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High School Students College-Bound Thanks to Assistive Technology Support and Accessible Books!

April 18, 2013
Head shot of Victoria Foreman

Victoria (Tori) Foreman

High school students with print disabilities are now college bound thanks to their educators and the use of accessible books and reading technologies.  In this blog, we share the story of Rushelle and Aaron, from the eyes of Victoria (Tori) Foreman, their Assistive Technology Specialist. Ms. Foreman is also a third year Bookshare Mentor Teacher.

Rushelle transferred to our school. She had dyslexia and read below grade level. When I met her, she was ready to bolt from her remedial classes. We signed her up for Bookshare, and I couldn’t believe how quickly her reading skills improved. The first time she heard the words of a digital book read aloud through text-to-speech (TTS), her listening and comprehension skills soared.  It was such a relief for her!”

Last year, Rushelle completed her nursing certification and found many of the nursing books she needed in the Bookshare library. She now attends community college and is confident that she will land a nursing position. “Rushelle would not have passed her health certification courses without improved reading skills, and digital books and technologies gave her that ability.”

Evanston Township High School in Illinois serves more than 100 students who qualify for Bookshare.  Over many years, Ms. Foreman has observed that older adolescents with print disabilities compensate for their reading difficulties by building acute listening skills.  “We saw dramatic increases once students were able to access and read digital text.”

Another senior, Aaron, who suffers with a speech impediment and dyslexia, went from low-level reading to accelerated courses in physics, biology, and economics. In 2012, he applied to Boston College and was accepted.

“Once he was able to listen to a digital book and see and hear the text, he comprehended every word he read,” adds Ms. Foreman. “Sometimes students with dyslexia like to have a book in their hands and sit in front of the computer or portable device so they can listen and follow along. Word highlighting may help them have better eye tracking control. Technology tools built into the software can also aid students to build richer vocabularies, especially in advanced courses, college-prep and vocations.”

After several years working as a Bookshare Mentor Teacher, Ms. Foreman says she is better organized with all of the new features and formats on the Bookshare website. She also makes it a priority to encourage students who qualify to become individual members. “2013 is proving to be a whirlwind year,” she says. “I was always in panic mode searching for urgent book requests from the faculty and students. With an individual membership and the new Bookshelf feature, students download many of the books they need. They are more independent and feel prepared to pursue postsecondary courses. I can work more closely with our high school curriculum team to identify required reading lists ahead of time. Students will have the titles and textbooks they need at the start of school – a goal we can all stand behind.”

two students sitting in  front of a computer

Evanston IL high school students search for required reading accessible books on the computer.

Video 1(watch video) — Watch Ms. Foreman and her colleague describe Bookshare from the educator point of view.

Video 2 (watch video) — Watch Rushelle and another student share their experience reading digital text.

K-12 Assistive Tech Specialist Categorizes eBooks with New Bookshelf

April 8, 2013

When Donna Schneider, an early technology adopter and AT specialist in Brewster, NY, public schools, was asked to beta test Bookshare’s new Bookshelf feature, she jumped at the opportunity!

“I love to try out new resources and technologies,” she said. “I knew that this tool could potentially save me a lot of time and eliminate redundant searches. Bookshelf makes it easy to organize and categorize books by students, grade, subject, textbook, summer literature, and even student-preferred formats.”

Donna is a three-year Bookshare Mentor Teacher and was just elected to the 2013 Bookshare Advisory Board.  She works with children in grades K to 12 who have print disabilities and special needs and is the parent of two children who have learning challenges.

donna schneiderEveryone Wins When You Share Knowledge!

Over the last three years, Donna has trained more than 100 educators in about 10 school districts and has touched the lives of twice as many students who qualify for the free accessible digital books and reading technologies.

Any day of the week, you can find her answering technical questions for a teacher, participating in the district’s AT consortium meetings, or training teachers how to use Bookshare at a nearby school.  Next week, she will sit down with educators at the NY School for the Deaf and in just a few weeks hold the first Parent Academy in a nearby community.

“When you broaden the ability for others to collaborate and learn new skills,” she said, “they will be more apt to take their knowledge to a level that could change the fate of a child with a disability forever.”

