Benetech announced a major expansion of the ongoing international effort to provide Bookshare, an ebook library for people with reading barriers in India.
Benetech continues to build on its commitment to extend the benefits of Bookshare around the world to empower individuals with reading barriers to achieve independence, acquire education and employment, and live fuller lives.
Benetech is a nonprofit that empowers communities with software for social good, transforming how people with disabilities read and learn making it safer for human rights defenders to pursue truth and justice, connecting people to the services they need to live and prosper.
“Living in the technology-driven twenty-first century should mean equal access and equal opportunity to literacy and education for people with learning differences or disabilities,” says Brad Turner, VP Global Education. “Benetech has been working to provide accessible books in India since 2008, and we have built a powerful coalition of partners and a solid ecosystem serving over 13,000 Bookshare members with a collection of more than 390,000 English, Hindi, Tamil, and Gujarati accessible books. Additional funding enables us to bring even more books to more individuals with disabilities in India.”
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 253 million people worldwide are visually impaired, of whom 36 million are blind and 90% live in developing countries.
Globally, less than half of children from this population receive an education. Children with visual and learning disabilities who are unable to read standard print face many obstacles. Many classrooms lack accessible reading materials that allow students to progress and learn at their own pace. In developing countries such as India, those obstacles are multiplied.
Benetech’s work with Bookshare in India addresses these challenges head on. Building on previous work funded by World Vision, USAID, the Australian government, and Google.org, this expansion, funded by the Lavelle Fund for the Blind, leverages the power of technology to make reading and information more inclusive in India with a special emphasis on the school-age population. The project will put local curriculum from across India into Bookshare, add more local language books, establish more libraries, train more teachers, and create websites in a variety of languages including Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, and Gujarati. Memberships will be available for free to qualifying persons with disabilities in India – regardless of ability to pay.
“Students with disabilities use Bookshare to download textbooks on mobile phones to access reading materials anytime and anywhere at no extra cost,” says Dr. Homiyar Mobedji, Disability Expert and Bookshare Program Manager in Asia and Africa. “This initiative has made the dream of inclusive education a reality, where students with reading barriers can study in a mainstream class. Thousands of students in India have benefitted from this technology revolution that provides access to far more knowledge than what was possible using traditional methods.”
India is the first country to have ratified the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled—models how to transform the lives of millions of individuals with disabilities through rapid growth of accessible content around the world. Benetech’s vision of a Bookshare India library with local language websites and a global reach is coming to fruition. The next step is to establish similar libraries in neighboring South Asian countries including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, and Nepal.
In 2013, UNESCO reported that if all students in low income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, which would be equivalent to a 12% cut in world poverty. Join us in supporting Benetech’s work to expand access to education and literacy in India.