Many people who are blind and visually impaired know that books can be accessed in Braille, large print and audio. These alternative options can be found at your local community library and/or the NLS Talking Book Library. Some might even purchase books through on-line resources like Audable.com or Amazon.com. Traditional book stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble are good choices too. But another option that people may not be fully aware of is Bookshare. For several years Bookshare has been offering the world’s largest library of
on-line copywrited books, magazines, newspapers, textbooks and periodicals to people with print impairments.
According to a recent Hadley School webinar I participated in, Bookshare has more than 268,000 Student Members. More than 10,000 schools and other organizations participate. More than 216,000 titles are available. More than 1,000 new books are added every month. These large numbers clearly show that Bookshare is another great option to access books for those who have vision loss.
I had known about Bookshare for a while but never participated in its offerings because I was accessing my books from other sources. It was not until a few months ago when I participated in a book discussion group at my local community library that I started to use Bookshare. I got a copy of the list of books in advance but was disappointed when most of the books on the list were not available through the NLS/Talking Book Library. A friend suggested Bookshare because they list mostly academic books and books recommended by their readers. I went to their website to search for the titles. After doing a very simple search I found just about all the titles except two and decided to subscribe and become a member.
The membership process was very easy. First I created a user name, password, and my profile. Next I had to gather documents to prove that I had a print impairment. When completing this step you can either use your eye doctor, a vision rehabilitation center like CVI or your membership at the NLS/Talking Book Library. Bookshare will then send you a confirmation e-mail when they have gotten your verification of your disability. After that you just pay your membership fee and you are set. The annual membership fee is currently $50 and there is a $25 one-time startup fee.
One very cool feature of Bookshare that I liked was that I could create a folder to store all the books associated with the book discussion I was attending. This is a great feature because as you select and download the books you can immediately place them in that folder. This helps with keeping your books organized and in one place. Many school teachers and students use this feature as well. When a teacher selects books for the students to read they are placed in a folder where the student can just go to that particular folder for their book assignments. Other nice features include tutorials and easy ways to search for books. You can go to the training section and find a variety of tutorials from getting started to informational webinars, videos and quick guides. You can search by title, author or ISBN number.
Once I had my books downloaded, I transferred them to my accessible book reader. I use the Humanware Victor Reader Stream; but MP3 Players, phones and tablets are also devices that can be used with Bookshare. Or if you don’t have access to a book reader, like the ones I have mentioned, Bookshare allows you to read the book immediately on your computer through an Internet browser. IT is called the Bookshare Web Reader and is a fairly recent feature. All you have to do is select a book and click on the link that says “read now.” The current version is optimized for Google Chrome and provides text-to-text speech, word highlights and more.
One small challenge I found is that all Bookshare books are in text-to-text speech. This format does take getting use to as it is not a human voice but a computerized voice. I was able to work around it by decreasing my speed on my reading device and not multi-tasking while reading. But getting access to the books I needed for my discussion, which allowed me to fully participate, was well worth enduring the speech quality. So, if you are looking to expand your library and reading options Bookshare might be an excellent option for you. For more information go to Bookshare’s website at www.bookshare.org.
So, let’s talk about reading books. Do you use Bookshare? Have you found it helpful when accessing books not found through other sources? Would you recommend Bookshare to a visually impaired friend?