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Bookshare Deal Lets More Disabled Students Access Books

April 29 2009 | by

A Bookshare user enjoys a digital book

Bookshare, the online library for people with print disabilities, today announced a new program that will significantly increase college students’ access to digital books and textbooks.

The Bookshare University Partnership program is a collaboration between 11 U.S. colleges and universities and publishers that will pool resources to build a more robust collection of books. The program will boost access to reading materials for individuals, including K-12 and post-secondary students, who have a qualified print disability such low vision, dyslexia or a physical disability that makes it difficult or impossible to read standard print.

Up to now, students would wait months after the start of a semester before getting their textbooks in a format they can read. The process entails the university having to either physically scan the books or obtain digital files for each book from the publisher. Under the new program, colleges, universities and publishers will pool resources to make more books available on Bookshare. Additionally, three major publishers, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group and Scholastic, have agreed to donate digital files of their books to Bookshare.?

“This program extends Bookshare’s core spirit of collaboration and partnerships to increase the opportunities for these students to have an equal educational experience,” said Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech, the nonprofit organization which operates Bookshare.

It’s also a cost-effective approach for schools: Scanning and proofreading a book can cost $100 to $1000 depending on its complexity. Schools participating in the new program are Arizona State University, De Anza Community College, Indiana University, Michigan State University, Monterey Peninsula Community College, The Ohio State University, Texas A&M University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Montana, University of Idaho, and The Hadley School for the Blind.

Bookshare, which already has more than 46,000 titles, operates under a copyright exemption, known as the Chafee Amendment that allows books to be scanned and made available to qualified people with print disabilities. Each month, Bookshare adds 1000 legally scanned books from universities, the NIMAC (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center), publishers, and volunteers.

With a digital file and an e-book player, students with print disabilities can have their reading materials read out loud either in class or on the go. Ashley Seymour, a college junior majoring in health care at the University of Michigan-Flint who has been blind since birth, agrees. “It’s so easy for me to get my books on time and from one source. I don’t have to wait for days or weeks. I just download my books, convert to MP3 files for my iPod and go to class.”

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