Friday, May 7, 2010
BOOKSHARE Bookshare is a site that provides people with access to printed materials that have specific disabilities that adversely affect their ability to read printed materials. These materials include copyrighted textbooks, teacher recommended literature, and much, much more. Bookshare also shares links to various types of assistive technology. The Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides funding for Bookshare. Bookshare has over 70,000 copies of print material including widespread literature books used in the classroom as well as textbooks. Quite often, materials that are available to students without print-disabilities are not available to students with various print disabilities. Bookshare bridges this gap by providing access to print via electronic texts that can be downloaded onto a computer. In addition, once these texts are downloaded, teachers, parents, and students can manipulate the texts as needed. Written materials make their way into the Bookshare library thanks to volunteers and colleges who donate their time to scan and materials donated by publishers and authors. Text-to-speech programs are available through Bookshare by downloading the software, READ: OutLoud (Don Johnston) and Victor Reader (Humanware). Bookshare also has book embossment options. Individuals who have disabilities which adversely affect their ability to read written material qualify for a free membership of Bookshare. This may include individuals who are blind/legally blind, as well as individuals with dyslexia. Others who qualify for Bookshare include those who may have a physical disability that hinders them from being able to open a book or turn pages. An example of this may include students with cerebral palsy. Before qualifying for Bookshare services, students must be deemed as having a print disability by professionals who are certified such as a family doctor or optometrist. Special educators are also certified to make this decision. Teachers, volunteers, educational organizations, and parents have access to Bookshare memberships so they can advocate for individuals with qualifying disabilities. When students do not have access to required texts because of reading difficulties, academic success becomes an overwhelming challenge. However, the advent of Bookshare enables students to embrace the literary and expository texts presented in the school curriculum. This technology levels the playing field so that all can enjoy the benefits that a good education can bring. For example, teachers can use Bookshare in their classrooms to manipulate text so that students with dyslexia, blindness, learning disabilities, or cerebral palsy can learn at the same pace as their peers. Electronic texts can be manipulated by highlighting key words, contrasting backgrounds and texts with various colors, changing fonts of headings, adding icons, increasing the size of the text, and so on. Content in books may also be communicated verbally through text-to-speech programs. This works well for those who are visually impaired/blind. Text-to-speech is also useful because some students can read along with the text as it is being read aloud. Bookshare has two text-reader software programs (Read:OutLoud and Victor) available which provide access to, navigation and manipulation of texts. For example, the file format, DAISY, has a feature that allows students to enlarge or highlight fonts as well as a feature that allows students to hear texts. Bookshare supplies a host of benefits (listed above). It provides students with equal access to an education from elementary school through college. I observed students with visual impairments as well as dyslexia use text-to-speech software obtained through Bookshare. These programs have allowed these students to learn and even excel across content areas. Bookshare is flooded with materials that can enhance the education and lives of those use it.