What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Bookshare - Accessible Print for Print Disabled (iPad info too)

Bookshare is free for all U.S. students with qualifying disabilities. Student memberships are currently funded by an award from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs.

Bookshare offers accessible books and periodicals for readers with print disabilities by providing a searchable online library. Bookshare offers digital books, textbooks, teacher-recommended reading, periodicals and assistive technology tools. These are copyrighted materials. Bookshare is a tremendous online resource of accessible books, magazines, and newspapers for people with print disabilities. Bookshare is free to students, and others pay a nominal fee to access over 125,000 publications, available in DAISY and braille formats. You can learn more, including how to register or volunteer, at Bookshare's website.

Bookshare is one of many authorized entities that can create and provide printed materials in accessible formats to individuals with disabilities who meet the criteria for a copyright exemption across the entire lifespan.  Such authorized entities can create and provide these materials WITHOUT seeking permission from the copyright holder as long the materials are ONLY provided to individuals meeting copyright criteria.  (Another such entity is The American Printing House for the Blind which is funded directly by Congress. Learning Ally – formerly RFBand D –which does not currently receive any federal funding and, of course there are many others that are typically smaller and less widely known.)

Bookshare and other entities registered with the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) can convert NIMAS-compliant source files created by publishers and deposited in the NIMAC as long as those materials are only provided to students who both meet copyright criteria AND are receive services under IDEA. Bookshare and other entities also produce and provide accessible materials using sources other than the NIMAC ("chopping and scanning" printed materials, files obtained directly from collaborating publishers, etc.).
1.      Blindness
2.      Visual Impairment
3.      Physical Limitations
4.      An Organic Dysfunction (Reading/Learning Disability)
have the right to access copyrighted materials in alternative formats, such as what Bookshare provides. (For the definition of Print Disability, see Bookshare's Qualifications.
Basically, think of it this way: a person who has a " print disability" is a person who cannot effectively use printed materials because of a disability.)

Training Opportunities:
A range of training opportunities are provided which includes 'getting started' Webinars and Quick Start Guides in Bookshare's professional development workshops. Be sure to check out these wonderful resources. This is a great Step-by-Step Instructions to the process.  

Bookshare has launched a social media blog on staying connected. I am sharing this information to widen the circle of knowledge about where to find information and resources to use the library effectively.

If you go to the BookShare Site and go to "subscribe" you will notice that there are 3 types of membership. They offer both individual subscriptions and accounts for schools or groups. Select a link below to find out more about each.
  1. Individual Subscriptions
    U.S. residents who have a visual impairment, learning disability or mobility impairment can subscribe.
  2. School and Group Accounts
    Schools or groups that serve individuals with print disabilities can provide books through Institutional Access or Sponsored Subscriptions.
  3. Access for non-U.S residents
    Individuals with qualifying disabilities who live outside the United States can access portions of the Bookshare collection.
If you are serving students or clients that have a print disability due to a visual impairment, learning disability or mobility impairment, Bookshare offers an alternative book resource and solution. Once your school or group registers an account, you’ll have access to thousands of digital accessible books and periodicals, downloadable via the Internet.

If you are a representative of a U.S. school (K-12 and post-secondary), your students 26 years old and under, they may qualify for free access to Bookshare as of October 1, 2007. There are requirements for this access and it is important that you understand the requirements before you get started. The four major decision points in the process include:
  1. determination of need 
  2. selection of format(s) 
  3. acquisition of format(s) 
  4. selection of supports for use. 
Who Can Certify a Disability for Membership?

School Affiliated:

  1. Special education teacher
  2. Learning disability specialist
  3. Teacher of the visually impaired
  4. School psychologist
  5. Resource specialist

Medical Professionals:

  1. Family doctor
  2. Physical therapist
  3. Ophthalmologist
  4. Optometrist
  5. Neurologist
  6. Psychiatrist
  7. Clinical psychologist
 Bookshare How-To Guides:
  • How to Add Sponsors and Members How-To Guide - PDF - Word
  • Find and Request Books How-To Guide - PDF - Word
  • Reading Lists How-To Guide - PDF - Word
  • Web Reader Access for Students How-To Guide - PDF - Word
  • Bookshare Web Reader How-To Guide - PDF - Word
  • Read2Go How-To Guide - PDF - Word
The AIMNavigator (Accessible Instructional Materials) can assist you with this process. It consists of a series of guiding questions to assist teams with decision-making about need, selection, acquisition and use of accessible instructional materials.

You will need to have the reading access disability documented in the IEP. For a Student Sample Summary, AIM site has provided an example worth getting acquainted with.

