My December 9, 2020, NIB Connection post introduced BARD Mobile, the talking books smartphone app released by the United States Library of Congress. The excellent BARD Mobile app provides access to the worlds’ largest collection of free talking books for people with print disabilities. In fact, it is my portable go-to for accessing fiction and nonfiction classics and popular magazines.
As good as BARD Mobile is however, it is only half of the solution to becoming a well-rounded reader. The other half – especially for me lately – is Bookshare, an online treasure trove of up-to-date e-books and e-textbooks for people with print disabilities. If I need a technical textbook from a company like Cisco, I can usually find it on the Bookshare website.
Admittedly, I did not always find much use for Bookshare. In the early years of my vision loss, it was just easier to load a Talking Book cassette or digital cartridge into my battery powered Talking Book Player than strain my eyes scrolling through Bookshare e-texts or listening to them in a still unpolished synthesized voice. At that time, I also found the selection of e-texts lacking.
Bookshare has come a long way since those days – it now has over one million titles and volumes of current fiction and nonfiction releases. For students and working professionals, the Bookshare catalog has become an invaluable resource for educational and professional career development.
The force behind Bookshare is Benetech, a Silicon Valley nonprofit whose mission is using “technology to create social change.” With support from the U.S. Department of Education, Benetech has partnered with 1,000 publishers to provide the world’s largest collection of accessible e-texts, supporting 70 countries in 34 languages.
The best part is that Bookshare is free to both educational institutions and students. For everyone else, a $50 per year annual subscription to Bookshare’s vast up-to-date catalog is manageable and worthwhile, providing unlimited downloads in a variety of formats, including EPUB, MS Word, and the DAISY digital accessible information system.
Additionally, the e-texts are available in braille and large print, or can be converted on the fly into both downloadable audio files and audio with highlighted text files using Bookshare’s modern, built-in human speech synthesizer.
To join Bookshare, prospective users with disabilities such as blindness, dyslexia, cerebral palsy, and other print disabilities will need to show proof of their print disability – a very straightforward, quick, and painless process given that Benetech’s goal is to provide greater inclusion for all without adding any unnecessary barriers.
This commitment is most evident in the Bookshare web platform itself. The website is highly accessible and intuitive, as one would expect, and the web reader is second to none. Readers who are blind or visually impaired are able to use almost any device, including computers, smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks, and other assistive technologies to instantly start reading from their web browser or download reading lists of e-texts for offline enjoyment. Starting this summer, readers will also be able to access Bookshare through Amazon Alexa devices, the Alexa app for smartphones, and two brand new Bookshare Reader apps for iOS and Android devices.
I highly recommend a visit to the Bookshare website to get your 2022 summer reading treasure hunt off to a great start!
Technology reviews are written by Doug Goist, workforce development program manager at National Industries for the Blind and a recognized leader in the field of technology accessibility who has worked with the U.S. Department of Defense, the military services, federal agencies, and private sector partners.