Digital books for the visually impaired – Bookshare

For readers with print disabilities, books are available through the National Library Service and Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic. While providing an excellent source for audio books, these services fall short when it comes to manipulation of the books, such as search and skip functions. Bookshare, an online digital library, aims to fill that gap with books scanned and available in digital text formats, which allow for a broad range of functionality.
Started in 2000, Bookshare took the help of volunteers, some of who were visually impaired, to scan books into a digital format which can be read in different ways by people with special needs. The books can be read aloud, print-enlarged or a combination of both for the dyslexic. Though Bookshare operates like a library, books can also be downloaded to the computer or mp3 players for indefinite personal use.

The library provides people with print disabilities in the United States legal access to over 43,000 books and 150 periodicals that can be converted to Braille, large print or synthetic speech.

“We restrict downloads to 100 books a month,” says Viji Dilip, the international program manager for Bookshare. An annual subscription fee is needed for access to the library. Because of copyright issues, proof of disability is crucial. (The Chafee Amendment to the Copyright law allows reproduction and distribution of books specifically in formats for the print-disabled.) “We do not allow anyone who is not print-disabled to become members.” Because the audio is digitally created in the Daisy format( a digitally synthesized voice system), she thinks it is unlikely the service will be misused.
The library built up its collection initially with the help of volunteers who would scan the books to be proofread by other volunteers. Recently it received a grant from the Department of Education which makes it easier for the library to subcontract the work as paid employment. Here too, the organization has chosen to benefit the disabled. “We are very proud of the fact that we employ 15-20 physically disabled people in Chennai to scan and proofread the books that will be read by visually impaired people in the United States,” says Viji. Outsourcing at work!

Another outreach has been to make Bookshare available in India and other English speaking countries as well. “We have tied up with a few NGOs in India to help with confirming proof of disability and customer support,” adds Viji. The annual subscription fee is much lower in India, just $10 as compared to the first year fees of $75 in the US.

Bookshare is the largest online digital library in the world focusing on the visually impaired. Thanks to the grant from the Department of Education, they are also in the process of making textbooks and literature available to kids in grades K-12. “What we would like is to make this service as widely known as possible so more people can make use of this service.” According to teachers, the textbooks offered by help students with print disabilities keep up with their classmates. High-quality digital books in accessible formats also encourage students to study independently and develop their tastes in recreational reading outside the classroom.

If you have a friend or a family member who could use this service, refer them to Bookshare with its library of over 43,000 books. You or they can also volunteer to be a part of the proof reading team.

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