Special Needs Students Gain Reading Fluency, Skills with Free Accessible Library

Bookshare, an online accessible library, free to U.S. students with qualifying print disabilities, has been adopted to help students at Riverview School in Massachusetts learn work and life skills for transitions outside of school.

The ten-month vocational program, Getting Ready for the Outside World (GROW), is structured like a college campus. Students live in dorms, take classes, and participate in an extensive internship program to gain work experiences and function independently.

Jean Goodwin, a special education teacher, says, “Students in this extraordinary learning and living environment focus on building their proficiencies around work and life skills, as well as academics.”

Bookshare serves hundreds of thousands of U.S. K-12 and postsecondary students who are blind, have low vision, a physical disability or a learning disability, like dyslexia. The collection contains close to 390,000 digital accessible books in topics from education to careers, trades, how-to manuals, children’s literature, bestsellers, and more. U.S. students with qualifying print disabilities access the library at no cost through an award by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

One student, reading at a second grade level, wanted to read a book with his brother. He carried the book everywhere but was unable to understand the text. Goodwin signed him up for Bookshare, downloaded the book by its ISBN number, brought it up on screen, and put headphones on him. “As soon as the book began to play, he gave me a huge smile,” said Goodwin. “This experience changed his life! Before accessible books, he never fully comprehended what he read. Now he reads constantly. His fluency and vocabulary skills have improved. Assistive technologies and digital accessible books can motivate students to read well and often. They can read what their peers read. They don’t look different in class. This student was elated that he could learn the material and ace his test. His mother was thrilled!”

Bookshare is a global literacy initiative of Benetech, a Silicon Valley nonprofit technology company that provides software tools and services to address pressing social needs.