Amidst all the other items for which we gave thanks this year on Thanksgiving, I have a special item for which I am grateful:
I can’t read printed books. I can’t repetitively flip pages, or hold a book open. Even if I could, many books are moldy or have other problems such as disgusting modern inks that give me migraines and asthma. Prior to becoming disabled, I was a voracious reader, inhaling books to the tune of one or two daily.
Since the early 1990s, I’ve read by getting “Talking Books.” The National Library for the Blind and Disabled provides the “Talking Books” service (books on tape), and has hundreds of thousands of unabridged books available to its patrons – at no charge.
It’s a great service. Truly.
Imagine a world in which millions of books have been published. You, the reader, can only get books that a panel has decided should be made available to you. Resources are limited. One must understand.
It’s like any other public library – the collection is limited by the resources at hand, and someone has to decide which books enter the collection.
Normally, when a reader can’t find a book they want at a library, they can purchase any type of desired reading. However, while both new and used books are widely available, finding an accessible unabridged copy of a book is a tad more difficult. And expensive, even if one exists.
an online community [that] enables book scans to be shared, thereby leveraging the collections of thousands of individuals who regularly scan books, eliminating significant duplication of effort. Bookshare.org takes advantage of a special exemption in the U.S. copyright law that permits the reproduction of publications into specialized formats for the disabled.
The majority of books on Bookshare.org – over 40,000 titles now – are there because an individual with a disability – most often a volunteer – decided to share that book with the rest of the community.
Wrap your head around this, Oh Best Beloved: my friend, M, scanned over 400 printed books this last year as a volunteer for Bookshare. I could hug her to bits because a chunk of that total included books that she scanned specifically for me – books that I never would have had the chance to read otherwise.
M, by the way, is also disabled. She’s blind, as are most of Bookshare’s volunteers. She scans books using a standard flatbed scanner and then uses an optical character recognition program (OCR) to translate the books into a rich text format file. Another volunteer proofreads (or validates, in Bookshare terminology) the contents of the file. Bookshare’s staff then translates the file into electronic braille files and into special DAISY html files that both blind readers and sighted disabled readers, like myself, can download and read on any personal computer.
How cool is that?
So, on the occasion of Thanksgiving I want to say: thank you, M, and thank you, all the other volunteers and staff at Bookshare. What you are doing is amazing.
If you’d like to learn more about Bookshare, you can visit their site for more information. If you’d like to volunteer to help out by scanning or proofreading books – anyone with a computer can volunteer, although completed books are only available to the disabled – go read their page about volunteering.
It’s a good organization. Worth your time. What they do helps make the world a better place.
Trust me on this one. I know.