Benetech Secures U.S. Department of Education Award to Enable All Students to Read

By Benetech, posted in Benetech, Education on

Benetech’s Bookshare Software Serves Students Who Read Differently in Over 25,000 Schools and School Districts

Benetech, the leading software for social good nonprofit, today announced a five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, to expand and improve access to books for students who read differently due to blindness, low vision, a physical disability, or dyslexia. Bookshare, the largest online library of accessible books, along with training and support, will remain free for all U.S. school districts, schools, educators, and their qualified students.

“Access to knowledge through reading is a basic human right and a critical step on the path to economic, educational, and social development,” said Brad Turner, VP of Global Literacy, Benetech. “Many students struggle in school and in life because they read differently. Benetech is proud to work with these students, their parents, and their educators to make reading not only possible but also fun and enjoyable with personalized reading experiences.”

Girl using digital tablet while sitting in public library

Bookshare has already delivered over 11 million books to students and is used in schools and districts across the United States, ranging from the largest urban districts such as Los Angeles Unified School District and New York Public Schools, to small, rural districts in all 50 states. Qualified students attending community colleges and universities, charter schools, and homeschools also access the Bookshare library free of charge. In tandem with Bookshare, Benetech’s Born Accessible and Global Certified Accessible initiatives engage publishers and the education community to prioritize the creation and procurement of accessible content.

Benetech will use the award funding to reach an additional 200,000+ students, on top of the half million existing Bookshare student members, with personalized access to over 800,000 books. The company will deliver four million downloads of those accessible ebooks to qualified students over the five-year award period and will work directly with publishers to ensure accessibility features are included in production and are present in over 50 percent of educational books by 2022.

“Bookshare allows students to have immediate access to academic resources alongside their peers,” said Jonathan Fine, assistive technology specialist, Boston Public Schools. “For example, a high-school student with a visual impairment is able to access classroom reading materials by independently accessing books on her iPad in a digital and audio format. In another example, a student with dyslexia is able to access a grade level novel via Bookshare and read alongside his peers. In both scenarios, the playing field is leveled and the students are given equal opportunity to access their curriculum.”

Benetech’s approach to achieving personalized education solutions at scale, including Bookshare, follows the company’s proven software for social good model: identify unmet social needs, prototype solutions, and scale those solutions to drive systemic change. Benetech works with the communities it serves to ensure solutions meet the needs and improve the lives of individuals in those communities. Benetech’s software for social good efforts span education, human rights, social services, and the environment.

Benetech’s ability to deliver positive, lasting impact at scale is made possible by philanthropy, government and corporate funding, and community participation. To learn more about and to join the Benetech community, visit: https://benetech.org/get-involved/.

This project is supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Award Number H327D170002). Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the U.S. Department of Education.