One of my favorite nonprofit organizations for people with print disabilities is Bookshare, an online accessible library that provides copies of accessible books for people with print disabilities, which is defined as the inability to read standard print. Bookshare has over a million titles available in their library in a variety of accessible formats, ranging from academic texts to new book releases. Bookshare reached out to me recently to see if I would be able to write a letter of support to the US Department of Education so that they would be able to receive critical funding for services, and I’m sharing a copy of my letter below in case others want to write a letter as well. Feel free to use this as a template and share it with your local Congress representatives or Senators.
This post has been updated to show the most recent letter I sent to Bookshare and to elected officials.
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My letter of support for Bookshare
Dear (insert name here),
My name is Veronica Lewis, and I am a student at George Mason University studying data science and assistive technology. I also run the low vision and assistive technology blog Veronica With Four Eyes (www.veroniiiica.com). I am writing this letter in enthusiastic support of Benetech’s grant application to the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that accessible instructional materials are available to children with disabilities in a timely manner and that the use of these materials is supported across various age groups, formats and learning environments.
I have been an active Bookshare user since 2011, after being introduced to the service while attending a college transition conference in my home state of Virginia. As a student with low vision, I had previously been limited to the large print book section at my library, which lacked age-appropriate titles and didn’t have any of the books that my friends were reading at school. With Bookshare, I was able to download books to my eReader and tablet and finally read all of the books that people had been recommending me for years, as well as explore new titles on my own- something that was especially valuable when I had to spend time in bed recovering from an illness, as I was able to download and read new books every day to pass the time. As my vision and reading preferences have fluctuated over the years, Bookshare has evolved with me, allowing me to download books in a variety of accessible formats and try out new applications and platforms for reading. Since getting access to Bookshare, I have never felt that my disability prevented me from reading any book that interested me, whether it’s a vegan cookbook, a data science textbook, a newly released novel, or a book club title, and consistently recommend Bookshare to my blog readers all around the world.
As a Bookshare power user, I am deeply invested in Benetech’s commitment to creating and supporting accessible content for students with disabilities. Benetech’s leadership in in building a broad community of technologists, educators, researchers, policy makers, students, parents, publishers, and other stakeholders has been vital to advancing the field of accessibility, and especially valuable for improving literacy for people with vision loss by providing access to books in multiple formats. Benetech has proven itself to be an innovator in the field of accessible educational materials through work in the successful BUILD (Benetech Unlocks Individualized Learning Delivery) Center, which has served over 800,000 students and includes over one million accessible and high-quality eBooks. I am confident in your ability to scale up large national projects and to deliver upon them in a far-reaching, long-lasting manner.
I am excited about Benetech’s plan to address the challenges inherent in ensuring the accessibility of educational materials while continuing to develop innovations to meet the needs of students with disabilities over the next five years. Through your proposal, you will further enhance Bookshare into a platform that supports today’s students and teachers by offering tools that enable them to make a variety of educational resources accessible for students with print disabilities. In addition, I strongly support your increased focus on education equity, as well as the emphasis on increasing awareness of accessible materials through training an outreach, with a focus on diverse and underserved communities- something that is especially critical as students recover from missed learning opportunities that were brought on by the pandemic. One of my favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela is that “education is the most powerful tool which you can use to change the world,” and I believe that the services provided by Bookshare have the power to do exactly that.
I strongly support Benetech’s proposal and look forward to working with you to make this program a success.