Benetech Expands Bookshare Global Library Network into Africa

By Laura Deck, posted on

Benetech’s Bookshare initiative set to empower Africa’s 20 million people who have reading barriers through increased access to information

Africa is home to over 20 million people who are blind or visually impaired. According to the World Blind Union, less than one percent of published works are made into accessible formats in developing countries, which means that millions of people are denied access to books and printed materials. Children who are blind can go through school and never touch a book; they are entirely dependent on human readers. Government publishers can take up to two years to provide books in special formats to students. This lack of books is a barrier to education, employment, independence, and full integration into society.

Bookshare Offers an Extensive Collection of Ebooks

Fortunately, there is a solution. Bookshare, the largest library of accessible books in the world, makes reading easier. With Bookshare, people with reading barriers, such as visual impairments, dyslexia, or a physical disability like cerebral palsy, can read in ways that work for them. With features such as braille,  text-to-speech audio, synchronized text and audio, highlighting, and customizable font size and contrast, Bookshare’s ebooks give people with reading barriers new opportunities for learning, literacy, and ultimately, employment.

Martin Kieti is sitting at a table with a map of Africa on his left and the Bookshare logo beneath his photo.

Martin Kieti Leads the Africa Expansion

Leading the Bookshare outreach effort in Africa is Martin Kieti. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Martin has extensive leadership experience with prominent organizations that serve the blind and visually impaired. Previous positions include the Vice Chairperson for the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI); Board Chairman for the Kenya Institute for the Blind; former CEO of Kenya Union of the Blind; and the senior consultant for the Institutional Development Program founded by Perkins International and the World Blind Union.

In those roles, and now as the Bookshare Program Manager-Africa, Martin is focused on expanding advocacy work to empower people with visual impairments and increase access to information and technology. “Technology has become an integral part of life today,” says Martin. “As Africans who are blind and as disability advocates, we have to harness new technologies as tools for education and employment that lead to empowerment and equality. As the world moves forward, Africans who are blind should be able to enjoy the same opportunities available to others.”

Expansion Leverages Local Partners and Proven Strategy

In particular, Martin is leading the effort to launch a regional Bookshare library serving Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi and working with local partners such as eKitabu as well as publishers to obtain books in local languages.

This expansion builds on successful efforts to establish libraries in select countries in South Asia including India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The goal is to transform local content into accessible formats and get those books to people so they can read, learn, gain knowledge and skills, and create avenues to employment and improved quality of life. The proven expansion strategy consists of four key approaches:

  • Build a local-language library accessible to people with disabilities
  • Train local organizations (NGOs and government agencies) to upload local content to add to the huge collection of international content Bookshare already has
  • Train members on Bookshare and device usage
  • Advocate for copyright exceptions and Marrakesh Treaty ratification

Benetech to Showcase Bookshare at Innovation Africa

Martin will be discussing Bookshare at Innovation Africa, December 3-5, in Accra, Ghana, to promote the inclusive education platform to ministers of education and senior government officials from over forty countries. Also on December 3, Benetech recognizes the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and supports this year’s theme: The Future is Accessible.

We invite attendees representing education ministries, NGOs, and publishers to meet Martin at the forum to learn more and discuss partnership opportunities. Contact Martin Kieti at MartinK@benetech.org

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