Hats off to Bookshare — a global literacy initiative aimed at providing accessible books free for people unable to read standard print — as they reach a record 10 million ebook downloads by print-disabled readers. Because 90% of books published in the United States are unavailable in accessible formats, people who are dyslexic, blind or have low vision have extremely limited access to books. Bookshare helps to bridge that gap by obtaining accessible files (when available) from over 820 publishers. Bookshare also scans titles when print is the only available format. As a result, K-12 students with a qualifying disability have free access to more than 460,000 books.
Bookshare is a service provided by Benetech, a non-profit technology organization in Silicon Valley that also works on human rights and environmental issues worldwide. Jim Fruchterman, CEO and founder of Benetech, wanted to use technology to dramatically reduce the costs of creating and delivering ebooks. With grant funds from the U.S. Department of Education, Bookshare initially focused on service to the K-12 population, but last year expanded service to public libraries in Georgia, Pennsylvania and at the New York Public Library. With over 425,000 members, Bookshare joins ALA in the pursuit of providing equitable access to all people regardless of circumstance.
ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) has had the pleasure to work with Benetech for a number of years on advocating for national and international copyright exceptions for people with print disabilities to increase access to content and to share accessible content across borders. We have also worked with Benetech on 3D printing, exploring ways that people with disabilities can use and benefit from the latest technologies. We congratulate Benetech on this milestone and look forward to future collaborations.