“At the Parent Academy, we want families to learn about the benefits of accessible books and reading technologies before summer begins. This way, they can sign up for individual memberships and start to download eBooks that their children want to read for pleasure. Individual memberships are free and include all of the digital books in the library, except K–12 textbooks.”

Turnkey Book Request Process in School

In her district, special education teachers give Donna preplanned lists of required reading for current classes and to cover the next school year for students who qualify. Donna bets that she already has many of the required literature and K–12 textbooks on her Bookshelf.

“I can easily distribute eBooks directly to students with individual memberships by sharing a Bookshelf. With Bookshelf, the process has become more turnkey. I even get a better sense of personal interests, which helps me relate to the kids.”

When Bookshare offered Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hunger Games in digital accessible formats, Donna says her students were reading voraciously and wanted to download more books. “Teachers stopped me in the hall to tell me how pleased they were to see students who had never been engaged in reading now using their higher level thinking skills and initiating conversations.”

Summer Reading

Prior to summer break, the Brewster school district requires students in all grades to read at least one book and be prepared to participate in common activities during the first week of school.

“Last year, all high school students read a book about bullying, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. It’s rare to have 100% of students participate in a school wide reading assignment, but with Bookshare, we could offer it.  What an accomplishment!”

New Bookshelf Tool Keeps Member’s Favorite Books ‘Top of Mind’

April 2, 2013

Avid reader Annette Moore, a relatively new Bookshare adult member, says Bookshelf helps her organize and track her favorite genres and keep them at the “top of her mind.”  Annette has lots of diverse reading interests!

“In addition to Christian fiction and romance, I like historical journals, books written in letter format, biographies, and I am a huge weather buff,” she said. “Bookshelf helps me categorize the books I want to read fast!”

One of the books on Annette’s Bookshelf is called Letters Home to Sarah, a compilation of letters from a gentleman in the Civil War written to his wife.

Blind since birth, Annette has downloaded and read over 80 eBooks from Bookshare in just one year. She is also a member of the National Library Service and uses her NLS player to read accessible books in MP3 and DAISY audio format.

“I’m not sure I consider myself an early adopter of technology,” says Annette, “but I know that I don’t like to sit at the computer and read. Using my portable player, I read in the kitchen, outside, or on the go!”

In February, as soon as Bookshare launched Bookshelf, Annette was ready to dive in.

“I log in, search for the books I want, and click the drop down box next to the book that says “add to my Bookshelf”—no more paper lists! When I log back in, the books are waiting for me. My shelf currently has several Christian titles, like The Chance by Karen Kingsbury, The Healing Quilt by Lauraine Snelling, The Little Sparrows (The Orphan Trains Trilogy, Book One) by Joanna Lacy, and Hometown Girl by Robin Lee Hatcher.

What’s next for Annette? “I’m setting my Bookshelf up for all the great storm-catcher thrillers and want to learn more about the weather and climate change.”

This video tutorial will help you learn how to use Bookshelf to create your own personal list of favorite titles.

Bookshare Webinars in April and May

March 29, 2013

During the next couple of months, we have several webinars to help you get your students prepared for summer reading, their transitions, and your fall planning. Register for the webinars that are of interest to you, and note that there are dates in April and May for each webinar. If you can’t attend, but are interested in the content, please go ahead and register anyway. You will be sent a link to the recording after the webinar.

New Bookshare Tools for Summer Reading! (a 30-minute webinar)

Date: Thurs, April 11, 2013
Time: 4:00 PM ET, 3:00 PM CT, 2:00 PM MT, 1:00 PM PT
Register Here

Date: Thurs, May 9, 2013
Time: 1:30 PM ET, 12:30 PM CT, 11:30 AM MT, 10:30 AM PT
Register Here

Bookshare for Students in Transition (a 30-minute webinar)

Date: Thurs, April 18, 2013
Time: 4:00 PM ET, 3:00 PM CT, 2:00 PM MT, 1:00 PM PT
Register Here

Date:    Thurs, May 16, 2013
Time:    1:30 PM ET, 12:30 PM CT, 11:30 AM MT, 10:30 AM PT
Register Here 

Fall Planning with Bookshare (a 30-minute webinar)

Date: Thurs, April 25, 2013
Time: 4:00 PM ET, 3:00 PM CT, 2:00 PM MT, 1:00 PM PT
Register Here

