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Leading Nonprofit Technology Developer Offers the First Digital Book-Sharing Service For People With Print Disabilities

By posted in Bookshare, Press Releases on February 21, 2002 at 9:37pm

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February 21, 2002, Palo Alto, CA – Benetech®, Silicon Valley’s leading nonprofit technology developer, today launched Bookshare®, the first service to offer blind, dyslexic and other disabled individuals access to over ten thousand books online.

Similar to Napster, yet fully legal, the subscription-based, online file-sharing community enables the upload and download of digital books exclusively for use by people with print disabilities by visiting its Web site at

“Imagine being cut off from your culture – being unable to enjoy New York Times bestsellers or Oprah’s Book Club selections when your friends are all talking about them. Unfortunately, fewer than 5% of books are now available in Braille or audiotape,” said Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech. “While we can’t promise every book in print will be in Bookshare’s collection,” he added, “the number of volumes available online for people with print disabilities will now be limited only by the number of volunteers willing to scan books.”

Until now, hundreds of individuals might each spend three hours scanning in the latest Tom Clancy novel, which is a massive waste of human capital. Now, Bookshare will leverage the collections of tens-of-thousands of individuals who regularly scan books, eliminating significant duplication.

“Bookshare will revolutionize the quantity and usability of books available to blind people,” said Paul Edwards, immediate past President of The American Council of the Blind. “This service will enable our community to help each other access far more books.”

To qualify for Bookshare, individuals with disabilities such as blindness and dyslexia, as well as those with mobility impairments, must submit written proof of their condition, signed by a certified professional, such as a physician. Upon verification and payment of an initial $25 set-up charge, members will be given access to Bookshare’s collection, enabling them to download as many of its books as they want for an annual fee of $50.

Publications are organized just as they would be at your local library – by title, author, subject, and genre. Users can download and print books in Braille or use their software DAISY players to listen to an electronic reading.

One of the distinguishing features of Bookshare is that individuals with different disabilities can easily use it. Blind members can log on to the site using talking screen reader software, and choose books to download from the online catalog. Members with dyslexia can use software that presents the text visually and/or audibly to meet their needs.

Designed to operate at “break-even,” Bookshare will rely on volunteers and members of its online community to scan books on conventional scanners. Books can be scanned remotely at home or at Benetech’s offices on its high-speed scanners.

“We invite volunteers to drop by our new facilities in Palo Alto to help scan books or volunteer over the Internet,” said Alison Lingane, Senior Product Manager, Bookshare. “By spending just a few hours, you can provide disabled readers more access to books and remove barriers to literacy – a pleasure most of us take for granted.”

Once a text is digitized, it’s then sent to Bookshare to ensure that quality and copyright guidelines are met before being added to the collection, which will be stored on a central server.

Bookshare fully complies with section 17 U.S.C. § 121 of the copyright law that stipulates that literary works can be distributed by a qualifying organization in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities. Benetech, Bookshare’s nonprofit creator, uses a digital rights management plan which includes file encryption, digital watermarks and fingerprinting to ensure books stay within the Bookshare community.

The project was designed with input from The Association of American Publishers, The American Council of the Blind and The National Federation of the Blind. Benetech also worked closely with other leading disability organizations and partnered with VisuAide, an international developer and marketer of innovative assistive products, to provide a software DAISY format book reader to each Bookshare member.

Benetech is also developing several other projects to harness technology for the disadvantaged. After Bookshare, (, the company will release Martus (, information technology tools for human rights advocates worldwide. “But first we hope Oprah comes forward to provide Bookshare with all her book club selections,” CEO Fruchterman adds.

For more about Benetech and its current projects, please visit

To arrange to interview Benetech’s CEO, Jim Fruchterman, or Bookshare’s Senior Product Manager, Alison Lingane, please call 650-475-5440.

For any questions regarding Bookshare membership, volunteering or technical support questions, please contact