Monday, July 23, 2012

Technological Innovation for Individuals with Reading and Print Disabilities

I spent time this past week in Bellevue, Washington, just outside of Seattle, at the AER International Conference, sponsored by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Jim Fruchterman
Before I gave my own presentation on Understanding the Individual Learning Needs of Visually Impaired Students, which looked at the professional development The Yellin Center is doing with the New York Institute of Special Education, I had the opportunity to attend a terrific talk by Jim Fruchterman, founder and Chairman of the Board of Benetech. Fruchterman is a former rocket scientist and a 2006 MacArthur Fellowship winner (among other accolades). Benetech grew out of his interest in reading machines for the blind and has grown into an organization that uses technology to address unmet social needs -- from making reading materials accessible to all readers to improving landmine detection.

Fruchterman spoke about Benetech's signature program, Bookshare, which "provides people with print disabilities in the United States legal access to more than 50,000 books and 150 periodicals that can be converted to Braille, large print or synthetic speech." Bookshare's resources are provided free to most students and at a nominal cost to the public. (Read an earlier article from our blog about Bookshare).

Fruchterman discussed his work, and that of Bookshare, in making print media broadly available, not only in Braille, but to individuals with reading and print disabilities and ADHD. He discussed iPad, iPhone, and Android applications directly connecting to Bookshare and spoke about the importance of making all materials available in MP3 format. It was particularly interesting to hear of a major initiative now underway to make visual material, such as maps and graphs, more accessible to those with visual disabilities.

Take a look at the Benetech website to get a full sense of the important work they are doing in so many areas.

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