Bookshare Extends Ebook Access to TX Students with Print Disabilities

A statewide program, Accessible Books for Texas enables students with print disabilities to access Bookshare, a free, cloud-based ebook library of more than 440,000 titles.
Enjoying a book is a universal right. That’s central to the mission of Bookshare, a free, cloud-based ebook library that provides print-disabled readers with access to more than 440,000 titles. The Texas Education Agency recently awarded Benetech, Bookshare’s nonprofit parent, a new contract to continue its Accessible Books for Texas (ABT) program through August 2017. ABT is an initiative to introduce teachers and students to Bookshare. student-with-headphones

Student using Bookshare.

Christine Jones, senior education program manager at Benetech, sees the work of ABT’s outreach coordinators as critical to the effort. Before the start of the ABT program, 5,601 K–12 students in Texas used Bookshare. After five years of ABT, that number jumped to 39,078, a nearly 600 percent increase. With funding from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs, all U.S. students with qualifying print disabilities, such as blindness, low vision, physical disabilities, and learning disabilities, are entitled to access Bookshare’s ebook collection. It includes a growing number of Spanish-language titles, according to Bookshare. The extra support and training provided by ABT was a welcome resource in classrooms. For Leslie Patterson, a dyslexia therapist at Caddo Mills (TX) High School, getting up and running with Bookshare posed a few initial hurdles, and she was grateful to have help. “I’m not incredibly tech-savvy, says Patterson, who learned a lot from her ABT coordinator. ”Having someone to hold the hands of the new users is huge.” “When it came time for me to start pushing it as a district-wide use, that’s where having the guidance of ABT coordinators was a huge benefit,” says Jessica McKay, an assistive technology specialist at Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso, TX. “They were extremely helpful in explaining the resource to our administrators, district-wide staff and our textbook distributors.”   With students with print and learning disabilities, Linda Sherouse, a library media specialist at North Hampton School in New Hampshire, has turned to Bookshare. Her approach? She begins by reading a chapter from a digital book to a student, then having them read a chapter back. “It doesn’t take long for their comprehension to improve and for them to experience an aha moment," she told Bookshare. "After a short time, they are listening and some are following along with the highlighted words. Through Bookshare, we have immediate access to many types of digital accessible formats to accommodate learners with different challenges. Some of our students also moved from a resource setting to an inclusive classroom.” “We’re happy to be continuing the work of the ABT program,” says Jones. It "has been a model of how state funding can complement Bookshare’s federal funding to ensure that qualified students get the resources they need to read and learn successfully.”  

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