Whenever somebody asks me about my favorite free resources for people with visual impairments, I always love to talk about Bookshare and how much I benefit from using the service as a college student with low vision. My Bookshare membership will be turning eight years old soon, so in honor of the occasion I’ve decided to share ten cool things you didn’t know about Bookshare, and how it is a game changer for students with visual impairments and print disabilities.
What is Bookshare?
Bookshare is 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. At this time, there are over 700,000 titles available, including New York Times Bestsellers, new releases from popular authors, and many more different types of content which I will be sharing about below. The cost of Bookshare ranges from free to $50 a year, depending on the type of subscriber, and users will need to submit a proof of disability form before being able to access the service.
Students of any age can access Bookshare for free
Whether you’re in kindergarten or getting your PhD, students of all ages in the United States can use Bookshare free of charge. I have been using it since I was in ninth grade, and continue to use Bookshare in college for downloading materials related to my coursework, as well as more “fun” books that don’t relate to my classes. Students under 18 will need to have a parent register on their behalf, though the registration process is quick and easy to do.
- Dear Elementary School Teacher
- Dear High School Teacher
- How Web Accessibility Impacts My Life With Low Vision
It’s available worldwide
Did you know Bookshare is available all over the world as of 2019? It’s true, users from over 90 different countries can sign up for Bookshare, though the exact cost for a membership depends on the country. While students are unable to register for a free account, some countries offer free or discounted access to Bookshare, depending on their country’s income level. High-income countries can access Bookshare for $50 USD, while middle-income and low-income countries can access the service for less.
There are books in other languages
While most of Bookshare’s titles are available in English, they also offer books in over 30 different languages, including Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian, and many more. Not all Bookshare titles are available in every language, though more titles are being added frequently.
Users can browse curated lists of books
My local library provides users with curated lists of books, and Bookshare is no different. Users can browse New York Times Bestsellers, high interest books for young readers, new young adult reads, and many more different categories to find interesting books to read. There are also seasonal lists, such as summer reading lists and books about different holidays.
Several textbooks are available
While I haven’t been able to find many textbooks related to the classes in my college major, there are still several different textbooks available on Bookshare that anyone can download and read. This is especially helpful for other college students, as accessible textbooks can be hard to find or more expensive at times. I’ve managed to find lots of interesting textbooks about different topics I am interested in, including interior design and social science.
It can be used by people with a variety of print disabilities
While many people think of visual impairment when they think of print disabilities, defined as a disability that prevents someone from being able to read standard print, users with several different types of print disabilities can benefit from Bookshare. Some examples of disabilities include severe dyslexia, physical disabilities that make holding physical books impossible, autism, intellectual disabilities, and more. Regardless of the type of disability, users will have to fill out the proof of disability form after registering for Bookshare.
- What I’ve Learned About Print Disabilities
- Five Myths About Print Disabilities
- My Eight Favorite Free Fonts For Print Disabilities
Users can download books in multiple formats
As someone with fluctuating eyesight, I use a variety of different file formats to be able to access print materials, including large print and audio formats. Luckily, Bookshare books can be downloaded in many different file formats, and the same book can be downloaded in multiple different formats. I have an entire post about different file formats that Bookshare supports that I will link below.
- Common File Types For Vision Impairment and Print Disabilities
- Assistive Technology For Fluctuating Eyesight
- How I Document Accessibility Preferences With Low Vision
There are children’s books
Recently, I was talking to an elementary school teacher who was asking about how they could find accessible copies of their favorite books for kids, and I was excited to show them that Bookshare has many different children’s books, as well as young adult books that their students would be able to read. The teacher was especially excited that they could find all of the books they wanted from their school library on Bookshare, and that they weren’t limited to the small selection of large print or Braille books.
Users can really go in-depth on topics
When I visited Bookshare, I asked several of the staff members what they thought was the most interesting feature on Bookshare. One of the staff members responded by telling me about how Bookshare has tons of different topics that have dozens of titles, so that users can really study in-depth about a certain topic or genre. I recently used this feature to learn more about data visualization and found tons of interesting and relevant books that I used for my coursework, which I hope to share in the future.
To search by topic on Bookshare, go into the advanced search option and type in a keyword of your choice, or scroll to the bottom of the page and check a box next to a topic to filter by category.
Bookshare can make any book accessible upon request
When I found out that one of my favorite cookbook authors had released a new book, I immediately wanted to read it and try out different recipes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available as a digital copy in my country, so I used the request feature on Bookshare to see if they could create an accessible copy of the new book. About a month later, the book was available, and I was able to read all of the new recipes in large print.
I love learning new things about my favorite websites, and Bookshare is by far one of my favorite assistive technology resources. I cannot recommend the service enough for people that have print disabilities, as it allows users to be able to read almost any book they can think of, and in any format they can think of as well.