Bookshare, Benetech's flagship global literacy initiative, helps to reshape opportunities for people with disabilities by making books and periodicals available in accessible formats. Benetech places particular emphasis on providing books through Bookshare that support educational and employment opportunities. Users can download books at any time from the collection of over 100,000 books available globally, with new titles added daily, in a variety of accessible formats; including digital braille, synthetic audio, and enlarged text. Bookshare titles are available as mp3 files that can be played on low cost devices, such as mp3 players and cell phones. Bookshare also provides digital text files that can be played on any Internet-connected computer or smartphone. By employing digital service delivery and building extensive partnerships with publishers who are the source of over 80 percent of Bookshare's newest content, Bookshare is more than fifteen times as cost-effective as traditional methods of delivering services to people with print disabilities, such as human-narrated audio.
With generous support from the Lavelle Fund for the Blind, Benetech will provide access to Bookshare for 5,000 people with print disabilities throughout India, with at least 1,500 of these being university students. Benetech will also add a minimum of 1,000 new titles to the Bookshare collection. Working closely with the DAISY Forum of India, a consortium of major vision-related disability organizations, Benetech will ensure that these new titles directly address the needs and desires of Indian users. With support from Google's Androids for Good program, Benetech will distribute 425 Google Nexus 7 tablets with Android operating systems to Indian student users. Additionally, two India-based consultants will be hired to travel throughout the country and provide training on using Bookshare and other relevant technology. In these ways, Benetech will leverage its experience in scaling an immensely successful U.S.-based program, where it serves over a quarter million students, to this new commitment in India.
09/30 - 12/15/2013: Benetech will complete the recruitment process (including advertising, interviewing, and hiring) for two India-based coordinators who will focus on outreach to new users and instructing users and university personnel on Bookshare services and tools. Benetech will also establish processes so that only people with qualified print disabilities are allowed to become Bookshare users, in line with the requirements of Indian law. This is most commonly accomplished in India through verifying a national disability identity card held by blind people there.
12/15/2013 - 01/31/2014: Benetech will distribute 425 Google Nexus 7 tablets to Indian Bookshare student users.
09/30/2013 - 06/30/2016: Benetech will add and train 5,000 new users in India to Bookshare. This will be accomplished through the work of the outreach coordinators who will travel to the five target universities, located in multiple regions spanning the breadth of the country. They will add a minimum of 1,500 new users from the population of students who are blind/visually impaired through direct outreach efforts such as hosting in-person informational sessions, verifying proof of disability, and liaising with faculty and student groups. Benetech's local partner, whose coalition includes regional blindness associations, service groups, and eye care centers, will undertake responsibility for outreach to the remaining 3,500 users to be drawn from their member constituencies. The coordinators will also hold instructional sessions for students, teachers, librarians, and other users.
09/30/2013 - 06/30/2016: Benetech will add 1,000 new locally-relevant titles in Hindi, Tamil, and English to the Bookshare collection. The outreach coordinators will work with students to receive their book requests and then work with Indian publishers and Benetech's Director of Content Acquisition to source those books and other useful content. Benetech's local partner will also add content from their own sources, based on the requests received from their users.
Access to knowledge is a basic and transformational human right. It is the critical first step on the path to economic, educational, and social development. The written word has the power to open doors to greater job opportunities, enhanced social interactions, and more political and cultural engagement. Yet for a majority of the world's people with disabilities, literacy remains an elusive dream. Nowhere are those with disabilities more impacted by their inability to access text than in the developing world. According to the Aravind Eye Care Center, five to six million people in India are blind, equaling one out of every four blind people in the world. When blindness due to cataracts and other easily reparable conditions is subtracted from that figure, there is still a population of two and half to three million people who are permanently blind or visually impaired. Additionally, only 20 to 25 percent of Indians who are blind or visually impaired are literate, compared to 65 percent in the overall population (Dipendra Manocha, DAISY Forum of India, Ashoka Fellow 2007).
One of the primary reasons for this low literacy rate is the lack of reading materials in a format that people with print disabilities are able to use. Those with print disabilities could easily become literate with greater access to such materials. Other barriers, such as lack of access to technology and a lack of teachers who understand print disabilities and can teach using assistive technologies, compound this problem. This lack of access impacts everything from employment and civic engagement to cultural and social inclusion. By reducing the barriers between people with disabilities and opportunities to read and write, the print disabled population will have expanded job opportunities and greater ability to contribute to their communities, benefitting them, their families, and society as a whole.