CONNOR MEADOWS DOESN’T worry about his textbook falling from a desk stand anymore, and he doesn’t often ask his teacher or his mom to turn a page for him. This bright 7th grader now reads his literature assignments on his iPad with digital accessible books. His mom, Casey Meadows, says, “We cannot download digital books fast enough for him.”
In 2012, Meadows learned about a free online library, Bookshare that is funded through awards by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. The service is free for public schools and for students who qualify with specific print disabilities. She signed her son up for an individual membership.
In addition to eBooks, students who qualify and organization members can download free reading technologies to improve comprehension and fluency, increase learning independence and make easier transitions to college. Reading technologies enable people who read digital accessible books to follow highlighted words on a computer screen and listen to text read aloud and to navigate chapters, bookmark pages and select preferences like colors, voices and fonts.
In the past, Connor’s school books were requested in large print. This took time. “Now, he gets his school books at the start of a semester or before. “As Connor’s reading skills improved using digital books and technologies, so did his ability to communicate,” said Meadows. “His sentences got longer using his Dynavox and head switch, and he has more freedom to learn anywhere with fewer physical challenges.”
When Connor, who has cerebral palsy, listens to an e-Book, he follows along with the highlighted text and understands the story. He uses the navigation features in the technology to review reading assignments for reinforcement. “Some people think that if a student hears text read aloud, they aren’t learning, they are just listening, but this isn’t the case,” adds Meadows.
She recently downloaded three novels for Connor’s English class: Lawn Boy, by Gary Paulsen, Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, and The Cay, by Theodore Taylor. “Now, he doesn’t worry that his book will fall off his stand or that he’ll lose his place. Just when I think that he isn’t learning, I’ll ask him a comprehension question and he recalls the information easily.”
U.S. students who qualify for Bookshare typically have an IEP (Individual Education Program) or 504 Plan that requires accessible (digital) materials and reading technologies to access the general curriculum, as required by IDEA 2004 law.
There is a minimum annual membership fee for non-student members. The collection of titles (175,000+) includes novels, teacher recommended reading, periodicals, best-sellers and more than 7,000 K-12 textbooks — many with image descriptions. To learn more about Bookshare, visit bookshare.org. To learn more about accessibility and digital image descriptions, check out the DIAGRAM Center.