Empowering People with Visual Impairments in Every Corner of the Philippines

By Mario Oliveros, posted on

Expanding access to books and learning opportunities for Filipinos with reading barriers

Benetech’s Bookshare ebook library is opening new doors to learning for people with disabilities around the world. In the Philippines, people with reading barriers like blindness face significant obstacles to pursuing education and careers. Poverty, discrimination, and lack of Internet connectivity for access to content and information puts many blind Filipinos at an even greater disadvantage. This is changing from community to community, however, through efforts of one willful person and a growing network of partners.   

Aggie Angeles is the Bookshare country manager in the Philippines, where she is leading a charge to create more learning opportunities for Filipinos who are blind or have other disabilities that affect reading. In this enlightening Q&A, she describes her work with community partners to increase access to books for Filipinos with reading barriers and her vision for expanding Bookshare to every corner of the Philippines.

Bookshare Philippines Country Manager, Aggie Angeles Headshot
Bookshare Philippines Country Manager, Aggie Angeles

What is Bookshare’s impact in the Philippines?

Through Bookshare, an expanding number of Filipinos with visual impairments and other print disabilities can pursue their education using ebooks in formats that work for them. There are over 400,000 blind and low vision students registered with the Department of Education. There are also many more adults with visual impairments and other reading barriers who would benefit from having access to novels and vocational text in formats they can read. Many blind people in the Philippines are poor and marginalized. Their need for education and learning is great, so we have tailored our outreach to ensure that Filipinos with limited resources are able to use Bookshare.

Access to reliable and affordable internet is a barrier. So we have begun partnering with libraries, like the Antipolo Rizal Library near Manila, to set up “Bookshare Corners” where people can access ebooks on library computers. Students also access Bookshare on school computers.

To further help with affordability, we offer segmented pricing. Students with qualifying disabilities pay 500 pesos, and adults pay 1,000 pesos per year (less than 10 and 19 dollars respectively in U.S. dollars). For families who need further financial assistance, supporting local nonprofits sponsor memberships to help get students access to Bookshare. Interestingly, we are finding that when parents see the benefits of using Bookshare, like improved student grades, they do what it takes to sustain their child’s reading activity.

To support our growing community, there are eight dedicated ambassadors who volunteer to support the Philippine Bookshare community. Some are distinguished professionals with disabilities, who use Bookshare in their daily lives. Others come from partner organizations like Resources for the Blind, ATRIEVE and the Philippine Blind Union. They serve as advocates who not only help train people with visual impairments to use Bookshare but also spread the word to other parts of the Philippines.

What kinds of books are Bookshare users in the Philippines reading?

Bookshare books are helping members pursue their goals. Students access literary classics like Shakespeare and other educational materials. Working members read books for their careers, such as books about computers, IT, math, law, and medicine. The bible is also one of the most downloaded books.

There are a few books in Filipino (Tagalog), and there is a huge need for more. Members need books about Philippine history, Filipino literature, current events, and other important topics in the Filipino language. Philippine publishers play a critical role in helping create more equal learning opportunities for blind Filipinos, and we hope to partner with them to increase the body of Filipino literary works.

Our first publisher, Saint Matthew’s Publishing, has added educational books for students. Through their support, we have begun to put local-language content into Bookshare, providing educational and pleasure reading, and also helping preserve our heritage and language for all people with reading barriers.

How do you see Bookshare impacting Filipinos with reading barriers in the future?

Bookshare needs to reach more students with disabilities. Through our partners like Resources for the Blind and the National Council for Disabilities, we want to establish Bookshare Corners in towns and libraries across the Philippines. Our target is to reach 80 public libraries. We also see opportunities to partner with groups like the Junior Chamber International, Rotary Club, Couples for Christ, the Lions Club, and other NGOs who can help with sponsoring members and supplying much-needed technologies like laptops and tablets.

With the passing of the Marrakesh Treaty in the Philippines, we will open the door for more content, including both Philippine-published and international books. Last year, we started with Saint Matthews Publishing uploading a Filipino language book on Bookshare called Junior Ipon. We need to get more Filipino books by partnering with Philippine publishers. We can also add books through volunteer organizations creating accessible copies of books and submitting them to Bookshare. And, of course, Bookshare already offers over 500,000 books for people with reading barriers in the Philippines.

How can people support your effort in the Philippines?

People can help more Filipinos with visual impairments and other reading barriers to read in ways that work for them by donating to Bookshare. Donations will be used to subsidize memberships and purchase computers for Bookshare corners.

If you are a nonprofit, help spread the word about Bookshare. If you are a publisher, please contact Aggie at [email protected]