I had not heard of Bookshare.org until earlier this week. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to check it out, I’m extremely impressed. Not only is Bookshare’s mission of “ensuring that all individuals with print disabilities have equal and timely access to print materials” amazing, their website was chock full of information and easy to navigate. I had three main questions arise while I was exploring the site, and Bookshare quickly answered them with minimal searching around on my part.
My first question wasn’t really a question. It was an observation I had after reading the home page and noting that Bookshare “is free for all U.S. students with qualifying disabilities” (Bookshare, 2012) and supported by the Department of Education: “what a shame this is only available to school children, there are so many more people that could benefit from this”. Well, while exploring the membership opportunities I quickly discovered that in fact, Bookshare makes memberships possible for many organization besides school such as, “libraries, rehabilitation agencies, resource centers, retirement communities and group homes” (Bookshare, 2012). Schools are the only organizations that qualify for free memberships but, other organizations have the ability to join and access Bookshare for a fee dependent on the number of books being accessed. There is even an individual membership option for those that qualify.
The next question that I had occurred while reading the “How Bookshare Works” page under “About Us”. I noticed that Bookshare is actually making digital books available (I had assumed when I first heard about it that this was a program that loaned out physical books in a variety of formats) and wondered, “how is that suppose to help people who are blind?”. Silly me, Bookshare has that covered as well. In addition to making hard copy Braille books available, Bookshare also makes it’s digital books available as something called “BRF (Braille Refreshable Format), a digital Braille for use with Braille embossers and refreshable Braille devices” (Bookshare, 2012). I had never heard of this until I read about it on the Bookshare website and I was once again, impressed with how many people Bookshare seems to be able to reach with its program. (And for anyone else who hadn’t heard of this and isn’t sure what it’s all about, I found this YouTube video that gives you a demonstration: http://youtu.be/G8HnmItcNkE.)
The final question I had occurred when I was examining the chart on qualifications for the program and noted that people with Autism, emotional disabilities, ADHD, and ESL/ELL learners do not qualify for the program unless they have an additionally disability that is covered by the program. My question simply being, “well why not? certainly people with these disabilities could benefit from this program, couldn’t they?” Once again, the Bookshare website (2012) gave me an answer almost immediately, and it was an easy to understand, well explained one at that:
It is very important to remember that eligibility requirements are defined by copyright law, not education law…the requirements come from the law, and it is the law that allows Bookshare to function legally….The Bookshare team believes strongly in the value of accessible media for students beyond those who qualify under the copyright exemptions. Bookshare is working with publishers to see if there’s a solution for these students that provides publishers and authors with compensation. But, for now, Bookshare needs to operate in careful compliance with copyright law to ensure that Bookshare can serve students with severe disabilities today.
Bookshare’s explanation also reassured me that they are taking their tagline of “Books without Barriers” (Bookshare, 2012) seriously and they will continue to work on making that a reality for as many people with disabilities as possible, one step at a time.
Of course, before I could run off to tell everyone how great Bookshare is, I first had to test out its book selection. After all, the idea may be great, the website may be uber informative and easy to use, but if there aren’t any books available people want to read well, what good is it? While highly unscientific, I tested the site out for a few minutes by entering the names of author and books I liked, or were on my reading wish list. I did the same thing using my husband and my niece and nephew as book suggesters. Every author and book we came up with was available on the Bookshare website. I can’t say the same for my local public library :-).
So there you have it, my first day with Bookshare. I wonder what other amazing resources are out there I haven’t heard of yet?