How I Use It
Bookshare provides students with print disabilities, be they actual reading issues like dyslexia, physical conditions that prevent them from being able to hold or navigate a book, or visual impairment that effects seeing regular print, with free access to literature and textbooks still in copyright. While there is a membership fee, it is currently free to all students with a qualifying disability. In addition, teachers can create free Organizational Accounts to download books for their students.
Bookshare receives the books both from publishers and from volunteers who submit scanned copies of books. Students can then read the books using a variety of tools. Bookshare provides free versions of software, such as Read OutLoud, to access the books on a computer. This allows the student to adjust the size of the print as well as listen along to the book being read by the computer while seeing the current word highlighted by the software - a multi-modal reading method shown to benefit students with certain print disabilities. Auditory readers can listen to the books with portable devices designed to convert Daisy formatted text to speech. There is also a paid iOS app, Read2Go ($19.99 or $9.99 when purchased in bulk via Apple's Volume Purchasing Program) and a free Android app, both of which allow the reader to manipulate text size and contrast as well as the ability to listen to the book while following along visually. The Daisy format also permits the reader to highlight and make notes on the text and refer back to the notes later.
Bookshare is affiliated with NIMAC and can provide access to textbooks as well as literature. Many publishers are submitted digital versions of their books to NIMAC and teachers can download a very large selection of textbooks from Bookshare for their students. Books supplied by publishers will almost always include images and graphics from the original text. Bookshare will also source out books not currently available when requested by the members. The turnaround for this can be within a week to two months, depending on how they access the book.
I have used Bookshare both with students who have their own individual memberships and with students whose downloads I have to manage. Transferring the books to students is easily done via thumb drives, SD cards and Dropbox. The files are too large for email.
While I work with blind and visually impaired students, it is rare that I download the available Braille (.brf) files. Most of the devices my students use take advantage of the versatility of the Daisy format. I would only recommend the Braille files if the student needs an embossed hard copy of the text, which is rare considering the number of digital Braille devices available to Braille readers. One advantage is they no longer have to cary around multiple volume Braille copies when they can read the Daisy file using a refreshable Braille display.
Bookshare is an incredible resource for readers with print disabilities. Their library is large and they are very responsive to requests for books they currently do not have. While setting up an account can be a bit of a task (besides the online registration, a signed form must be faxed in confirming the disability, agreeing to follow the copyright rules and parental permission when necessary). Individual members must have a personal email account (or use a parent's) to access the service. Downloading texts with images can be difficult for users with iOS and Android devices as the apps won't directly access the files with images. It is necessary to use a third party download app if you want images on the portable device, an extra step which can cause issues especially on textbooks that require the graphics for understanding. In addition, NIMAC sourced textbooks require the teacher to download the book and transfer to the student due to copyright regulations. Again, this adds a burden to the teacher and inhibits student independence.
My main complaint is when a text book is supplied by request, the Daisy file tends to omit the graphics and images. Most books are scanned into Bookshare when not provided digitally by the publisher and the loss of images can negatively impact the student's understanding of the text. Failing to include the images when scanning should not be as common as it is.
Overall though, Bookshare is an incredible service and highly recommended. As digital texts become more and more common, this mostly free resource is invaluable to students with print disabilities.