Improving Lives and Exceeding Expectations
“Our six-year-old daughter, Finley, has LCA (Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis). She only has 20% usable vision, and reading has always been a struggle for her. She got easily frustrated and didn’t want to read because it was difficult. We were introduced to Bookshare by her TVI (teacher for the visually impaired), and it has opened her world to reading. Because we could enlarge the print to any size she needed, she started to love to read. And when her eyes were tired, she could easily listen to the books she loved. Now Bookshare is a daily part of our lives. We have seen Finley grow and blossom thanks to what Bookshare had to offer someone with low vision, and we will be forever grateful.” —Mrs. Jennifer Pletcher of Massachusetts
Girl reading from a tablet
In 2007, Benetech began working directly in education, under a major five-year award for Bookshare from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). This funding enabled us to begin offering Bookshare services at no cost to all students with qualifying print disabilities in the U.S. In that first award, Bookshare promised to serve 100,000 students over five years. Not only were we able to double this milestone in less than five years, we went on to exceed every goal in our proposal.
Bookshare now serves more than 425,000 members—the majority of whom are U.S. students—with a collection of more than 500,000 titles (and counting). It’s the world’s largest online accessible library, adding over 3,000 books a month—that’s around five times the rate of the next most prolific U.S. library serving people with print disabilities. We have delivered over 10,000,000 accessible books and these books are delivered for less than one-fifteenth of the cost of the previous approach for conversion and delivery of accessible materials. For students with print disabilities, this means being able to use the textbooks and other materials they need to succeed in school at the same time as their peers.
This is the measure of impact we seek to create with each of our new projects. Making something just a little better than what’s available isn’t quite enough for us to develop a new software product. But if we can dramatically lower the cost of delivering a social good, such as an accessible book to a person with a disability, or profoundly improve lives through the introduction of new technology—now that’s worth doing!
How We Created the World’s Largest Collection of Accessible Arabic eBooks
Benetech seeks to leverage our Bookshare technology and content to help end the accessible book famine across the world. Serving diverse people in over 40 countries requires us to handle multiple languages and scripts so that local content may be presented in its original form in our members’ native languages. We started by building a collection of titles in Hindi and Tamil, two of the most-spoken languages in India. Bookshare now also has the world’s largest collection of digital accessible Arabic eBooks.
Mada Center Offices
This achievement is the result of Bookshare’s collaboration with the Mada Center (Qatar Assistive Technology Center) to create accessible Arabic-language digital books. Our Arabic collection includes children’s books from Scholastic, contemporary books from Arab Scientific Publishers in Lebanon and literary books from the public domain supplied by Kotobarabia in Egypt.
These socially responsible publishing partners generously gave us international rights to their titles, thereby allowing us to take the first significant step toward digital inclusion of Arabic speakers with print disabilities in many countries around the world. We’re grateful to these visionary partners and the Mada Center team, who worked with us closely to overcome multiple hurdles, from getting files in the right format to battling issues with digitized Arabic to learning about assistive technology for Arabic users.Digitally processing Arabic-language content is no easy task, but our Bookshare team successfully tackled huge challenges to become the leading provider of accessible Arabic and one of the world’s experts in digital Arabic. We’re looking forward to future partnerships in Arabic-speaking countries and to growing our library of Arabic titles so that a larger base of users may access the books they need in their native language.
Revolutionizing How to Make Graphical Content in Textbooks Accessible
Benetech launched our DIAGRAM Center initiative to make it easier, faster and less expensive to create and use accessible images and math. We want to ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to succeed in school and beyond, including in science and technology careers.
Through DIAGRAM’s work, we are making great progress toward that goal. We’re helping to push accessible image features into mainstream digital book standards, creating new tools and working with makers of emerging authoring tools to revolutionize how accessible images are made. We’re also working on the cutting edge of new modalities for accessing visual information, such as haptic (tactile) feedback, interactive images on touchscreens, and new approaches to display and input of math. We’re also training publishers, teachers, and others on current best practices so they can immediately apply that knowledge in their work with educational content.
Poet, was the first in DIAGRAM’s suite of tools: a free, open-source web application for crowd sourcing image descriptions in eBooks. Poet allows users to upload a digital book, quickly review the images it contains and add image descriptions that readers with print disabilities can use. The accessible representation in the form of a text description can then be voiced by accessible reading software. We’re working to add additional sensory options as part of the continuum of ways people access content, including referencing tactile graphics along with an image description.
Volunteers describing images at an “image slam” event, using DIAGRAM Center’s Poet tool
Since DIAGRAM’s release of Poet, Bookshare’s nationwide volunteer crew has used it to describe tens of thousands of images in textbooks, with a special focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) textbooks. For example Brigham Young University students sponsored an image description competition among campus groups. Dozens of students participated in the two-hour challenge, writing over 600 descriptions in high school textbooks. The great success of this event inspired us to continue reaching out to colleges to host similar “image slam” competitions on their campuses. Poet has opened the door for volunteer groups, ranging from publishers to college students and alumni to top Silicon Valley tech companies, to make a huge impact. In addition, Poet has modeled to publishers an easier ways to add image descriptions to their new digital books, which is a critical goal for the project.