Whether for work or personal enjoyment, reading has long-lasting social and cognitive benefits. However, for seniors experiencing barriers to reading such as low vision or a physical impairment, using traditional print materials is a struggle, if not impossible. Benetech’s growing library of over 685,000 accessible titles, Bookshare, enables seniors to read in ways that work for them, choosing from a number of formats such as large print and audio.
Through targeted campaigns in senior centers and libraries across Texas and Georgia, Benetech has increased awareness and enrollment in Bookshare for seniors and collected valuable input from senior users about ways to improve the platform and collection for their use. This senior-focused outreach and product development is driven by the generous support of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™ Foundation, a national foundation affiliated with the CTA, whose mission is “to link seniors and people with disabilities to technologies that enhance their lives.”
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Benetech CEO Betsy Beaumon joined CTA Executive Director Stephen Ewell for a conversation about this program as well as Benetech’s other initiatives that promote a more inclusive future through technology.
Born Digital Should Mean Born Accessible
Betsy described Benetech’s leading role in the “Born Accessible” initiative — working with publishers to ensure that any content that’s “born digital” is also created with accessibility capabilities built-in. Benetech already has relationships with over 850 publishers who share digital copies of their books with Benetech upon release, which means these books are quickly available for the over 600,000 users who need Bookshare to read. Born Accessible is the next step.
“If a senior were to sign up for Bookshare they could get a book the same day as someone getting it from Amazon and be in the same book club for the first time […] and Born Accessible means that they can buy the same book and just turn on the features that are going to make it work for them.” – Betsy Beaumon
The Social Safety Net of the Future
When discussing other technologies showcased at the event, the conversation turned to smart cities and one of Benetech’s latest projects to make them more inclusive: Benetech Service Net. Cities have a vast and sometimes disparate network of social service providers, that its’ citizens rely on for critical human needs, but it’s not always easy to find up-to-date information on those essential services. Service Net is a data-sharing platform for referral agencies and service providers that makes it easier for people to get connected to the services that they need, such as housing and healthcare. As cities are increasingly undergoing digital transformation to improve the lives of residents, interconnected access to social services must be included.
Artificial Intelligence Enabling the Human
Betsy also participated in a panel discussion that Steve moderated, “AI Enabling the Human.” Alongside Mary Bellard, Senior Accessibility Architect at Microsoft; Rick Robinson, VP, Product Innovation at AARP; and Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Wilmink, CBO of CarePredict, they discussed how AI and consumer technologies are enabling greater independence for all, including seniors and people with disabilities at work, home, and play. Betsy also cautioned that for AI to be “Born Inclusive,” meaning the resulting tools and services work well for seniors and people with disabilities, these individuals must be included in the training data, and as developers and testers.
Learn more about the CTA Foundation
Learn more about how Bookshare helps seniors with reading barriers
Learn more about Benetech Service Net