I love reading, and I think everyone should be able to read for pleasure, for information, to participate in social and political life, and so on. But hundreds of thousands of students in the US have some sort of print disability (a physical problem that interferes with the process of reading printed materials). And plenty of non-students are in the same boat.
There’s a free or inexpensive online resource for folks with print disabilities: Bookshare is an online library containing more than 170,000 books and magazines in accessible formats. Membership is free for US students with print disabilities (thanks to the US Department of Education), and cheap for other people with print disabilities.
Because part of my work involves reformatting materials for students with disabilities, I’ve used Bookshare. I like it a lot. Last week at a conference, I was reminded that not everyone who could use Bookshare knows about it.
I’ve used Bookshare through my organization’s membership. It’s easy to search for books by title, author, or isbn number. The books can be downloaded in either DAISY format (which lets one read the book with a couple different accessibility tools on PCs or Macs or portable devices) or Braille Refreshable Format.
Harry Potter is there, as are other best-sellers, and textbooks, and classics, and magazines, and… really a lot of books. If you know someone with a print disability, suggest that they check out Bookshare.
If you have authored a book, how about donating a copy to Bookshare?
(By the way, this is entirely legal in the US, as long as the users are limited to people with print disabilities. There is a specific part of US copyright law, called the Chaffee Amendment, that reads in part: “”…it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies of a previously published, nondramatic literary work if such copies are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.” Read more about it.)