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Your Gateway to an Extensive Online Library of Digital Books

All too often, people experiencing vision loss lament that they just are not reading anymore, that they've given up one of their favorite pastimes. However, it is likely that these individuals have not had the opportunity to find ways to still enjoy the pleasure of a good book.

Bookshare, a nonprofit organization in Palo Alto, CA, operated by Benetech, offers an online library of digital books specifically for individuals with visual impairments and other qualifying disabilities. What is an "online library of digital books?" It is a library on the Internet, with over 95,000 books that you, or a friend, family member, or caregiver assisting you, can download and read on a computer or a device. The collection has all of the latest best sellers, nonfiction books, reference books, and newspapers and magazines.

Bookshare gives you the opportunity to read the books your friends are reading at the same time. Bookshare "members" or readers tell us they find books in Bookshare that they cannot find anywhere else. Also, members can request books and the Bookshare staff and volunteers will obtain the books and add them to the library. A member has said, "My life is changed daily by Bookshare. I can't tell you all enough, nor can you understand the depth of gratitude I have for the books I receive from Bookshare."

How Do I Read These Digital Books?

You can use software that comes free with your Bookshare membership, or you can use handheld devices or an MP3 player. Coming this winter, you'll also be able to read with a new app on an iPod touch, iPhone, or iPad. The upcoming app will allow you to search for, download and read Bookshare books from your iPod touch, iPhone, or iPad. You won't need a computer to connect at all. Watch the Bookshare website for an announcement. You can pick the device that's best for you depending on your familiarity with technology.

If you have access to a computer with a screenreader or a friend or family member who can help you search for books and download them, you might want to try a free software application such as Read: OutLoud or Victor Reader Soft. Both of these applications will read Bookshare books aloud using one of the free, high-quality voices included with your membership. In addition to a choice of voice, the software gives you control over font size, color, and background if you have some vision, and keyboard commands to open and manipulate books. You can set bookmarks and navigate to different chapters and pages.

Another alternative is to read with one of the many handheld devices, such as a Victor Reader Stream or Plextalk Pocket, both of which cost around $350. Measuring about 2 by 3 inches, these devices have their own text-to-speech and read Bookshare books aloud. You, a friend, or a family member would need to transfer the books to the device using a USB drive. If you are a Braille reader, you can transfer books to a refreshable Braille display.

To read with an MP3 player, first you download the book from Bookshare and convert it to an MP3 format with software such as TextAloud or Balabolka. Then you transfer the book to the player and just listen.

How Do I Gain Access to the Bookshare Library?

Your first step is to sign up. You can search before you sign up if you want to see what is in the collection. Signing up has four simple steps:

  1. Provide contact information online.
  2. Agree to the terms of the agreement, acknowledging that you understand that these books are for your use only, as someone with a visual impairment, and are not to be shared with anyone else.
  3. Provide proof of disability, either with a National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) or Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) number if you have one, or by having your eye doctor or other qualified professional sign the proof of disability form.
  4. Pay the $50/year membership fee plus a $25 first-year set-up fee.

This page guides you through the steps, or if you'd like to try Bookshare, please go ahead and sign up.

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