MD Student - Zach Bryant

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High School Senior with Cerebral Palsy Uses Bookshare’s Digital Library to Keep Up with Studies and Enjoy Independent Reading

Seventeen-year old Zach Bryant attends North Carroll High School, Maryland. He pulled straight A’s in his studies this past year. He’s read all of his required assignments at school as well as numerous non-fiction and political science books for pleasure. Zach, a bright young man was not always an avid reader. Throughout his earlier years, he struggled with reading. His mom, Mrs. Danya Bryant, defined those years as frustrating.

Zach has Cerebral Palsy (CP). He cannot walk or speak. He uses an augmentative communication device to share his thoughts and to write his papers. Zach finds simple reading tasks daunting such as turning the page or finding a book chapter. “CP has affected his fine motor skills,” said Mrs. Bryant, “but not his ability to think. He’s our brainiac!”

As a youngster, Zach showed no signs of learning problems. He just couldn’t keep up with his studies because of involuntary eye and head movements. He couldn’t hold his finger to a page to read the lines of a book. When he looked up, he lost his place. Eventually he shut down. According to Zach’s mom, this experience happens to many children with disabilities. She knew there had to be an answer and found it through the support of her local school’s Assistive Technology Department. They introduced her to Bookshare (, the world’s largest online library of accessible books and periodicals for people who are blind, have low vision, a physical or a reading disability that prevents them from reading a standard printed book. Bookshare is free for students with qualified print disabilities through a $32 million award by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Today, Bookshare offers over 50,000 books, textbooks and teacher-recommended reading in accessible formats for students with qualified print disabilities.

Mrs. Bryant describes life at the Bryant residence before discovering Bookshare. “We tried large print, but someone always had to turn the pages. This was time consuming for Zach’s aide and for me. Zach likes to be independent and he found this process wearisome.”

"Bookshare has made it possible for me to read any kind of digital book,” said Zach. “I wouldn't read as much without the library. Now, I don't have to wait for the school or my mom to scan a book and I don't have to have someone else turn the pages for me."

The first optical scanning machine (text reader) the Bryant family used was the Arkenstone Reader; a reading software and hardware machine that converted printed text into digital format. Mrs. Bryant said, “We saw Zach’s reading level jump three grades. What a difference assistive technologies can make. It’s neat that this tool was developed by Jim Fruchterman, the man that now leads Bookshare and the Benetech organization.”

The Bryant’s Maryland Public School system uses the Kurzweil 3000 as their text reading accommodation for students with disabilities. Mrs. Bryant says that she is grateful her state is on the leading edge when it comes to having the latest assistive technology support.

“Zach likes using the computer and easily caught on to Kurzweil to support his physical challenges,” shared Mrs. Bryant. “However, we still had to scan the books. It took weeks. Bookshare has cut down on my scanning time. Sometimes, teachers just don’t know what books they will use for the next semester. When this happens, it becomes a frantic search for books in a short period of time. Bookshare has changed this!”

Zach does his own searches now on Bookshare and can get books he wants through his individual membership or from the school’s organizational membership. When he finds a book, he downloads the digital file in html, uploads the file to Kurzweil 3000 and opens the book, which looks just like the printed book. Using this software, he quickly locates exact pages and book chapters. He has recently read Marley & Me, All Creatures Great and Small, Harry Potter, and a political science book on the life of Ann Coulter. Today, he reads on grade level and does well in all subjects. He anticipates attending Wright State University. His mom says Zach will use Bookshare for his college studies. She is excited that Bookshare is now collaborating with U.S. colleges, universities and publishers to contribute their legally scanned textbooks to increase the collections.

Maryland curriculum supervisors and teachers get textbooks for students like Zach from the NIMAC, (National Instructional Materials Access Center). The NIMAC is a central repository established by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to hold digital files from U.S. textbook publishers as defined by IDEA. (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) Many U.S. states, including Maryland, have now designated Bookshare as an Authorized User of the NIMAC. Books and textbooks are kept in the NIMAC in a standard file format called NIMAS (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard). NIMAS files must be converted into student-ready formats such as the latest DAISY 3.0 format (Digital Accessible Information System) or BRF (Braille Ready File) to read with software applications, such as a digital ebook or text readers, or Braille devices. Educators can search the NIMAC for textbooks and then ask one of their state Authorized Users, such as Bookshare, to assist them in quickly getting the requested books converted into the appropriate formats. If the book is in the NIMAC, Bookshare can convert it and get it ready for the student in under a week.

Mrs. Bryant advocates for Bookshare to parents. She frequently visits the Great Schools website, an online organization (formerly Schwab Learning Foundation) to keep abreast of the latest disability issues and AT resources. She talks about Bookshare with parents in her community and at a camp, called Camp Chatter Box in Massachusetts, for children who use augmentative communication devices. “I’m amazed at how many parents don’t know what technologies and resources are available to them,” she said. “I feel it’s my duty to educate them to become Bookshare members and to help all kids with disabilities live meaningful lives in school and in life, just like Zach has done.”

Bookshare offers a variety of membership options for schools, organizations, qualified students and individuals. To register visit the signup page.

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