U. S. Department of Education Grants Funding to Bookshare to Convert Open Content Textbooks to Accessible Formats

By Benetech, posted on

Open Content Textbooks Available to All without Proof of Disability

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has awarded Bookshare $100K in supplemental funding to create the first accessible versions of open content digital textbooks. The initial planned conversion of open content textbooks, which are distributed freely under a license selected by the author, are math and science textbooks approved for California students.

California is leading the nation in encouraging the use of free, open content textbooks. Under the direction of the Governor, Secretary of Education, and Superintendent of Public Instruction, the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) reviewed for standards alignment open-source digital textbooks for grades 9-12 in the subject areas of mathematics and science. While some open content textbooks may be edited, the publishers of these digital high school textbooks are guaranteeing consistent content for the next two years.

As other states begin to approve open content textbooks, Bookshare will continue to convert these materials to accessible formats for all students who read better with accessible text. The first open content textbooks approved for use in California will be available via Bookshare at http://www.bookshare.org. The texts will be offered in the accessible DAISY format that enables multi-modal reading, combining highlighted on-screen text with high-quality computer-generated voice, and BRF, a digital Braille format for use with Braille displays or embossed Braille.

“Once again California’s innovation has inspired action, as those with reading challenges will soon be able to read the standards-aligned digital textbooks adopted under California’s first-in-the-nation digital textbook initiative,” said California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Thanks to Bookshare and the U.S. Department of Education, these textbooks will be converted into accessible formats so students who struggle with reading traditional textbooks have a new opportunity to enhance their education.”

Under the terms of the OSEP award, the accessible formats will offer a choice of digital book files with or without images, including detailed math and science illustrations and image descriptions for those with visual disabilities.

“Traditional copyrighted books, including those contributed to Bookshare by publishers, are protected with digital rights management technology and available only to those with a documented print disability. But Bookshare’s open content books will become part of the freely distributable books in the Bookshare collection and can be used by anybody without proof of disability,” says Benetech CEO Jim Fruchterman. “These accessible books will not only help disabled students throughout the U.S. and globally, but provide parents, teachers and assistive technology developers with free access to real talking textbooks.”

This initiative builds on Bookshare’s experience as the largest converter of digital textbooks from the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) into accessible formats for students in K-12 public schools. The NIMAC is a federally-funded central repository for digital versions of textbooks.

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 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 60,000 books and serves more than 70,000 members. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs.