News

U.S. Dept of Ed funds Bookshare to make open textbooks accessible

Jane Park, December 2nd, 2009

Remember the California Free Digital Textbooks Initiative and how it resulted in 16 open textbooks, 10 of which met 90% of California’s standards? Well, since these textbooks were licensed under one of the Creative Commons licenses that allows derivation (the licenses sans the ND term), they can not only be translated into various languages, but also modified and adapted into various contexts, including converting them into accessible formats, such as audio and Braille. No extra transaction costs have to be incurred by some middleman to allow these adaptations—any entity with the resources to adapt these textbooks may do so, since the rights for derivation are pre-cleared via Creative Commons.

Realizing this, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs has granted $100k to Bookshare, “the world’s largest accessible online library for people with print disabilities.” The grant is aimed at “[creating] the first accessible versions of open content digital textbooks. The initial planned conversion of open content textbooks, which are distributed freely under a license selected by the author, are math and science textbooks approved for California students.” From the press release,

“As other states begin to approve open content textbooks, Bookshare will continue to convert these materials to accessible formats for all students who read better with accessible text. The first open content textbooks approved for use in California will be available via Bookshare. The texts will be offered in the accessible DAISY format that enables multi-modal reading, combining highlighted on-screen text with high-quality computer-generated voice, and BRF, a digital Braille format for use with Braille displays or embossed Braille.”

“Traditional copyrighted books, including those contributed to Bookshare by publishers, are protected with digital rights management technology and available only to those with a documented print disability. But Bookshare’s open content books will become part of the freely distributable books in the Bookshare collection and can be used by anybody without proof of disability,” says Benetech CEO Jim Fruchterman. “These accessible books will not only help disabled students throughout the U.S. and globally, but provide parents, teachers and assistive technology developers with free access to real talking textbooks.”

One Response to “U.S. Dept of Ed funds Bookshare to make open textbooks accessible”

  1. David says:

    Great news and a great post. Recently, I have spent a lot of time studying the dynamics of sharing and the commons. More often than not, I find significant cost savings and efficiencies in sharing business models. I had always attributed the efficiency to the cooperative model of resource consumption. I’m interested to learn more about the increase in efficiency due to decreased transaction costs (or the middleman costs in the bookshare case).