One of the best kept secrets in the world of publishing stems from nothing more than a lack of consumer knowledge regarding the copyright laws as they pertain to individuals with disabilities. As more and more readers tune in to the ever-increasing numbers of electronic content, a wider understanding of the law is spreading, especially among educational institutions, so that individuals can take full benefit from existing legislation such as the Chafee Amendment and the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act. While organizations have existed for many years to produce expensive and unwieldy print editions of large-print and Braille-print books, new groups are forming with the advent of digital publishing to make that accessibility even less cumbersome.
“We operate under the copyright law,” says Betsy Burgess of Bookshare.org, “meaning that students who have a print disability can have access to books in alternate formats without having to purchase them or compensate the author. Qualifications for this purpose are things like a visual impairment, a physical disability, or a severe learning disability like dyslexia.”
Bookshare maintains an online library of over 120,000 copyrighted materials, not including its 5000 to 6000 public-domain titles, and large numbers of those titles are available in several foreign languages. By working with nearly 140 major publishers and remaining fully compliant with copyright law—meaning, for example, that users must apply for membership on the grounds of their specific disabilities—Bookshare is able to bring trade titles, popular best-sellers, and classrooms materials to a wide range of affected readers. The nearly 150,000 members who are still covered under the public education legislation have free access to Bookshare’s titles, and once those students have graduated they are able to pay a very small membership fee to continue their access to the catalog.
Now, Bookshare has a new item in the accessibility toolbox, the Read2Go app that enables portable reading for those individuals whose limitations make the need for text-to-speech enabled and large-print digital titles necessary. The Read2Go app brings Bookshare’s catalog to the iPad and its sister devices, meaning a greater access to the content that many readers take for granted.
“We work hard to get the word out but it’s challenging to persuade enough people to try it,” continues Burgess. “We have a lot of students, and there even YouTube videos of our students who talk about how this has opened up the world of books for them. Very simply, how you read the book depends on how you use the technology, which really helps those with learning disabilities. Other technologies will let you change the size of the font, so if you are a large print reader, you can change the size of the words and change the background colors that will work well for your vision. There are many different ways to read books for all ages and individuals around the world.”