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Flat World and Bookshare To Deliver Accessible Open Content Texts to College Students

Open-content publisher Flat World Knowledge has announced it will supply college textbooks to Bookshare, the free online library for people with print disabilities. Flat World will be the first publisher of post-secondary texts to contribute material to the organization.

Although many colleges and universities make special accommodations for students with print disabilities, including the blind and visually impaired and those with dyslexia, financially challenged institutions are struggling in the current economy to provide all the necessary materials in formats that accommodate such students. Flat World and Bookshare said they expect the new agreement will begin to relieve some of that burden. Schools will no longer each have to do their own conversions of commonly used texts, saving time and money, and students requiring materials in special formats will have a one-stop, online destination to meet their needs.

"If all publishers supplied their books directly to Bookshare, it would save colleges and universities millions of dollars each year and immediately equalize educational opportunities," said Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech, the nonprofit that operates Bookshare. "Without the cooperation of a publisher such as Flat World, students often wait for weeks to get textbooks in accessible formats and, in some cases, are forced to drop courses due to lack of accessible books. Flat World is the first post-secondary textbook publisher to recognize and alleviate this problem."

The initial agreement will provide for the immediate conversion of 11 open-content titles, primarily in business and economics, and the development of 50 more titles covering several other disciplines in the natural and social sciences.

"Our college campus uses Flat World Knowledge in its Accounting 120 and 121 courses," said Erika Higginbotham, adaptive computer technology specialist at San Diego Mesa College. "This partnership with Bookshare means that students in those courses with [print] disabilities will have their textbooks when the semester begins."

Deborah Armstrong, an alternate media specialist at DeAnza Community College in Cupertino, CA, also noted that textbooks present an ever increasing cost to all students. The new partnership, she said, "is a giant step forward to offer high-quality, peer-reviewed, open source digital textbooks to minimize costs and parents' angst for how to pay for core textbooks necessary to support their [children's] college education."

One innovation in the process that this agreement introduces is up-front, pre-publication delivery of content. Flat World will supply the books directly to Bookshare in XML format, eliminating the time-consuming process of scanning and converting paper copies. Bookshare can then, using its own technology infrastructure, rapidly convert the books to special formats for the print disabled, most notably DAISY, which offers access to those with print disabilities via both multi-modal reading, combining highlighted on-screen text with high-quality computer-generated voice, and Braille Ready Format (BRF), a digital Braille format for use with Braille displays or embossed Braille.

Bookshare's ongoing efforts are funded in part through a 2007 grant from the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The five-year, $32 million grant allows the organization, through technology initiatives and targeted agreements, to provide those with qualified print disabilities equal access to printed materials using formats such as DAISY and BRF.

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