Bookshare Breaks Through Reading Barriers in India

By Laura Deck, posted on

The Bookshare Global team is delivering on a bold plan to empower blind students to read and pursue education in India and South Asia.

Vision plays a critical role in every aspect of our lives. Without vision, it is difficult to read, participate in school, and work. According to the World Health Organization, 285 million people worldwide live with a vision impairment or blindness. In India alone, nearly 62 million people, including 1.6 million children, are blind or visually impaired. That makes India home to twenty percent of the world’s visually impaired population.

Zainab and Homiyar stand in front of a Bookshare banner; Homiyar stands next to a sign for an epub worksheet; students in Andhra Pradesh stand in a group

With this need in mind, the Bookshare team has been traveling throughout India to bring Bookshare ebooks, devices, and training to teachers and students with visual impairments. Led by Dr. Homiyar Mobedji and Zainab Chinikamwala, and with support from Moses Gorrepati at EnAble India, this talented and dedicated team is committed to making inclusive education a reality for thousands of students with disabilities.

Three Pillar Framework Guides Outreach

In order for students with visual impairments to succeed in school, they need content in digital, accessible formats, technology to read ebooks, and training on how to use both the device and an application that allows them to read the accessible books. The team addresses these three pillars during the workshops:

  1. Content – provide all content in digital, accessible formats including ebooks and curriculum materials in English, Hindi, and six other local languages
  2. Technology – obtain laptop computers and smartphones for reading ebooks and audiobooks
  3. Training – teach educators, librarians, resource center staff, and visually impaired students how to use Bookshare and electronic devices

What follows is a summary of the workshops and outreach the team has delivered in Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh during the past four months:

Visually Impaired Students Read Books on Android Devices

Team Bookshare conducted a workshop called “Access to Read” at the Technical Training Institute for the Blind in Hadapsar, Pune. Bookshare has a complete collection of books for courses like political science, literature, history, and psychology in Marathi. College students learned how to read using Android devices and the human-sounding Marathi text-to-speech (TTS) engine from Hear2Read.

Students Learn How to “Read without Seeing”

Bookshare and EnAble India conducted a workshop called “Reading Without Seeing” for students at the Divya Drushti School for the Blind in Palghar, Maharashtra. The event encouraged them to use digital technology such as Android phones and computers for accessing their study materials, communicating, and navigation.

Rotary Club Offers Training and Resources for Visually Impaired

One of Bookshare’s partner organizations is the Rotary Club Global Foundation which offers computer skills classes, job analysis, and mobility training for persons with visual impairments. Team members conducted a workshop in Ernakulum, Kerala, on “Reading Without Seeing” and Bookshare.

"I wanted to pursue an MBA, but I was under the impression that there are no accessible booksfor the visually impaired. Hence, I did not start an MBA. The workshop on Bookshare showed me the path to pursue my education, as it provides a lot of study books." – Jeelu, student

Special Educators and Students Learn How to Use Assistive Technology

In Raipur, Chhattisgarh, Bookshare and EnAble India trained twenty-six special educators in the use of Assistive Technology followed by another training with 197 visually impaired students from tribal areas on how to use Moto E5 smartphones to access academic books for grades 8-12 in Bookshare. Most of these students had never seen or used a touch screen phone before.

College Faculty Learns How to Make Classrooms Inclusive

Bookshare and EnAble India teamed up again to conduct a workshop titled “Inclusion of Visually Impaired Students in Inclusive Education” for the faculty of Andhra Loyola College and the Vijay Mary School in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. The staff learned about the importance of mobility techniques and advantages of reading and writing using digital devices for students with print disabilities.

Publishers Transition to Born Accessible Content

Team Bookshare conducted a two-day workshop for publishers, authors, content specialists, and library staff at the Trivandrum Central Library in Kerala titled “Accessible Publishing Techniques for Creating Born Accessible Content.” The workshop focused on using tools such as MS Word and InDesign for creating content that is Born Accessible; that is, content with accessibility features built-in from the start. Among the participants were content designers from the State Council of Education Research and Training who are responsible for textbooks for grades 1-12.

Benetech is working hard to ensure the millions of learners in South Asia with reading barriers (including blindness, low vision, and dyslexia) have a chance to get free access to the world’s largest library of accessible ebooks – Bookshare.

Bookshare Global Needs Your Support

Do you know someone who can benefit from Bookshare? Contact the Bookshare Helpline for Asia and Africa (Ph: +919650211575/membership-india@bookshare.org)

Donate today to:

  • Make more books available in local languages
  • Provide free access to Bookshare for more students
  • Sponsor workshops to train teachers and students
  • Expand the impact and bring Bookshare to more countries in South Asia