CA Tech. Coordinator - Lore Schindler

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LA Unified Technology Coordinator Describes 'How to Use Bookshare' to Improve Digital eBook Access for Students with Print Disabilities

Lore Schindler, a Teacher and Technology Coordinator for the Visually Impaired at the Los Angeles Unified School District, CA, works for one of the largest school districts in the country. She travels from West Valley to East LA and may visit as many as five schools in a day to support students with visual impairments. In her work, Lore provides teachers and students with assistive technology resources and tools.

Her school district is on a mission to encourage more itinerant and resource teachers to provide accessible instructional materials (digital formats) to support students who are blind, have low vision, a physical disability or severe learning disability that affects reading. How will Ms. Schindler and her large school district accomplish this initiative? They will use Bookshare, the world's largest online accessible library funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Thanks to the award, Bookshare offers memberships for qualified students and tens of thousands of electronic books for free. Bookshare can help U.S. schools comply with the accessible instructional materials requirements found in IDEA 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Recently, Ms. Schindler walked into a resource room and saw a teacher's assistant scanning The Turn of the Screw for an English class. She went online to Bookshare, found the novel, downloaded it, put it on a BrailleNote electronic braille display and the student was reading the same book in braille as his sighted peers were reading in print. The process took less than 5 minutes. Scanning that book would have taken this assistant an hour. Another student with low vision needed the best-selling novel, the 'Kite Runner,' in large print. This request would have taken Ms. Schindler a few weeks putting her student far behind in reading assignments. A large print book or audio file would also add cost to her school. She checked Bookshare and found the book for free. Lupita, her student said, "Bookshare is a good website. I don't have to wait long after a book is released and most of the time Bookshare has the book I want. Ms. Schindler taught me how to use Bookshare on my own. This works out really good for me!"

How to Log On, Download and Access Bookshare and Use Devices

Ms. Schindler said, "It's easy to access and download ebooks from Bookshare. First, we log on, type in an author or title to locate a book. There's an area to input advanced search criteria such as ISBN or limit the search to certain categories. If the book is available, it is listed by title with the file formats available for download. The DAISY format can be read by many software applications, including the free applications available from Bookshare, and assistive technology devices. Other formats, such as BRF (Braille Ready Format), work with Braille devices." If a student needs it, Ms. Schindler can use a format that will work with a web browser or word processor.

Los Angeles Unified has a materials resource specialist (Trena James Cook) who searches for and downloads all books for nearly 500 students with visual impairments. She finds the book and the format she wants and then selects the student who will read the book from a list of qualified student members. The file name of the book will have the student's name attached to it, letting the student know that this book is for his/her use only, while protecting against illegal sharing. At this point, the specialist just clicks on the link and downloads the book to her computer.

Students with disabilities benefit from the multimodal (audio and visual) reading that is available through digitized text (etext) gaining from the added reinforcement of listening to a book while seeing the text highlighted. Students who are blind can listen to digitized voices or read the text on a refreshable Braille display.

Ms. Schindler said, "Teachers use the online library for its convenience, cost and timesaving features. I encourage them to register for their own password and to teach students how to download books so that, together, we can empower students to know what digital books and technologies are available to support their disability."

"The process of adding new members who qualify for Bookshare is just as simple as downloading," said Ms. Schindler. "You just type their names, grade levels and birthdates. When you send the verification of eligibility to Bookshare, you can immediately download books. Bookshare is so student-friendly that I encourage high school students to sign up for individual memberships. This option gives students the independence to download unlimited books in and out of school."

For students who do not have easy access to a computer or to the specialized ebook readers, Ms. Schindler says there is another option - converting the book to an MP3 file with Ghost Reader, a Mac software program that converts text or TextAloud, similar software for the Windows platform. After one student read her first book using her iPod, Ms. Schindler moved the student to a portable Classmate Reader that provides both large print text and speech in a handheld device. She said, "This student was so happy to read accessible books for her high school class, she wrote me this email below to thank me. Her note truly exemplifies what a difference ebooks can make for a visually impaired student. You've got to try Bookshare!"

Dear Ms. Schindler:
"I have always enjoyed reading, even as a young girl. I learned to read at a young age, but my eye condition made it difficult and my eyes would tire quickly and it became a frustration to me. Bookshare and The Classmate Reader has given me the opportunity to return to my love of loosing myself in stories that are only real in my mind, yet that has always been fun for me. I just want to take the time to truly thank you for your help."