Bookshare celebrates 10 years of providing eBooks to those with print disabilities

March 12, 2012 – Palo Alto, CA – Bookshare, the global leader in providing digital accessible books to people with print disabilities, today announced its 10th anniversary. Throughout the last ten years, Bookshare has been at the forefront of the digital book revolution, applying Silicon Valley technology to pioneer an innovative new approach to a library for individuals with print disabilities.

Jim Fruchterman, the CEO and founder of the nonprofit Benetech, the parent organization of Bookshare, envisioned a library of eBooks formed by volunteers digitizing and legally sharing them over the Internet with others with qualified print disabilities (such as blindness, low vision, physical disabilities, or severe learning disabilities). A former rocket scientist and 2006 MacArthur Fellow, Fruchterman acted on his vision and launched Bookshare, introducing an innovative new approach to reading for an underserved population.

“We wanted to reinvent the library for people with print disabilities, to make sure they had the books they need for education, employment, and social inclusion,” said Fruchterman. “With technology, we knew we could inexpensively solve 95% the problem, rather than 5%.”

Other innovations and strategic partnerships followed in order to make Bookshare easier to use and more secure, build the collection, and make books easier to read whenever and wherever.

  • To safeguard against illegal sharing of books, yet enable assistive devices to access them, Bookshare pioneered a new approach to digital rights management (DRM). Such “Social DRM” approaches, which include both electronic fingerprints in the books as well as legal agreements and social pressure, are now being adopted by many publishers as they move into providing eBooks.
  • To cost effectively grow the library and improve quality, as a supplement to the volunteer scanning and proofing process, Bookshare partnered directly with publishers and with other social enterprises. To date, over 180 publishers have now contributed over half of the 140,000 titles in the collection. Social enterprise partners have added thousands of educational titles each year while providing meaningful employment and job skills for individuals with disabilities and other disadvantages.
  • To ensure that users can read Bookshare books wherever and however they want, Benetech, the parent nonprofit for Bookshare, partnered with leading assistive technology vendors to build in support for Bookshare, and released an award-winning iPad/iPhone app called Read2Go.
  • To ensure that tools and technologies exist to access the increasingly prevalent graphical content in educational materials, particularly in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), Benetech is a leading provider of accessible open content and open source tools to improve accessibility.

The many innovations providing access to content were urgently needed by students with print disabilities. Bookshare’s extremely cost-effective operation and ongoing innovations led to winning a competitive award from the U.S Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, to serve all qualified U.S. students.  In a little over four years, fueled by state-of-the-art use of direct email, webinars and social media, student membership has grown from a couple of thousand to over 190,000.

Bookshare now has a broad collection that fills the tremendous need of a population hungry for access to current content. “Bookshare has been the very best resource for my reading needs. You have the most recent and largest selection of books and periodicals in one place anyone would want,” said Bookshare member Michael Asher, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist for Behavior Therapy Associates in New Jersey.

Changes have occurred in student behavior; those who weren’t reading are now reading. “I have several of my kids (6th – 8th grade) coming into my Reading Resource Room and asking to read…..Asking!!! These students read books that their peers are reading and that makes them feel so good,” said Sallie Spencer, Resource Room teacher, Olivet Middle School, Michigan.

The innovations of the last ten years changed the approach to reading and to a library for individuals with print disabilities; going forward, Bookshare will continue breaking down barriers to access until the needs of individuals with print disabilities are met.

About Bookshare
Bookshare is the world’s largest online accessible library of copyrighted content for people with print disabilities. Through its technology initiatives and partnerships, Bookshare seeks to raise the floor on accessibility issues so that individuals with print disabilities have the same ease of access to print materials as people without disabilities. In 2007, Bookshare received a five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), to provide free access for all U.S. students with a qualified print disability. The Bookshare library now has over 140,000 books and serves more than 190,000 members. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit which creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs. To learn more about Bookshare, please visit www.bookshare.org.

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