Online Library for People with Print Disabilities Offers More Accessibility

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 significantly easier for individuals with print disabilities to access the books they want and need. The new design provides improved support for Bookshare’s rapidly growing collection of more than 43,000 digital books comprising a wide range of general fiction and non-fiction, educational books, children’s literature, textbooks and best sellers. The new Bookshare library implements many of the 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 numerous 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. In addition, the new library now offers two complimentary ebook readers or software applications that read text in synthetic speech. The Victor Reader Soft Bookshare Edition ebook reader from HumanWare is intended for people who are blind or have low vision.

The Read:OutLoud Bookshare Edition ebook reader from Don Johnston Inc. is designed specifically for people with learning disabilities. It includes a number of study tools that help people 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.”

Originally built by a community of volunteers, Bookshare 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.