Why We Must Save Bookshare for People With Disabilities


Author’s note: Bookshare, a service that provides large print and Braille digital books for people with print disabilities worldwide, is currently in danger of losing federal funding. As a student with low vision, I have been using Bookshare since 2011 and it has dramatically changed the way I read. Below, I have written a sample letter for my local congressmen and senators so they can see how important this service really is. Feel free to use my letter as a template to send to your local representatives.

Dear (Representative),

My name is Veronica, and I am a college student here in Virginia studying software engineering and assistive technology, to develop tools for people with disabilities. I graduated from Virginia public schools in 2015 with an advanced diploma and a 3.8 GPA. In addition, I run my own blog about assistive technology and disability life at www.veroniiiica.com. This wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have Bookshare, an accessible media library that’s in danger of losing federal funding in fiscal year 2017.

I have low vision, which means I can’t access standard print materials and require large print. Large print books can be very expensive and hard to find, and sometimes the font size isn’t big enough. Bookshare digitally scans in books so users can access them in whatever format suits them best — large print, Braille, or audio. Almost any book that can be found in the local library can be found on Bookshare, and I can read the same books my peers are reading. I’m not just limited to the small large print selection at my library or the even smaller selection at the local bookstore.

I have been using Bookshare since 2011, and it has helped me tremendously both inside and outside of the classroom. Before I had Bookshare, I would have to order large print books that would take weeks to come in, and then I would have to catch up with the rest of the class on the reading. My classmates would talk about books they had read for hours on end, and I would often be excluded from the conversation because large print wasn’t available for the book they were talking about, or the book would be too heavy for me to carry around, like in the case of the Harry Potter series. Once I got Bookshare, I could carry my books around on an e-reader or tablet, and download a book almost instantly to read in class. I started reading more and more, and was able to join more discussions in class.

Education is invaluable, and with accessible materials, more students are able to learn and go on to pursue higher-level education, enter the workforce, and contribute to society. By making these materials accessible, students can thrive in the educational environment, as opposed to failing because they can’t see the materials and believe they just can’t learn.

People with disabilities are the largest minority, with about 1 in 5 people having some type of disability. Disability affects all economic classes, races, nationalities, and other demographics. By funding Bookshare, it ensures that more than 400,000 people with print disabilities are able to access materials. Without it, the responsibility would fall on state and local governments to provide for their students, and the selection wouldn’t be as large, easy to access, or as inexpensive as Bookshare. Bookshare is able to create materials at a cost 15 times less than the previous national program.

I hope you will advocate to restore the Technology and Media FY2017 budget line to $30 million, the same as it was in 2016. Bookshare is extremely important to me and so many other students, and we don’t want to imagine life without it.

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Thinkstock photo by MaskaRad.

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