Date: Thurs, May 23, 2013
Time: 1:30 PM ET, 12:30 PM CT, 11:30 AM MT, 10:30 AM PT
Register Here

New Partnership with Lions Club International

March 27, 2013

With great pleasure, we welcome our newest partner, Lions Club International. For almost 100 years, Lions Clubs International has sponsored programs to help people with vision loss, including restoring eyesight, better eye care, braille literacy, and access to assistive technology. Through their Reading Action Program, Lions encourages programs that support the advancement of literacy around the world. They believe literacy is tremendously important because “it forms the basis for individual academic, occupational, and social success, and can also empower communities to fight poverty, reduce child mortality, achieve gender equality, and ensure peace and democracy.”1

The Reading Action Program “is a call to action for every Lions club around the world to organize service projects and activities that underscore the importance of reading.”2 Examples of such projects include school readiness, reading aloud, students with special needs, assistive technology, and access to information.

United in this literacy mission, Bookshare is thrilled to work with Lions Clubs International as a Reading Action Program partner, to help individuals with print disabilities have the same ease of access to print materials as people without disabilities. Lions is the world’s largest service organization, with 46,000 clubs and 1.35 million members in more than 200 countries.

Clubs, districts, and individuals are encouraged to get involved with any of a number of service projects, such as reaching out to veterans, seniors, students, and parents to raise awareness about Bookshare. Distributing flyers is one possible activity. Clubs can also sponsor memberships for seniors, veterans, and individuals or students outside the U.S. who might not be able to afford the annual subscription fee.

For U.S. clubs, other activities might be scanning and proofreading books, or contributing image descriptions to U.S. textbooks. Imagine being visually impaired and interested in math and science, yet unable to see the images in textbooks. Contributing image descriptions provides access to academic subjects that individuals with visual impairments currently don’t have.

Bookshare especially welcomes Lions Club activities in developing countries (where books are particularly scarce and literacy levels are very low) to spread the word about Bookshare among those with print disabilities and encourage or support memberships.

Overall, any of these activities—increased access to content such as books and images, or new memberships—will be a tremendous help to individuals with print disabilities.

Thank you, Lions Clubs International, for your work supporting literacy! Bookshare is honored to be a partner in this important effort.

About the Reading Action Program


1- Why Reading? from Lions Club International website

2- About the Reading Action Program from Lions Club International website

Recent New York Times Children’s Bestsellers

March 25, 2013

Who doesn’t enjoy a bestseller? This round-up of titles from a recent NY Times childrens’ bestsellers list has fun reading for everyone.

Picture Books

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, by Sherri Duskey Rinker, Tom Lichtenheld. As the sun sets behind the big construction site, all the hardworking trucks get ready to say goodnight.

This is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen. WINNER OF THE 2013 CALDECOTT MEDAL! From the creator of the #1 New York Times best-selling and award-winning I Want My Hat Back comes a second wry tale. (Ages 4 to 8)

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, by Eric Litwin. Pete the Cat goes walking down the street wearing his brand-new white shoes. Along the way his shoes change from white to red to blue to brown to WET as he steps in piles of strawberries, blueberries, and other big messes! But no matter what color his shoes are, Pete keeps movin’ and groovin’ and singing his song … because it’s all good. Preschool-2. (Ages 3 to 7)

Books for Students Ages 8-12

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse. August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. (Ages 8 to 12) This book has images.

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate Patricia Castelao. Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. (Ages 8 to 12) This book has images.

The False Prince: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy, by Jennifer A. Nielsen. THE FALSE PRINCE is the thrilling first book in a brand-new trilogy filled with danger and deceit and hidden identities that will have readers rushing breathlessly to the end. In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing.  (Ages 9 to 12) This book has images.

Seven Wonders Book 1: The Colossus Rises, by Peter Lerangis. The thrills begin in The Colossus Rises, the first installment in the epic seven-book adventure series Seven Wonders, from master storyteller and bestselling 39 Clues series author Peter Lerangis. (Ages 8 to 12) This book has images.

