Benetech Releases Image Description Tool to Improve Accessibility of Graphical Content for Students with Print Disabilities

Poet Open Source Web Application Allows Crowdsourcing of Image Descriptions in Accessible Books


For all Bookshare-related questions, please contact:

Valerie Chernek


May 10, 2012, Palo Alto, CA – The Benetech DIAGRAM Center has released an open source web application for creating and editing crowdsourced image descriptions in books used by students with print disabilities. DIAGRAM, which stands for Digital Image and Graphics Resources for Accessible Materials, is working to dramatically change the way image and graphic content for accessible educational materials is produced and accessed. Before this initiative, critical illustrations in math and science books could only be studied by those reading traditional texts. The Poet application developed by DIAGRAM can help level the playing field by making otherwise inaccessible graphic content available for students and other readers with disabilities. Poet supports image descriptions for electronic books created in the international DAISY standard for digital talking books and will also be compatible with descriptions for ebooks in the EPUB3 format.

Poet allows users to upload a digital book, quickly review and navigate to images in the text, and add image descriptions that assist readers with print disabilities such as vision impairments. Poet presents the images within the text, which allows the describer to fully understand the context. The DIAGRAM Center has also created an image data content model which will provide standards to define and enhance the efficacy and interoperability of accessible images as the project evolves. The DIAGRAM Center was launched in May 2010 by Benetech with support from the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The Center is managed by Benetech in partnership with the WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) and US Fund for DAISY (USFDAISY).

Pamela Hoffard, who has volunteered to create image descriptions with Poet for Bookshare, says the software is easy to navigate. "I feel wonderful excitement when I think of children reading books that include image descriptions created by Poet," says Hoffard. "Sighted readers receive all the text and images in a printed book so the subject comes across completely. Poet will give readers with vision impairments access to fully described images which is especially important for textbooks that contain lots of charts, graphs, and maps. It has been my pleasure to help Benetech develop this new technology and I enjoy the opportunity to help more kids read."

To add image descriptions to a DAISY book, a teacher or other user of digital texts could visit a website that is hosting Poet, such as and upload a book from their school server or select a book that has already been uploaded. The teacher could then add alternate image descriptions and download the book again when they are done. Any ebook in the DAISY 3 format can be submitted for image descriptions and read by DAISY compatible software that supports image description playback. Information about devices that support image descriptions can be found at the DIAGRAM website.

Benetech's digital Bookshare library is currently using Poet to add image descriptions for its accessible ebooks used by people with print disabilities. The descriptions are inserted into the book’s digital files and are read aloud by applications such as Go Read or Read2Go. Bookshare is seeking volunteers who can apply their expertise in specific subject matters to describe images. Once volunteer describers sign up as Bookshare volunteers, they can log into the Poet tool, select books, view the images, and enter descriptions for a variety of texts. Books with image descriptions will go back into the Bookshare library for students to use in their coursework. The texts include Bookshare’s well-established digital rights management (DRM) protections which use electronic fingerprints in addition to legal agreements. This approach safeguards against illegal sharing of books, yet allows assistive devices to access them.

Bookshare volunteers have already described thousands of images primarily in science, technology and math textbooks at the junior high and high school level. Groups such as high school or university clubs are welcome to participate. A pilot image description project at Brigham Young University is reaching out to students in the English, engineering, and education departments asking them to help ensure that every student has equal access to textbooks.


# # #

About Benetech


Benetech is a nonprofit technology company based in Palo Alto, California. Benetech pursues projects with a strong social rather than financial rate of return on investment, harnessing open source technology to create innovative solutions to challenging social issues.  Programs that Benetech supports include the Bookshare library, DIAGRAM, Route 66 Literacy, the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, the Martus software project, and Social Coding for Good.


About Bookshare


Bookshare is the world’s largest online accessible library of copyrighted content for people with print disabilities. Through its technology initiatives and partnerships, Bookshare seeks to raise the floor on accessibility issues so that individuals with print disabilities have the same ease of access to print materials as people without disabilities. In 2007, Bookshare received a five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), to provide free access for all U.S. students with a qualified print disability. The Bookshare library now has over 140,000 books and serves more than 190,000 members. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based non-profit which creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs.