NY BOCES - Maria Aranguren

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New York BOCES Teacher Credits Bookshare Digital Library as Invaluable Resource for Students Who Need Accessible Textbooks

Bookshare, the world’s largest online accessible library for individuals with print disabilities, is an invaluable resource for Mrs. Maria Aranguren, an Itinerant Teacher for nine schools within the component districts of Western Suffolk BOCES (Board of Cooperative Education Services) in Suffolk County, a suburb of Long Island, NY. She said, “Bookshare has changed my life as a teacher and given me back precious teaching time. For students who are visually impaired, Bookshare has given them a sense of reading freedom.”

The Bookshare digital library (www.bookshare.org) provides access to over 50,000 digital books for students who are blind, have low vision, a physical disability or a reading disability and the organizations who serve them. Through Bookshare, students and their teachers can legally download books and periodicals to be viewed or read aloud in alternative formats such as Braille, large print and digital text. In 2007, Bookshare received a $32 million award from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to provide free access for all U.S. students with qualified print disabilities.

For 11th grade honors student, Dana Zarett, who has a visual impairment, Bookshare has made a big difference. Dana wants to be an architect and takes advanced placement courses. She needs K-12 and higher education textbooks on time. Recently, she downloaded The American Pageant, a college level textbook for a required U.S. History class. “The first time we downloaded a book from Bookshare, I was thrilled!” Dana said. “Sometimes I feel that my needs are not a priority. Getting my textbooks on time and in a digital format has helped me keep up with my school work. Access to Bookshare has also reduced the time we spend enlarging textbook pages which is not fun for me or my teachers. The type size does not increase proportionally, so pages were difficult to read. This was frustrating and made me not want to do my homework.”

“Imagine a visually impaired student trying to listen to an audio tape on math,” shared Mrs. Aranguren. “Audio is not the optimal format for studying math equations. Dana needed a textbook called the Practice of Statistics – TI 83-84 Graphing Calculator Enhanced and Bookshare had this textbook. Dana actually told me that she was looking forward to doing her statistics problems. How many students say that to their teachers?”

Digital textbooks are not always readily available. For middle and high school students, getting textbooks at the start of the school year is critical to keep them on track. Mrs. Aranguren would watch her students fall behind and feel their frustration while they waited for books. She believes that Bookshare has sped up the time it takes for students to get access to textbooks. Her students appreciate the quick access to books.

Bookshare converts digital textbook files into formats students use with software applications that combine text on a computer screen with speech generated by the computer, or with devices that display Braille. Bookshare files can also be used to produce large print and embossed Braille. The quick access to student-ready formats reduces the time teachers who serve students with visual impairments have to spend adapting or reformatting general education curriculum into accessible file formats. “This process can take forever,” said Mrs. Aranguren. “It is not uncommon for students to wait weeks or months to receive accessible files in our public school system.”

For some general education teachers, it is difficult to understand what formats and tools students with disabilities require in terms of accessing and using text. Mrs. Aranguren says there are many factors determining the type of text a student needs and how to produce it. Some teachers believe that photocopying materials and pressing ENLARGE will help students read better, but this didn’t work for Dana. “Bookshare offers a flexible learning environment without the stress,” she said. “As I find books in Bookshare, I silently thank the educator who first requested it and shared it for other students to access and enjoy!”

Mrs. Aranguren learned about Bookshare from a NY state education newsletter. She went online to search for a required novel for a fifth grader, called Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli, about a boy from the east side of a small town whose life experiences touch the hearts of many learners. She found the book on Bookshare and has since located many of her students required books in the library. Over the years, she estimates she has spent hundreds of hours searching, photocopying and scanning books. She said, “Bookshare has changed these laborious tasks into an easy-to-use system which freed me up to do more of what I call real teaching. Real teaching is talking with my students about what they read, encouraging them to study independently, discussing plans for their future and teaching them technology skills so that they will be successful in their chosen career.”

Today, she encourages all of her high school students with print disabilities to become individual Bookshare members. She wants them to download popular books and novels to read at home, as well as required reading materials. Her goal is to help every student with a disability become an independent learner and have successful learning experiences in life. She said, “Each student now has a Bookshare account and they love it! For Dana, I see an especially bright future ahead!”

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