MD Media Specialist - Kathryn Lee

skip this story

Library Media Specialist Gets Teachers Hooked on Accessible Books for Students with Disabilities

Kathryn Lee reading to student

What would life be like if you couldn't get the required books you needed on time to study with your peers and to meet your learning objectives in school?

Kathryn Lee, Library Media Specialist for Galway Elementary School, Montgomery County, MD asks this question daily. She works for one of the largest pre-K-5 public elementary schools in the country. Her job is to find the right instructional materials for students with reading disabilities.

Ms. Lee is excited about Bookshare, an online accessible library with over 75,000 ebooks. Bookshare helps students with print disabilities get the digital ebooks they want and need on a timely basis. Memberships are free to U.S. students with qualified print disabilities, thanks to a $32 million award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

Believing that digital accessible books and assistive technologies tools are important resources for students who are blind, have low vision, a physical disability or a severe learning disability that affects reading, Ms. Lee began to encourage teachers and parents to sign up for Bookshare. She said, "Bookshare has accessible versions of traditional and new titles that we assign for reading. It's easy to search the library for books and to quickly download them for students."

Kathryn Lee showing device

To get her teachers hooked, Ms. Lee set up a demonstration asking a 4th grader with a reading disability to read a passage from a digital book on the Kurzweil 3000 text reader. Teachers could tell that the student had a positive reading experience. Later, the student asked 'if the computer girl (synthesized voice) could keep reading with her.' This demonstration showed how effective a multi-modal reading experience (seeing the text and hearing the words at the same time) can be for students with disabilities.

Ms. Lee says, "Students who may have problems decoding, but have good comprehension skills, can access materials on their own comprehension level, not just on their ability to decode words. Motivation and pride are important aspects of becoming a lifelong learner; using Bookshare and its free etext reading technologies encourages this to happen."

Today, fourth graders at Galway Elementary are working on a Harriet Tubman biography. Ms. Lee found a digital book about Tubman in Bookshare. "Bookshare's large collection has many biographies for various reading levels," said Ms. Lee. "Matching a student up with a book in the right format opens up a new reading experience."

"Administrators, librarians and special education teachers need to know about Bookshare and its possibilities for students with disabilities," summarized Ms. Lee. "It is a big leap in online educational technology and a proven resource that educators can use to help level the playing field. We also want parents to learn more about Bookshare so they can help their children become independent learners. With our help, these students will become their own advocates to get the ebooks they need on time to be successful."

Ms. Lee's Top Tips to Use Bookshare at Your School

  • Collaborate - Meet with special education administrators, teachers or learning disability specialists to determine which students would qualify according to the guidelines set forth on the Bookshare website.
  • Match Curriculum to Resources - Ideally, before school begins, identify what curriculum and textbooks students with print disabilities will need in accessible formats. This information will help you locate or request accessible materials and ebooks from Bookshare for daily classroom use and support.
  • Identify School Sponsors - Sponsors download Bookshare ebooks for students with qualified print disabilities. Ms. Lee recommends teaching these sponsors how to search and download ebooks.
  • Create Community Learning Partnerships - Reach out to qualified students and their families to teach them how to independently search and download Bookshare ebooks at home. Teachers can print simple forms that expedite the process of getting individual memberships and give the forms to their students.