Imagine going to the New York Public Library, or any public library–or even a bookstore–and finding to your dismay that ninety-five out of every one hundred books there are written in a language you don’t know. You can’t get anyone to translate them into a language you understand. Resources are too scarce to allocate time and money and energy to make materials available to everyone. Oh, and to make things worse? There isn’t any way for you to learn the language all those books are printed in, either.
That’s what it’s like every single day when you’re print disabled. At most, five percent–five out of a hundred–of books that are published ever become available in a form that a print disabled individual can access.
Think, for a moment, what that means to a student. For every 100 required textbooks their teachers will assign, only 5–at best–are available to a print disabled child in a form they can read.
Bookshare’s goal is
“to raise the floor of access so that people with print disabilities can obtain a broad spectrum of print materials at the same time as everyone else.”
Bookshare tackles this goal three ways:
- “Building the Bookshare digital library as rapidly as possible through Volunteers, partnerships, and publishers.
- Spreading the word so that everyone who is eligible to join Bookshare has the opportunity to do so.
- Expanding the choices of access technology available for people with print disabilities. Bookshare is leveraging new technological developments that make reading digital books easier.”
As of today, over 167,000 books are available in a variety of accessible forms to the print disabled. Every single title is available as a DAISY talking book, an MP3, a browser-readable XML file, and in electronic braille.
Every. Single. Book.
(Printed braille books can be created, too, on a demand basis.)
For students (in the United States): membership is free. Not only is electronic access to every book in the collection free to students, Bookshare will also scan any textbook a print-disabled student needs for a class at no charge. The funding to cover student memberships and get books into accessible formats for them comes from an award by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education.
Currently, over 200,000 students are Bookshare members. That’s almost a quarter of a million minds that now have not five percent but one hundred percent of the textbooks that a student needs for their education available to them.
It’s a staggering thought.
Bookshare also offers memberships to print disabled individuals who aren’t students, at a cost of $50 a year (plus an additional $25 the first year in set-up charges). If the member can’t afford that, they can volunteer to help, in a variety of ways, earning credits that are applied against their membership. In situations where an individual can’t volunteer because of personal circumstances, other volunteers chip in their own credits to cover the memberships.
You don’t have to be print disabled to volunteer. Just the opposite. Everyone is welcome, with open arms. Volunteers scan books, proofread books, and (if sighted) have the opportunity to describe images that are in books so they are understandable to readers.
How amazing is that?
If you know a print disabled student, I urge you to make sure they, their parents and their school knows about Bookshare. You can visit Bookshare’s site for more information. If you’d like to volunteer by scanning or proofreading books, or describing images–anyone with a computer can volunteer, although completed books are only available to the print disabled–go read their page about volunteering, and jump in.
If you’d like a membership yourself, because you have a qualifying print disability, you can find out how to join on Bookshare’s website.
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.
I’m print disabled.