Updated May 29, 2020

Benetech's Bookshare Initiative: Accessible digital library for people with reading barriers

www.bookshare.org

Alana Laudone

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Benetech's Bookshare platform is the world's largest accessible digital library for people with reading barriers such as visual impairment, dysylexia, or cerebral palsy.

Benetech’s software platform renders books and other print materials into accessible digital formats, such as electronic Braille and highlighted text synchronized to audio. Users can apply for the service by providing proof of their disability signed by a qualified expert, and can then access the materials in a format that best suits their needs, using the device they already own. Benetech i...
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Benetech’s software platform renders books and other print materials into accessible digital formats, such as electronic Braille and highlighted text synchronized to audio. Users can apply for the service by providing proof of their disability signed by a qualified expert, and can then access the materials in a format that best suits their needs, using the device they already own. Benetech implements a secure digital rights program for all books, including fingerprinting and watermarking of files, so that use of the library conforms to legal requirements. This has enabled us to build lasting partnerships with over 900 publishers. As Bookshare has expanded globally, we have worked in tandem with local partners and publishers to ensure that we provide locally relevant content for individuals in each new country. A truly global platform, we have content in 47 languages, and support for many more. Over 700,000 Bookshare users across the world have collectively read over 15 million books through the platform.
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Stage 5: Scaling

Bookshare has over 700,000 users across more than 80 countries, however this is only a fraction of potential beneficiaries. In partnership with NGOs and governments, we conduct outreach in new countries, recruiting users, publishers, and volunteers.
Registered in United States as Non-Profitin United States as Non-Profit

Focus Areas:

Education, Inclusive Education and Workforce Development

Education, Inclusive Education and Workforce DevelopmentSEE LESS

700,000
Customers
Verified Funding
?

Problem

Millions of people with reading barriers such as a visual impairment, dyslexia, and cerebral palsy experience significant obstacles to accessing education, and employment because 95% of all texts are locked in the printed form. They need equal access to information from books in alternative formats that work for them, such as braille, large text, audio, or synchronized text-highlighting and audio.

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Solution

Benetech's Bookshare initiative is the world's largest accessible ebook library, which empowers people with reading barriers to read in ways that work for them. Over 700,000 people with reading barriers have read millions of Bookshare books for school, to pursue careers, and to read for enjoyment. Readers can choose the format that meets their needs, and read on virtually any device. Our partnerships and software enable us to deliver accessible ebooks at scale at lower costs than other methods.

Target Beneficiaries

Bookshare serves individuals with disabilities that impact reading. This includes blindness, low vision, a learning disability like dyslexia, or a mobility impairment like cerebral palsy that makes it difficult to manipulate a print book. According to the World Health Organization, 285 million people worldwide live with a vision impairment or blindness, 90% of whom live in developing countries. Overall, we estimate that about 5% of the world's population experiences barriers to reading.

Mission and Vision

Benetech empowers communities using software for social good. We believe that access to information is a fundamental human right, and disability should not be a barrier to reading. Through creation of accessible books via our Bookshare platform; advocacy for policy change that improves access to books for people with reading barriers; and enabling systems change within publishing to ensure all print content is "Born Accessible", we pursue a world where all people can read, learn, and achieve.

Competitive Advantage

Bookshare is the world’s largest accessible ebook library. Our technology and publishing partnerships reduce the delivery cost of an accessible book from traditional methods, and enable us to create and disseminate accessible content at scale. In addition to powering Bookshare, Benetech is also working on the policy and systems level to increase access to books for people with reading barriers. Benetech supported the World Blind Union to draft the international Marrakesh Treaty for the Blind to facilitate the sharing of accessible books across borders, and end the global book famine in the global south. To establish lasting systems change within the publishing industry, Benetech works with publishers to certify that their ebooks are created with accessibility features built in from the start. With demonstrated success in direct, policy, and systems level work on this issue, Benetech is a global leader in content accessibility.

Planned Goals and Milestones

Benetech aims to bring Bookshare and end the book famine for people with print disabilities across the Global South where almost 90% of people with disabilities reside. In addition, Benetech will build on our work to integrate accessible versions of complex math equations, graphs, and other STEM topics into books, through markup language and image descriptions made possible with advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence.
New FeatureNow, more than ever, kids with disabilities need our help. As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, we are seeing an unprecedented shift to online and distance learning. 1.4 billion kids are out of school and trying to maintain access to the education that can improve their lives. Students with disabilities will fall further behind than their peers because they don’t have the support or content they get in school. Benetech is helping to make sure that the needs of these underserved groups are not forgotten. Bookshare is absolutely the best way to get them accessible material so they can continue to read and learn and grow. As students and schools struggle to adapt to learning from home, we need to do everything we can to make sure that they are not left further behind as online learning environments are launched overnight. Benetech can provide critical services for: 1. Outreach: Multi-lingual outreach to students, families, and teachers to let them know that if they are struggling with reading due to a disability, or they know someone who is, Bookshare can help. 2. Teacher training: Virtual training such as live and recorded webinars for teachers to learn how to address the needs of their students who have disabilities that impact reading, including use of Bookshare and best practices for accessible digital teaching. 3. Increased services: Expanded conversion of books that students need and increased support for students to help them access services and materials as easily as possible during this difficult period. For example, Bookshare staff can work with students and teachers to assign books to students and create customized reading lists for remote curriculum. 4. Localized library: Benetech can work with local governments to produce accessible versions of curricular materials and make them available to students with disabilities. Now and the coming months will be a challenge for all students and educators. If we can get them connected to accessible resources, they can stay current with their peers now and when they return to the classroom.

The Team Behind the Innovation

Benetech's CEO Betsy Beaumon, is an established authority on the intersection of human rights, disability rights and digital accessible materials. As our former Vice President of Global Literacy, Betsy was responsible for over 1000% growth in the Bookshare user base. Our current VP and GM of Global Education and Literacy, Brad Turner is responsible for determining and operationalizing the strategic direction of the Benetech Global Literacy Program. They have built talented, diverse, local teams.

EXECUTIVE TEAM INCLUDES WOMEN

Milestone

May 2020
Recognition ReceivedVERIFIED
Sep 2017
Recognition ReceivedPENDING
ORGANIZATIONUnited States Department of Education
Apr 2016
Funds RaisedPENDING
TITLEExpand Bookshare's collection of digital, accessible books internationally to include local language books in target countries, making them available through schools, public libraries, local governments, and disability service providers.
TYPEGrant
FOCUS AREAS
Inclusive Education
Jul 2012
Recognition ReceivedPENDING
TYPEGrant
ORGANIZATIONUnited States Department of Education
Oct 2007
Recognition ReceivedPENDING
ORGANIZATIONUnited States Department of Education