Benetech Wins Five-Year Award

Benetech Wins Five-Year Award to Dramatically Improve Accessibility of Educational Materials

New cutting-edge technologies will help give students with print disabilities the same opportunities as their peers

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Valerie Chernek


July 23, 2012, Palo Alto, CA—As major changes in technology dramatically disrupt education, Benetech, the Silicon Valley nonprofit that uses technology for social change, has won a five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, to continue its groundbreaking work ensuring that educational materials are accessible to students with print disabilities through its Bookshare initiative.

The award, named “Bookshare and Innovation for Education” (BI4E), allows Benetech to meet the challenges of the changing educational landscape by also creating free open source tools for content providers and working with those providers to make educational materials accessible from the start.

Benetech’s innovative tools will tackle such major challenges as accessible math and graphics, and this project will increase dissemination of tools developed under the DIAGRAM R&D Center. Other new tools will promote better ways to find and read accessible materials.

At the same time, Benetech intends to double its Bookshare student membership from 200,000 to 400,000, grow usage by 150%, increase to more than 200,000 educational titles in its library and scale its teacher training program and parent outreach. It will collaborate on these innovations with the American Institutes of Research (AIR) and a host of other leading organizations.

EBooks, online courseware, teacher-created materials, open educational resources, increased use of graphics and new Common Core Standards are causing a fundamental shift in curriculum and assessments and how they are delivered to students. Benetech sees this time as an opportunity to make a crucial change in the way accessible content is created: by ensuring that accessibility can be built into the content creation process from the outset. Current processes of retrofitting accessibility are still relatively time-consuming, expensive and result in delays in putting books into students’ hands. More importantly, as the pace of creation and ubiquity of content creators increase, these current approaches will no longer work.

“While more content today is ‘born digital,’ it also needs to be ‘born accessible.’ As a nonprofit that uses the technology tools pioneered in Silicon Valley, we are committed to continue revolutionizing the field of accessibility at a fraction of the cost of current approaches, delivering the next generation of innovation,” said Betsy Beaumon, Vice President and General Manager of the Literacy Program at Benetech.

Benetech has far exceeded the goals of the current “Bookshare for Education” award made in 2007, more than doubling membership expectations and out-delivering educational materials and usage. It will receive $6.5 million per year to continue its work through 2017.

Kathleen Mary Huebner, Ph.D., Professor and Director of the OSEP-funded National Leadership Consortium in Sensory Disabilities, said, “Benetech is hugely innovative; they are not limited to what was or what is. They take the position that anything is possible; it is just a matter of finding a way—and a way that is economical, practical and useful.”


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 150,000 books and serves more than 200,000 members. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit which creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs.

The content of this press release was developed under cooperative agreements H327D120002 and H327K070001 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. The contents, however, do not necessarily represent the policies of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.