Digital Accessible Books:
Books and periodicals from Bookshare contain the full text of the publication (not pre-recorded audio) that can be read with the adaptive technology of the reader's choice. A talking software application is included with membership, providing members with one option for reading the books. The books on the website are also available in digital Braille that can be read with refreshable Braille devices, or exported to an embosser.

What Bookshare Can Do for You:
As an educator, a key role is helping students with specific learning disabilities overcome their difficulties in reading, which is one of their most significant barriers to learning. You work with them on learning to read and to overcome their limitations in some or all areas of phonetic awareness, decoding, syntax, semantics, and comprehension. As you do this, however, you also want them to understand their textbooks in their subject area. This is particularly critical today as schools work to reach the goals of NCLB, which requires that materials used for instruction, including textbooks, be flexible and accessible enough to assure the progress of students with disabilities.

Technology offers options:
e-Text makes books available in print on the computer, tablet or an eReader. By being able to have access to copyrighted text on a computer, you can then allow students with disabilities to read in new and more flexible ways by:
  • enlarging it
  • changing the font
  • making less words on a page
  • color coding it for vocabulary
  • highlight important facts
  • controlling the color contrast of the text and background
In other words, you have the ability to then manipulate the text in any way that you feel would benefit your students! You can save it to a computer and have the kids read it from the computer or you could print it out. If you use it in conjunction with text-to-speech software, the computer would read it to them with a text-to-speech program added. Studies have shown that when a student can listen to text being read as they follow along, comprehension may be greatly enhanced.

How it works:
Bookshare enables book scans to be shared, thereby leveraging the collections of thousands of individuals who regularly scan books, eliminating significant duplication of effort. Bookshare takes advantage of a special exemption in the U.S. copyright law that permits the reproduction of publications into specialized formats for the disabled.This site allows you access to copyrighted books. This online community enables book scans to be shared, leveraging the collections of thousands of individuals who regularly scan books, eliminating significant duplication of effort. Bookshare takes advantage of a special exemption in the U.S. copyright law that permits the reproduction of publications into specialized formats for the disabled.

What is different about Bookshare from other e-Text sites is that they have the ability to share copyrighted text!!! That is why this is so huge. What you scan in may be added and shared with others. It is a give and take- sharing- approach.

Home Use: 
Once a student is verified to have a print disability in the school and the proof of disability form is signed and sent in to Bookshare.  The student is then entitled to his/her own account.  There is an individual membership form located on the Bookshare website.  This can be given to the student to take to his/her parent.  (You will need parent to sign if student is under 18.) They sign it and mail it in on their own then Bookshare sends them a login.  

BookShare Brochures:

Providing Reading Options: 
Bookshare now provides Web Reader in most browsers.
The Web Reader includes self voicing on with word highlighting on:

The Web Reader displays the book without self voicing:

  • Mozilla Firefox version 6+
  • Safari version 6.0+             
  • Internet Explorer 9, 10 and 11
  • Safari on an iPad with iOS 7+
The Web Reader is not supported on other mobile devices. How-to Video Available! 


Read:OutLoud- Don Johnson has partnered with Bookshare to offer free text-to-speech. It is here! In 2009, students who qualify under the Chafee copyright exemption amendment will use Don Johnston’s Read:OutLoud Bookshare Edition text reader to access thousands of electronic books, educational materials and resources in NIMAS and DAISY from the Bookshare website. The program’s goal is to eliminate barriers for students with reading disabilities and to provide the necessary tools to ensure access to the general curriculum, materials and textbooks. Are you a visual learner? Take some time to watch this great How To Tutorials.

While students need a text reader to support them with decoding and fluency, we often find out that their reading comprehension is also lacking. All the research around reading comprehension will tell us that you need explicit instruction in comprehension strategies.

This section of Read:OutLoud makes the comprehension experience explicit to the student. It can be used in several ways.
  • Highlighting text right from the document as key ideas are found.
  • Taking notes to capture ideas, thoughts and predictions.
  • Finally, under the Outline Menu, you can insert an Outline.
These are pre-completed outlines that support the student’s comprehension as they are developing their comprehension strategies. 

You can find additional assignment templates and outline templates at their website.
To learn about these tools or teach your students, try their "Show Me How" videos. These are 1 minute tutorials on how to highlight text, etc. plus they have a site for understanding and learning to use the product. 

The National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) has put together the best tutorials on working with text and text-to-speech programs. This is a very rich site worth taking some time to explore to become familiar with the laws of NIMAC.  

The iPad and Bookshare:
Textbooks (vs. other copyrighted books) published in 2006 or later will only be available in what's called NIMAS format through NIMAC, through Bookshare.org

There are 3 options preferred for bringing audio to your books:

  1. Don Johnston's Read2Go app and 
  2. VoiceDream Reader (VDR) 
  3. Capti (free and premeium)
VDR and Capti have become much more preferred over Read2Go but I suggest looking at all 3 to choose what is best for you.

