Ten years ago, my family and I attended an assistive technology event at George Mason University where we were introduced to a large amount of assistive technology resources for low vision students. I didn’t know it at the time, but attending that event was going to change my life tremendously as I was introduced to so many tools and applications that I still use today, including the Bookshare accessible library. In the last ten years, Bookshare has helped me tremendously with accessing reading materials both inside and outside of the classroom, and I am honored to have been featured for my work with Bookshare as well as having the opportunity to visit their headquarters in 2018. Today, I will be sharing fast facts about Bookshare and how it can be used to help people with print disabilities read more than they ever imagined.
People who have certified print disabilities that keep them from being able to read standard-sized print or traditional printed materials qualify for Bookshare services, and would need to have a form filled out by a qualifying professional such as a librarian, medical doctor/specialist, special education teacher, public/social welfare agency, or assistive technology professional. Some examples of qualifying print disabilities include:
These requirements are not set by Bookshare, but by the copyright laws that allow Bookshare to be able to create and distribute accessible materials. For this reason, the following disabilities do not automatically qualify for Bookshare:
Bookshare is an accessible digital library for people with print disabilities that has almost one million titles and counting. Bookshare’s library is filled with a large variety of books, including textbooks, novels, New York Times bestsellers, cookbooks, children’s books, career resources, and so much more. New books are added frequently, and users can even request titles to be added to the library.
Bookshare books can be downloaded in multiple file formats, including:
Users can download Bookshare books any time of day or night, and they get to keep the files forever- no worries about returning items. However, all users are limited to downloading 50 titles a month, though users can download the same title in multiple formats without counting against the title limit.
Schools can set up Bookshare accounts for students and download titles on their behalf, though I chose to create my own Bookshare account so that I would be able to download books on my own and not have to worry about accidentally being locked out of my account. If they are not getting a Bookshare account through the school, students under 18 will need to have a parent register on their behalf by submitting documentation from a qualifying professional online- in my case, we submitted a letter from my ophthalmologist stating that I have a print disability.
There are several options for reading Bookshare books on various devices, including on iOS devices, Android devices, computers, eReaders, and more. Some of the options I’ve written about on my website include:
Before I discovered Bookshare in early high school, I was limited to the small selection of large print books at my local library that had a font size I could read, which were typically either board books for children or romance novels for adults- neither of which were particularly interesting or appropriate for a teenage student. I was frustrated that my eyesight had kept me from reading a lot of the same books as my fellow students, and it was expensive for me to keep buying books for my new eReader as well. I still remember the first day that I discovered Bookshare and how I excitedly searched the library for books that my friends had recommended for me over the years, and how I was able to find every book on a list that another friend had made- I could finally read all of the same books as my friends and not have to think about whether a particular book would be accessible or not!
Bookshare is an amazing resource for students with print disabilities, and it’s one of the first resources that I introduce to students with low vision. The books available on Bookshare have helped me tremendously with learning new skills, doing in-depth research on various topics, staying in the loop on new fiction and nonfiction works, and even just helping me with my college classes. For students that don’t already have Bookshare, go register right now! It’s one of the most helpful tools that a student can have.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated July 2023; original post published February 2017
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