Benetech and Lighthouse Guild Announce New Program Offering Free Ebooks to Students Who Are Visually Impaired

By Benetech, posted on

The new Spotlight Gateway program is able to provide Bookshare for free to qualifying students via an existing award from the Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

What do people miss most when they lose their vision? They miss seeing their families, and they miss having unlimited access to information of all kinds, whether that is the daily newspaper, the latest bestseller, or textbooks for school. Kids who are blind face many barriers including access to educational materials to support learning. All is not lost for these individuals, however. There are many organizations working to help the millions of people in the U.S. who suffer from vision loss, especially those individuals for whom medical treatment is no longer a solution.

Five prominent vision organizations are teaming up to collaborate on what has the potential to be a game changer for students who are blind or visually impaired. A new program, Spotlight Gateway, is the brainchild of ophthalmologist Dr. Howard Kaplan, Lighthouse Guild and Benetech, in collaboration with the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, and VisionServe Alliance. The program benefits from the synergies resulting from the assets, infrastructure, and reach of each organization to help students achieve their full potential.

“This program is a first step that allows Lighthouse Guild to expand its footprint beyond the New York metropolitan area, especially to work with the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco,” says Mark G. Ackermann, EVP and COO of Lighthouse Guild. “We are excited to have leading agencies on either end of the country to pool resources and lead the charge, and we are thrilled to be working with Benetech to give more students access to their tremendous Bookshare program.”

Spotlight Gateway will provide a free membership to Bookshare’s library of accessible ebooks via access through the Spotlight Gateway e-reading app. The Spotlight Gateway e-reading application is specifically designed for people with eye disorders. The program and app are endorsed by the 32,000 ophthalmologists in the Academy of American Ophthalmology as well as VisionServe Alliance, a network of 110 vision health centers. Since the program requires the use of iPads, Spotlight Gateway will provide a limited number of iPads to students who demonstrate a financial need along with training on the iPads to help students access, navigate and utilize the library. “Providing iPads and the gift of Bookshare is our dream coming true so that students can access textbooks and the rest of the 500,000 books in Bookshare’s collection,” adds Ackermann.

Bookshare, a Benetech initiative, is the world’s largest online library for people who are blind, visually impaired, or have a physical disability or a learning disability that interferes with reading, such as dyslexia. This collaboration provides Bookshare for free to qualifying students via an existing award from the Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. We are proud to partner with Lighthouse Guild, the AAO, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and VisionServe Alliance to ensure that everyone has equal access to content by expanding our reach into the communities we serve.

Mark Ackermann sums it up this way: “What we do every day at Lighthouse Guild is bring hope to people. That hope comes in the form of teaching them to ambulate safely, helping them with the activity of daily living, and providing educational opportunities through our schools. Offering the gift of Bookshare is another arrow in our quiver that allows even more people to continue to enrich their lives in a meaningful way.”

And that’s a program we can all get behind.

To learn more about the program, visit the Spotlight Gateway website. You can also talk to your ophthalmologist or visit the AAO website. Read the full press release from Lighthouse Guild.

Support for the Spotlight Gateway program has been provided in part by a generous grant from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.