Benetech’s CEO Jim Fruchterman Announces University and Publishing Partnerships to Benefit Students with Print Disabilities

Mon May 11 10:38:05 2009
By John M. Williams

In an historic event sponsored by the National Press Club Benetech’s CEO Jim Fruchterman announced partnerships between Bookshare ( and universities nationwide and between Bookshare and publishers to provide digital books for Bookshare’s accessible on-line library for people with print disabilities.

Bookshare is a web-based digital library that gives people with print disabilities the same ease of access to books and periodicals enjoyed by those without disabilities. Bookshare allows a book
to be scanned once and then shared with many qualified individuals who require digital formats that are easy to download, search and navigate.

Fruchterman mentioned how the new Bookshare University Partnership Program is uniting universities throughout the country to increase the number of accessible post-secondary textbooks to students with print disabilities that hinder reading a printed book. These disabilities include blindness, low vision, physical disabilities and severe disabilities.

Typically, hundreds of thousands of students with print disabilities in higher education wait months after the start of semester before having their textbooks in a format they can read. The formats include audio, various print sizes and letter shapes, Braille and e-books.

Joining Fruchterman were Jim Marks, president elect of AHEAD ( Association on Higher Education and Disability), Allan Adler, vice president for Legal and Government Affairs, Association of American Publishers
and Eugene Skonicki, third year ka student, Georgetown University Law Center and co-founder of the university’s Disability Law Society. Marks and Skonicki are blind.

The publishers’ agreements will reduce the burden of scanning and proofreading traditionally done by volunteers nationwide. Agreements with publishers will add a wealth of accessible books to Bookshare, including children’s books, general trade, fiction and non-fiction, best sellers, academic, scientific and technical textbooks, students in grades K-12, and higher education.

“Digital media is the future for individuals with print disabilities,” said Fruchterman.

Fewer than five percent of books are in accessible formats.

Fruchterman made the point that people of all ages and all classes benefit from Bookshare’s services.

Blind seventy-year-old Mark Stephens told me, “I am happy to hear that seniors like myself have another channel for accessible content through Bookshare.”

Marks is also the Director of Disability Services at the University of Montana at Missoula. The Disability Services assures equal access to university services while developing the self determination of the student.

Marks sees economic benefits to the universities from these partnerships. He says, “Scanning and proofreading a book can cost $100 to $1,000 depending on its complexity, a collaborative sharing program will save campuses time and money annually.”

Marks believes that these partnerships will reduce the number of times a book has to be scanned and made available to one.

Marks holds that these partnerships increase educational opportunities and increase job opportunities for people with print disabilities.

Adler pointed out that the publishing industry has made strides in recognizing the size of the print disability population and responding to the needs. He credited Fruchterman for being a force in this endeavor,

Skonicki said, “From a student’s perspective these partnerships are critical to a student with print disabilities receiving an education equal to an education earned by a student without a print.”

Eleven colleges and universities participate in the program. Arizona State University, De Anza Community College, Indiana University, Michigan State University, Ohio State University and University of California at Berkeley are some of the partners.

The publishers include Brookings Institution Press, DeCapo Press, Harper Collins, Modern Language of America, O’Reilly Media, Random House and others.

In 2007, Bookshare received a $32 million five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education (OSEP) to provide free access for all U.S. students with a print disability. The Bookshare collection now includes more than 46,000 titles and is growing at a rate of over 1000 books per month with contributions from publishers, universities, downloads from the NIMAC (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center), and books scanned and contributed by volunteers. Bookshare ( is an initiative of Benetech (, a nonprofit organization that creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs.

Reproduced from