NOTE: October is Blindness Awareness Month as well as Learning Disabilities / Dyslexia / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Awareness Month.

Ella and Beth Johnson

Ella and Beth Johnson

My name is Ella, and I’m a junior at Irondale High School in Minnesota. This school year, I’m busy studying for advanced placement courses, playing percussion and coordinating audio equipment in my school’s band, and making time to read book recommendations from friends. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in fifth grade, and reading print books has always been challenging for me compared with most of my classmates. However, accessible digital books from Bookshare give me the same opportunities to learn, engage, and show what I know.

Bookshare has made an enormous difference for me and has changed how I feel about reading. Prior to getting started with Bookshare in fifth grade, I think I had only ever read three books (with help) in my entire school experience; within the first year after enrolling in Bookshare, I’d read over 100 books, including the Harry Potter series!

I use a range of tools and formats to access my textbooks, including a “text grabber” app on my phone which scans and reads text using the phone’s camera, as well as a hand-held, pen-like reading tool which reads aloud when I point to a word or line of text. Recently, I get more of my textbooks through Bookshare—especially for Advanced Placement courses. Bookshare lets me download digital versions of my textbooks, which give me instant, independent access to listen and read along in an app on my smartphone. Often, I set up the printed textbook on my desk next to my phone so I can listen to the text while also being able to review the images, charts, and graphs in the printed book. There was a learning curve when I first got access to Bookshare, but I figured it out mostly on my own.

My mom and I were pleased to learn about recent changes to eligibility requirements for students who need accessible textbooks (see this blog post from the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) for more info). These changes will make it easier to confirm if a student is eligible for accessible textbooks. We hope that more schools and families will consider Bookshare and other accessibility options for students. My mom encourages parents of students with reading disabilities to ask about resources like Bookshare. In our experience, schools have been open to supporting whatever tools meet my needs. For example, my teachers allow me to have my phone out to read my textbooks, although other students have to put their phones away during class.

I am glad to be able to access digital textbooks in Bookshare, versus the all the different, less accessible formats on the websites of digital textbook providers. In my experience, online textbooks sometimes crash and can be less user friendly, while with Bookshare, I can depend on a consistent system as well as the customized settings in my phone app.

With the credits I’m earning in high school, I’ll graduate next year having already earned an associate’s degree, ready to enter college and study for a career in innovation and design.

OSEP funding enables Bookshare membership to be free not only to eligible K-12 students, but also to students enrolled in colleges in the U.S., and I look forward to continuing to use Bookshare to access my university textbooks.

Want to learn more? Listen to Ella and other students share their experiences with accessible materials and technologies in this Game Changing Technology video from the 2021 Ed Games Expo.

Also, check out the other two blog posts in this series, What’s New at the National Instructional Materials Access Center and “Hands on” Reading in Florida.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

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