Help Students Read!

Help the print disabled read!

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.

Enter Bookshare.

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.

The BSD Book Bunny Recommends: For Freedom

The Butter Side Down Book Bunny feelin' all hoppy about a new book

Ya know what? I read a lot, and always have. I was a voracious reader as a child. Those stories about the kid who read under the covers using a flashlight? Yup. Me. My days of heavy reading screeched to a halt when I became disabled. Prior to 2002, the only game in town where I could get books that were accessible (and then only as cassette tapes) was the National Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled (NLS). The NLS is a great service, but it’s never been a good fit for me in terms of what’s available in terms of my personal tastes and isn’t particularly strong in the genres I enjoy, or in access to technical materials that go into any depth.

Now I’m making up for lost time. As of December, 2010, the volunteer-driven Bookshare has over 80,000 accessible books in a variety of digital forms for blind and disabled readers. Woot! Woot! NLS has made changes of its own, too, in its case moving to digital audio books, which are much easier for me to use than their former service, which was mostly on audio cassettes. They have around 26,000 titles available, and aim to have tens of thousands more titles available to qualified disabled patrons. Go, NLS, GO!

As an experiment, I’m going to post on BSD about books I’ve read that I really like. Every one of these books is even recommended by Butter Side Down’s own Book Bunny as being a good read.

What’s that you say? Bunnies can’t read?

Humpfh. Don’t tell them that!

Anyways, part of the fun of reading is swapping recommendations for good reads with friends, right?

Be forewarned: my tastes rarely match those of the NY Times reviewers, their best-seller lists, or the like. I also rarely read romance novels, especially not the soft porn ones that have destroyed the genre–yuck! Vampire novels and horror novels don’t interest me either, although if you haven’t ever read the original Dracula by Bram Stoker I recommend it. Just make sure you don’t read it in a dark, lonely house all by yourself, ‘k?

I do read across a variety of genres, though, and enjoy a good children’s book as much as a C.J. Box novel or one of Rutherfurd’s 800-page tomes.

Ready? Here goes!

I just finished a short, excellent, young adult novel about a WWII spy titled For Freedom, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It’s definitely recommended, and an easy fast read for us adults. The story is written as fiction, but it’s based on the true story of Suzanne David Hall.

Wow. It’s not that the book is the very best book you’ll ever read (although it definitely is a well-written book and a recommended read, no mistake about that). It’s the story itself that leaves me absolutely humbled. The courage, patriotism and sheer guts Suzanne David Hall displayed are truly heroic.

Suzanne, who was a French teen-aged opera singer, secretly couriered messages for three years between the Allies and the French Resistance, all while living in the midst of heavy Nazi activity in the city of Cherbourg, France. When she started, she was barely sixteen years old! The story is simply told in the first-person, by Suzanne, with many details of what her life was like under the occupation woven seamlessly into the tale.

The book isn’t maudlin, and it doesn’t present Suzanne as a super-human hero who breezed through a spot of trouble here and there. Instead, it deftly shows just how ordinary people rise to extraordinary circumstances–and how enormous the toll is even when you succeed.

I do want to note one caveat about the book’s contents. If you’re a parent, please read the opening chapter first before giving this book to your teen. That way you can decide for yourself if the graphic description of how one of Suzanne’s young neighbors dies in a bombing attack is too intense for your child. My own take: while brief, the description is definitely gruesome. I suspect that it may be too graphic for some children. It is not gratuitous violence, but the scene is realistic, and presents a vivid portrayal of the violent death of a pregnant woman and her unborn child.

For more about the author, check out her website. Ms. Bradley has written several other young adult books that I’m going to read soon, given how interesting this book was. If you’re a member of Bookshare, you can get an accessible copy of the book here.

For everyone else, here’s the book information. For Freedom, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Published by Delacorte Press, copyright 2003. It’s a little under 200 pages in length, and available in everything from hardback and paperback to Kindle and audible book editions. One scene of graphic violence, but no strong language or sex.

Happy reading!

Thanksgiving

Amidst all the other items for which we gave thanks this year on Thanksgiving, I have a special item for which I am grateful:

Accessible books.

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.

But.

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.

One does.

Truly.

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.

Enter Bookshare.

Bookshare is

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.