2003 Conference Proceedings

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Jim Fruchterman,
Email: jim@benetech.org

Jesse Fahnestock,
Bookshare.org Operations Coordinator
Email: jesse@benetech.org

Summary An overview of the access choices for DAISY and Braille ebooks from Bookshare.org: embossed Braille, reading with computer software, and portable Braille and headphone devices.

Bookshare.org Overview

Bookshare.org (www.Bookshare.org) is a source for accessible books - created by the nonprofit Benetech, the original developer of the Arkenstone reading systems. Bookshare.org launched one year ago in February 2002, as a website that enables people to share the books that they are scanning to make them accessible for their own use or for their students' use. There are close to 15,000 books already available for download.

What types of books are available?

Bookshare.org books come from two main sources:

  1. The primary source of books is individuals or schools that scan books and submit them to share across this community.
  2. With permission, we accept submissions of original digital files from authors or publishers. These files won't have scanning errors, typically resulting in a higher quality book.

Since only a small percentage of books is available in accessible formats, the same book might be scanned by hundreds of individuals -- a massitve waste of human capital since it takes about three hours not counting proofreading. Bookshare.org leverages the collections of tens-of-thousands of individuals who regularly scan books, eliminating significant duplication.

The community determines the make-up of the collection through submissions. Newly published books (bestsellers for example) can be made available in a matter of days or weeks after publication, limited only by the number of volunteers who scan and process books. Schools or other organizations that scan books to make them accessible for their students or clients can submit them and receive credits towards sponsored subscriptions for their students. Our 'wish list' function enables members to suggest books to the volunteer scanners.

Special collections available from Bookshare.org include teacher-recommended reading for K-12 students and a core collection of religious material, especially Christian material. Increasingly, we have more submissions of digital Braille files that are perfectly proofed and ready for embossing.

What are my access choices?

Bookshare.org books can be accessed by download over the Internet or by ordering embossed Braille. Internet download is available only to subscribing members.

Embossed Braille can be ordered by any U.S. resident, member or not. Books are prepared by certified transcribers and proofreaders at the Braille Institute Press, the West Coast's largest Braille Press. Without needing to log in, the entire collection can be searched and embossed Braille books can be ordered, but downloading copyrighted books requires a subscription.

Who can become a subscribing member?

Subscriptions are only available to U.S. residents who have a disability that affects reading. This includes people with visual impairments and learning disabilities, as well as those who have mobility impairments. Any a U.S. resident and qualifies for NLS or RFB&D services would also qualify for Bookshare.org.

How is this possible legally?

A special exemption in the U.S. copyright law, the Chafee Amendment, was passed in 1996 with the support of the Association of American Publishers to enable nonprofit organizations to lower a barrier to literacy by distributing copyrighted works to people with print disabilities. Section 17 U.S.C. 121 of the copyright law states in part, "it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies ... of a previously published, nondramatic literary work if such copies ... are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities."

Bookshare.org was designed with input from the Association of American Publishers, the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind, as well as other leading disability organizations.

How does it work? (demo)

To become a subscribing member:

Subscribing members can access the entire Bookshare.org collection by searching the collection, logging in and downloading books. Membership enables access to the Bookshare.org collection for an entire year, with no per book charges or other costs - it's like having a library at your fingertips!

Schools or other organizations can take advantage of account management services if they sign up multiple members. The system is designed around the individual members, who take responsibility for the ebooks they receive.

Using Bookshare.org Digital Books with Assistive Technology (demos) Copyrighted books can be download by Bookshare.org members in either the NISO/DAISY format or grade 2 digital Braille (BRF). Books are downloaded encrypted, and are opened with the member's password using the Unpack Tool provided on the website. Members can read copyrighted books in different ways for their own use, but must under no circumstances distribute them to other people. Security protections such as encryption, watermarking and fingerprinting will encourage that the books remain within this community.

Demos of opening and reading books will be presented of the following products:

1. Read on a computer.

Victor Reader Soft DAISY reader

A copy of the Victor Reader Soft Bookshare.org Edition, a software application from VisuAide for reading the NISO/DAISY format digital books, is included in Bookshare.org membership. Using Victor Reader Soft, you can open the DAISY format books in a viewer that is similar to a web browser, but with navigation and bookmarking capability. You can go right to the page that you want, or bookmark a passage to return to later. The text is displayed on the screen, so it can be read with the adaptive features of the Victor Reader Soft. A low vision person can use screen-enlarging software to read the material.

Using either the built in Text to Speech of the product, or in combination with screen reader software such as JAWS or Window-Eyes, the book can be listened to in a synthetic voice. The text is also still displayed on the screen for people who need to both see the text and listen to it. The color and font size of the text can be changed, as well as the background color.

The NISO/DAISY format (www.daisy.org) is the digital talking book standard, a standard used around the world to deliver books to people with print-related disabilities. NISO/DAISY books from Bookshare.org include only a text-based file, not an audio file, but with a text to speech program on a computer, the audio component can be included. The true benefits of this format are improved navigation throughout the books. For students, a more advanced version of a DAISY reader that allows text or voice notes to be added to the book can be purchased from one of the DAISY reader providers.

Scanning and Reading Software

Using one of the scanning and/or reading software packages (such as OpenBook, WYNN, Kurzweil 1000 or Kurzweil 3000), the DAISY or the BRF files can be opened directly. WYNN and Kurzweil 3000 are especially helpful for people with learning disabilities.

We will demo the Kurzweil interface that enables Kurzweil users to search for, open, and start reading Bookshare.org books without leaving their product. We will also demo OpenBook, showing how users can work with Connect Outloud to access their web browser and the Bookshare.org Unpack Tool, then open the books directly into OpenBook.

2. Read on a portable headphone or portable Braille device. For a portable Braille device such as a Braille Lite or BrailleNote, you can save the Braille format (BRF) files to read books in refreshable Braille. We will demo the BrailleNote.

A headphone device such as the BookCourier, can be loaded with books. Depending on the device, the book may need to be saved in a different format. For example, for the Book Courier, you need to save the book in Text format. We will demo the BookCourier.

Some programs (including Kurzweil and OpenBook) now also enable files to saved as MP3s so they can be listened to with any portable MP3 device.

Note: To meet the accessibility needs of a Bookshare.org member, the member is allowed to save files in a different format. The resulting files are for that member's use only and may not be shared with others.

3. Read as embossed Braille.

With a Braille embosser, hard copy Braille books can be created from the Braille format (BRF) file. Or, books that are of excellent or good quality can be ordered embossed.

Three options for ordering embossed Braille exist:

"Scan Quality": a book that is embossed directly from the Bookshare.org file - $0.08 a page.

"Formatted Scan Quality": a book that originated from a Bookshare.org file, which has been formatted by a certified transcriber - $0.36 a page.

"Fully Proofread" is available only for excellent quality books - price quoted per book.


Although Bookshare.org is a fairly new service, it already provides a tremendous resource for accessible books: the number of books that are available is quite large, and the variety of ways those books can be accessed is very broad. We aim to continue increasing the number of books and the access methods as we continue to grow the community of users.

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