MI College - Ashley Seymour

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Bookshare Rocks! Says University Student about Online Accessible Library for Students with Print Disabilities

Ashley Seymour, a 23 year old college junior from the University of Michigan-Flint, recently wrote an email to Bookshare, www.Bookshare.org, the world's largest accessible digital library for persons with print disabilities; the email read, "Bookshare Rocks!"

For this intelligent young woman who majors in health care and is an avid reader, having access to digital books at the time they are published marks a new way of living and learning for people with disabilities in the 21st century. Once Ashley tried Bookshare, she was hooked! "I love that I can access books when they are first released from the publisher and think it's cool that publishers are working with Bookshare to make this happen," she said.

Students with print and learning disabilities should not have to wait for days or even months to get access to digital books and textbooks. To remedy this obstacle, Bookshare, a non-profit organization, received a $32 million, 5 year award, from the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education in 2007.

Ashley previously used accessible audio books that came through the mail. She says she doesn't want to go back to the cassette tapes, the mailing containers and the audio catalogs. "This was time consuming," she said. "Bookshare is much more efficient. I just download my books onto my computer and convert the files to MP3 for my iPod and go!"

Ashley became a member of Bookshare two years ago after learning about the online library using the search-for-book feature in the text reading software, Kurzweil 1000. She said that the newly rebuilt Bookshare website makes it easier to search and find the books she needs. "College students with print disabilities benefit by getting the required books they need fast," she said. "Bookshare is a major breakthrough in equalizing the learning field for us."

Blind since birth, Ashley's dreams of becoming a doctor led her to medical studies in a career called House/Hospital Science Education. Upon graduation, she will work with patients to provide guidance and lifestyle education on a variety of medical issues from surgery to pre-natal care. In the Bookshare library, she has found many books and background materials for writing her college essays and for classes in communications, ethics, literature, psychology and medical sciences. She uses Bookshare to find material for reports, study biographies and find titles from Socrates to Shakespeare to computer technology. She has downloaded medical diagnostic books such as 'The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders', mind, body and health-related books, classic literature and quick guides on medical terminology. She also likes to search Bookshare for the latest NY Times best-seller.

Ashley said, "Bookshare is expanding fast! I see more textbooks from publishers, like Prentice Hall. Getting accessible books changes the dynamic of how we learn and access information. It allows us to move forward from the traditional way we read books. Braille is far behind in circulation. It takes time to get books printed in Braille and listed in print catalogs. It's time we changed that!"

Recently, Ashley talked with the Disabilities Access Coordinator at the University of Michigan-Flint about Bookshare. She said she wants to get the word out about the benefits of the program. "People with print disabilities go online and chat about the latest accessibility tools and information," she said. "I tell them what a great resource Bookshare is and share the website address with communities of people with visual impairments. I tell them to look for new books and teacher-recommended reading and that it's an awesome digital library to check out!"

This Bookshare Member Story was written by Valerie C. Chernek in April 2009