Flat World Knowledge Partners with Bookshare to Make Free College Textbooks Accessible to People with Print Disabilities

By Benetech, posted on

Breakthrough Agreement Reduces Costs for Postsecondary Institutions; Improves Timely Access to Core Textbooks in Accessible Formats

December 14, 2009, Nyack, NY and Palo Alto, CA – Flat World Knowledge, the leading publisher of expert-authored, open content college textbooks, today became the first dedicated college textbook publisher to supply its digital textbooks to Bookshare, the world’s largest online accessible library for people with print disabilities.

Approximately one to two percent of the U.S. population has print disabilities that qualify for Bookshare. This agreement will benefit more than 75,000 Bookshare members who are blind or who have low vision, a physical disability or a severe learning disability that affects reading. In addition, the open content license will allow other users to benefit from accessible content: students who are English language learners, those who have milder or undiagnosed disabilities and those who benefit from multi-modal reading with a combination of simultaneous highlighted text and computer-generated speech.

“If all publishers supplied their books directly to Bookshare, it would save colleges and universities millions of dollars each year and immediately equalize educational opportunities,” said Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech, the nonprofit organization that operates Bookshare. “Without the cooperation of a publisher such as Flat World, students often wait for weeks to get textbooks in accessible formats and, in some cases, are forced to drop courses due to lack of accessible books. Flat World is the first postsecondary textbook publisher to recognize and alleviate this problem.”

The agreement comes at an important time for thousands of cash-strapped postsecondary institutions that currently spend millions of dollars each year to scan and convert texts into accessible formats for their students with print disabilities. These institutions, which are already suffering from budget cutbacks from state, local and private funding sources, can access these textbooks from Bookshare at no cost.

Flat World is one of the fastest growing providers of higher education learning materials. For the Fall 2009 semester, over 40,000 college students at more than 400 colleges used Flat World textbooks, up from only 1,000 students at 30 colleges in Spring 2009.

“Flat World Knowledge removes barriers to textbook access,” said Eric Frank, co-founder of Flat World Knowledge. “Our open textbook model eliminates the cost barrier by making them free online and by providing affordable choices offline. We’re proud to work with Bookshare to collectively remove another barrier by enabling full, free access for thousands of students with print disabilities.”

The Flat World/Bookshare agreement will provide timely access to peer-reviewed, professionally edited digital textbooks in accessible formats for students and individuals with qualified disabilities. The initial agreement covers eleven high-quality digital textbooks, mostly weighted toward business and economics, as well as an additional fifty titles under development. The titles under development, to be released over the next two years, cover general education subjects such as algebra, psychology, genetics, sociology and media and society. Within two years, Flat World’s Bookshare catalog will include most of the twenty-five highest-enrollment college courses.

Flat World Knowledge will supply its textbooks directly to Bookshare as digital XML files. This will bypass the typical paper-to-digital scanning process, eliminate scanning errors and allow students to access the books more quickly. Bookshare will convert Flat World Knowledge books and make them available in DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) and BRF (Braille Ready Format) formats. DAISY files are versatile electronic files that allow students with print disabilities to easily navigate through a book, manipulate the appearance of text and pages, and select preferred voices and their rate of speed. These options support individual reading styles and enable multi-modal reading with simultaneous text and computer-generated speech. Students with print disabilities and Bookshare memberships can read the texts via free ebook software from Bookshare, and all students with reading challenges can use other common DAISY software applications and hardware devices that support DAISY or BRF.

Traditional copyrighted books that do not have open licensing terms, including those contributed to Bookshare by almost all other publishers, are protected with digital rights management technology and are available only to those with a documented print disability. Operating under an exemption in the U.S. copyright law called the Chafee amendment, Bookshare maintains rigorous qualification standards to prevent books from being distributed to unqualified individuals. The Chafee amendment enables nonprofit and government entities to create accessible versions of copyrighted works and distribute them freely to individuals with print disabilities.

About Bookshare

Bookshare is the world’s largest accessible online library for people with print disabilities. Through its technology initiatives and partnerships, Bookshare seeks to raise the floor on accessibility issues so that individuals with print disabilities have the same ease of access to print materials as people without disabilities. In 2007, Bookshare received a $32 million five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), to provide free access for all U.S. students with a qualified print disability. The Bookshare library now has over 63,000 books and serves more than 75,000 members. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit which creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs. Bookshare offers a variety of membership options for schools, organizations, qualified students and individuals. Publishers interested in contributing to the Bookshare library should contact Robin Seaman, Publisher Liaison. Visit Bookshare at http://www.bookshare.org.

About Flat World Knowledge

Founded in 2007 by textbook publishing industry veterans Jeff Shelstad and Eric Frank, privately held Flat World Knowledge is a leading publisher of open textbooks for higher education. Flat World Knowledge’s textbooks are written by the world’s leading subject matter experts. The books are peer-reviewed, professionally edited and made available for free online under a Creative Commons license to educators and students. Educators have the freedom to use the books as-is or to reorganize and edit them to suit their unique classroom requirements. Students can access the books for free online or purchase alternatives from print-on-demand versions of the books, to audio versions, to downloadable versions and more at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks. Students can also purchase from a range of digital study aids that support each book. Flat World Knowledge backs its textbooks with an online social learning platform that allows students to learn from one another as well as from the book. For more information visit www.flatworldknowledge.com.

Comments about the Bookshare/Flat World Knowledge Agreement

“College students today are frustrated with the cost of printed textbooks,” shared Deborah Armstrong, Alternate Media Specialist at De Anza Community College, Cupertino, CA. “This partnership with Bookshare and Flat World Knowledge is a giant step forward to offer high-quality, peer-reviewed, open source digital textbooks to minimize costs and parents’ angst for how to pay for core textbooks necessary to support their child’s college education.”

“Our college campus uses Flat World Knowledge in its Accounting 120 and 121 courses,” said Erika Higginbotham, Adaptive Computer Technology Specialist at San Diego Mesa College. “The partnership with Bookshare means that students with disabilities in those courses will have their textbooks when the semester begins. As more textbook publishers join together to support individuals with disabilities, we look forward to the day of having a majority of textbooks available in accessible formats when school begins to support more students in all required subject areas.”