that develops technology projects to address pressing social issues in areas such as disability, human rights, literacy, education and the digital divide.
About NEC Foundation of America
NEC Foundation of America was established in 1991 and endowed at $10 million by NEC Corporation and its United States subsidiaries. Income generated by the endowment is donated to nonprofit organizations in the United States in support of programs with national reach and impact in the arena of assistive technology for people with disabilities. Through its grants, NEC Foundation of America underscores its philosophy of advancing society through technology and enabling individuals to realize their full potential.
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