Sunday, February 15, 2009

Benetech Launches New Bookshare Library

Bookshare (, the world's largest accessible online library for people with print disabilities, has been completely rebuilt with state-of-the-art web technology to make it easier for individuals with print disabilities to access digital books. The new design provides improved support for Bookshare's rapidly growing collection of over 43,000 digital books comprising general fiction and non-fiction, educational books, children's literature, textbooks and best sellers. The new Bookshare library implements current best practices for website accessibility and simplifies the reading experience for those who have a print disability and the staff who assist them.

The improvements in accessibility and ease of use include a streamlined Google-like interface for search functions, better account management tools, easier navigation from a keyboard or with a mouse, and more Braille options for Bookshare members who are blind. The new library also offers two complimentary ebook readers (software applications that read text in synthetic speech). The Victor Reader Soft Bookshare Edition from HumanWare is intended for people who are blind or have low vision. The Read:OutLoud Bookshare Edition from Don Johnston Incorporated is designed to support people with learning disabilities with a variety of study tools that help students read with better comprehension.

In 2007, Bookshare received a $32 million five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to give all students in the U.S. with qualifying print disabilities, regardless of age, free access to the Bookshare library. Since the award, hundreds of schools have signed up their qualified students for Bookshare and many parents have registered their children with qualifying disabilities for individual Bookshare memberships. The number of new Bookshare school and student members increased tenfold in 2008. More than 43,000 people with print disabilities now subscribe to the Bookshare library.

The growing collection of digital textbooks, including U.S. K-12 textbooks from the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center (NIMAC), helps students with print disabilities keep up with their classmates and encourages independent study. Bookshare works with state education agencies, schools, and universities to provide students with print disabilities timely access to the books they need for school.

"Bookshare is extremely helpful for school because when I enlarge pages in my textbooks with a photocopier, the font doesn't increase as large as the page and I still can't read it," says Dana Zarett, a high school student in Long Island, New York, who has impaired vision. "Now when I have a chapter assigned from textbooks, I download the text from Bookshare and use ZoomText software to read it in whatever size font I want. It's just amazing."

Bookshare was originally built by a community of volunteers and now adds over 1,000 books and textbooks a month with the additional support of worldwide nonprofit partners who assist with scanning and proofreading. Many publishers and authors also contribute digital content with global permissions to make books available to print disabled readers worldwide. Bookshare continues to rely on invaluable volunteer assistance to build the collection. To assist these essential efforts, the new library provides improved functionality for volunteers to scan, submit and proofread books more efficiently.

"The new Bookshare library is an exciting step forward as we continue to add thousands of new members and new books to the collection, says Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech which operates Bookshare. "Our goal is to put Silicon Valley technology into the hands of people with disabilities to help them live powerful, independent lives. We expect to offer 100,000 books in the Bookshare library and serve hundreds of thousands of users by 2012. Thanks to the Department of Education funding, this complete rebuild of Bookshare will support the rapid growth of the Bookshare member community."


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