VoiceDream Reader -There are many how to resources available regarding VoiceDream Reader. Be sure to explore this further (but Capti offers much of the same for free)! The cost is $9.99. A few features:
- Improved VoiceOver support for the blind
- Can start speaking text from a chapter, bookmark, or highlight
- Can start speaking from a text search result

- Bookshare offers a guide with step-by-step directions
Listen to PDF and Word documents, articles, eBooks and Web pages with text-to-speech. Integration with Dropbox, Pocket, Instapaper, Bookshare, and Gutenberg. Silky smooth synchronized highlighting and autoscrolling. Rock-solid stability. 55 amazing voices in 20 languages available.

Bookshare and Chrome:
The easiest way to access Bookshare e-text on a Chromebook is with the BookshareWeb Reader extension.  Just download it from the Chrome Web Store then log into Bookshare, locate a book, and click "Read Now".  The book will be streamed to the Web Reader, which has text-to-speech and visual highlighting.  

There are two key points to remember about accessing Bookshare’s NIMAC-sourced books:
  1. They are only available for U.S. K-12 students with print disabilities as defined in the Chafee Amendment to copyright law, AND who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) issued by a public education agency.
  2. Only teachers and staff members of U.S. K-12 education agencies can download these books. To ensure that Bookshare complies with the above limitations, students, parents, transcribers, and non-student Individual Members cannot download these books.
For a step-by-step guide about how to pull up and use your Bookshare books on your iDevice, go to this link as it is not a real easy process the first couple of times you do it. (The easiest way is to download the book directly to the student's iPad: log into Bookshare with the school's account through Read2Go, download the book, then be sure to log off. Textbooks are large, so this may take a while.)

Also, see these "Updated Instructions for Obtaining NIMAC Textbooks" from Bookshare.

At the bottom of this post, I've posted an 8 minute video by Bruce Alter, PT, PCS, AT Consultant, on how to load DAISY with images content into the Read2Go app. Those of you who have used this iDevice app will have discovered that there's no way to do this from within the app. This video explains in detail how to "sideload" content using your computer and iTunes. I hope you find it useful.

This does seem to bog people done. How to do Bookshare?!? How do I get started? 

Below are some sites to help you through the basic Bookshare process:
  • For more information and and easy step-by-step on the Whole Bookshare processes, HIAT has some great guides and tutorials to follow.
  • Get it, Read it, Learn it is a PDF will help you with Bookshare and Read:Outloud.
  • Kim Para has put together a page of resources worth considering on her site, "Technology Resources". 
  • This is a slideshow that will tell you about and provide nice clear step-by-step directions. Might be worth printing this one out. 
  • If you are more of a visual learner, this one is in video format.
If you have questions about downloading and reading Bookshare Books, these short "Learn It Nowvideo tutorials can be a helpful resource. Each video provides easy, step by step instructions on:
  1. How Do I Download Bookshare Books Using Internet Explorer on a PC?
  2. How Do I Download Bookshare Books Using Read:OutLoud Bookshare Edition on a PC?
  3. How Do I Read Bookshare Books Using Read:OutLoud Bookshare Edition on a PC?
  4. How Do I Find and Request Books on Bookshare?
Remember: Sponsors can download books for students including NIMAS sourced textbooks, sponsors add students as members. When you add students as members, check the box next to their name and click individual membership. This will populate a form for parents to sign so the student can have an individual membership. Then you can assign them books via a Reading List and they can download books such as chapter reading books for book reports, SSR, or the books they are reading as a class. 

Finally, think about what YOU can do for Bookshare!

Professionals and volunteers at Bookshare work diligently and cooperatively to get us the books we need as quickly as possible. They do need volunteers to help make the process possible, and expedient. Check out the volunteer/donate tab on their website. If you or any members of your community (school PTA's, etc) can volunteer, that would help your community and others. Also, if you create accessible textbook files yourself, be sure to donate them to Bookshare, so we can help build the accessible library cooperatively.
If your students qualify for Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) in your state, you may be able to get the accessible format of the textbooks quicker, or in another manner. Check out the "AIM in Your State" on the right hand side of the national AIM homepage:  http://aim.cast.org/

The National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials and PACER Center are pleased to announce the release of a video explaining Accessible Instructional Materials in easy to understand language. This fully-captioned video is designed to increase awareness of AIM. They invite you to view and share this video with your colleagues and the families you serve.

Bookshare has now provided "How To" videos on YouTube".  Be sure to explore these videos as the topics will help to guide you through the whole process!!! Thank you, Bookshare, for this gift!

Bruce Alter has also developed a couple of videos to help you get started:

Good luck!! You can do this!! It is worth the time.