I Funny, by Chris Grabenstein Laura Park James Patterson. Resolving to become the world’s greatest stand-up comedian despite less-than-funny challenges in his life, wheelchair-bound middle school student Jamie Grimm endures bullying from his mean-spirited cousin and hopes he will be fairly judged when he enters a local comedy contest.  (Ages 9 to 12)  This book has images.

Middle School #1: The Worst Years of My Life, by Chris Tebbetts, Laura Park, James Patterson. Rafe Khatchadorian has enough problems at home without throwing his first year of middle school into the mix. (Ages 8 to 12) This book has images.

Young Adult, Ages 14 and Up

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. (Ages 14 and up) This book has images.

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. Bestselling author John Green returns with an eagerly anticipated and emotional novel about sickness and health, life and death. (Ages 14 and up)

I Hunt Killers, by Barry Lyga. What if the world’s worst serial killer…was your dad? Jasper (Jazz) Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.  (Ages 15 to 18)  This book has images.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth. In a future Chicago, sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior must choose among five predetermined factions to define her identity for the rest of her life, a decision made more difficult when she discovers that she is an anomaly who does not fit into any one group, and that the society she lives in is not perfect after all. (Ages 14 and up) This book has images.

Looking for Alaska, by John Green. Sixteen-year-old Miles’ first year at Culver Creek Preparatory School in Alabama includes good friends and great pranks, but is defined by the search for answers about life and death after a fatal car crash. (Ages 14 to 17)

Insurgent, by Veronica Roth. As war surges in the dystopian society around her, sixteen-year-old Divergent Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.  (Ages 14 and up) This book has images.

Paper Towns, by John Green. With his trademark brilliant wit and heart-stopping emotional honesty, the Printz Medal-winning author of “Looking for Alaska” returns with a novel about a teenage girl who has mysteriously vanished, and the boy who looks for her by following the clues she left behind just for him. (Ages 14 and up)

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . (Ages 14 and up)  This book has images.

Prodigy (Legend #2), by Marie Lu. Featured on Entertainment Weekly’s MUST-LIST! The highly anticipated second book in Marie Lu’s New York Times bestseller, LEGEND#151; perfect for fans of THE HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT! (Ages 12 and up) This book has images.

Best Selling Children’s Series, varying ages

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. The trilogy and companion volumes.

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles #1), by Margaret Stohl, Kami Garcia. There were no surprises in Gatlin County. We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere. At least, that’s what I thought. Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. There was a curse. There was a girl. (Ages 12 and up)  This book has images.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney. 7 titles in the series

Delirium: The Special Edition, by Lauren Oliver. Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I want to get it over with. It’s hard to be patient.  (Ages 14 and up)  This book has images.

The Twilight Saga – by Stephenie Meyer.

Warriors, by Erin Hunter. Many titles.

The 39 Clues, all authors and titles.

Heroes of Olympus, by Rick Riordan. 4 books in the series

Bloodlines, by Richelle Mead.  2 books in the series.

Web Reader Screen Shortcuts and Educator Tips

March 12, 2013

The Bookshare Web Reader  makes it easy to preview or read Bookshare books because you don’t need to download and unzip them. It’s a quick way to preview a book or read it in its entirety.

Below are some shortcuts.

  1. Do you use a screen reader? You can use your screen reader with Internet Explorer 9, Safari, or a recent version of Firefox to read with Bookshare Web Reader. To start, find a book, then select the “Read Now” link. Expect to hear an announcement saying that your book is being packaged. Once complete, Bookshare Web Reader will open, and the book will be presented as a web page as if you had opened its .XML file. To move beyond the legal notice, press enter on the “next” button on Web Reader’s toolbar at the top of the page. The “next” and “previous” buttons move among major book parts. Most books have front matter and body matter. If a book has rear matter, to reach it, just press the “Next” button again.
  2. For more shortcuts, browse this list of the keyboard shortcuts for Web Reader with different browsers.

Educators may be interested in these reasons to use Bookshelves.

  1. Do you wish for an easy way to get NIMAC books to students, rather than downloading, unzipping, and transferring? Create a Bookshelf for each student and put the books on the Bookshelf. Then give your students individual memberships. (Will link to info on how to do this.) At home, all they have to do is look at their bookshelf and click “Read Now.”
  2. Are your students Read:OutLoud users? Create Bookshelves for them. They’ll easily find their books while using Read:OutLoud.