Students with print or reading disabilities will have a new resource to help them access thousands of books, magazines, and other texts electronically: Bookshare, a nonprofit online community, and Don Johnston Incorporated, a supplemental instruction provider, recently announced a partnership that will give print-disabled students a free text reader to access electronic books from the Bookshare.org library.
 
The free text reader, called the Read:OutLoud Bookshare.org Edition Text Reader, will serve an estimated 1 to 3 percent of the total K-12 student population, the two partners said—specifically, those who receive special-education services and who are unable to read standard print materials owing to physical limitations.
 
“Our goal is to serve at least 100,000 students over the next few years with this software,” said Jim Fruchterman, chief executive officer of Benetech, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based nonprofit organization that operates Bookshare.org.
 
At the start of the 2008-09 school year, qualified students will be able to use Don Johnston’s Read:OutLoud Bookshare.org Edition text reader to access more than 36,000 books, magazines, and newspapers in the Bookshare.org library free of charge.
 
There’s just one catch: The software works only on Windows-based computers for now. (A Macintosh version will be available in 2009, the parties said.)
 
Bookshare.org is an online community that allows people with print disabilities to legally download books and periodicals in electronic format to be read in Braille, large print, or synthetic speech (see “Books for the Visually Impaired”).
 
Last October, Bookshare received a $32 million, five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education to expand the availability of digital books and software for reading those books. Over the next five years, Bookshare expects to add more than 100,000 new book titles and textbooks to its collection.
 
Since 1980, Don Johnston has partnered with literacy experts, psychologists, teachers, researchers, and scientists to develop more than a dozen educational technology access products to help struggling learners build core literacy skills.
 
“Now that students with the most significant print disabilities will have free access to Bookshare.org’s library of texts, we want to make sure they will also benefit from using our technology to improve their reading comprehension skills and study habits,” said Ruth Ziolkowski, president of Don Johnston.
 
Bookshare.org offers digital books produced from the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) and delivers them to students in the BRF Braille file format and the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) standards for Digital Talking Books.
 
“We chose Read:OutLoud because of its strong support tools for students with reading disabilities and its ability to read DAISY files that have the richness that comes from the NIMAS publisher files,” Fruchterman said.
 
The Bookshare.org Edition text reader offers text-to-speech capability, embedded reading comprehension strategies, and instructional supports that align with state educational standards. The software includes audio feedback, electronic highlighting, and note-taking features that allow students to capture their ideas, as well as a bibliographer that logs and organizes sources in a structured, step-by-step process.
 
The free text reader not only gives students with print disabilities access to classroom content and curriculum-based information through electronic books from Bookshare.org, the two organizations said, but it also supports the development of reading comprehension: Students can practice comprehension strategies recommended by the National Reading Panel.
 
According to Fruchterman, schools and individual students who have Bookshare.org accounts can download the text reader free of charge. Bookshare.org accounts are free, but students must have proof of a print disability and must agree to abide by Bookshare’s limitations on the use of texts.
 
The Read:OutLoud Bookshare.org Edition software is not compatible with the Don Johnston products Draft:Builder and Write:OutLoud, but Don Johnston’s Co:Writer product can be used in any application where text is typed, the company said—including this version of the text reader.
 
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