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Find more Audiobooks
The booming audiobook industry offers a dizzying array of choices for schools and libraries. What will best serve our children—digital download services? Playaways? MP3 discs? CDs? What hardware should we buy? Will we need to supply e-book text readers such as the Kindle DX? How do we balance shrinking budgets with the needs of students, especially those on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)?
I’d like to step back and offer a review of long-established programs that exist to serve students with disabilities—at no cost to the child’s school or parents. Audiobooks are proven to increase student literacy, especially for the estimated 10 percent of our student population on IEPs. The Chafee Amendment to U.S. copyright law permits books to be reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by the blind or other persons with disabilities, allowing audio files to be distributed in altered formats playable on special equipment, or downloaded and unlocked with a special software key. Add the resources from the organizations below to your educational tool kit, and increase your students’ access to audiobooks at no charge!
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
In an 1878 article in the North American Review, Thomas Edison envisioned the audiobook when he predicted that recorded sound would be used for “phonographic books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part.” In 1931 this became a reality, as Congress approved Public Law 89-522, establishing the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), a division of the Library of Congress. The NLS Talking Book Program initially served only blind adults but was amended to include blind children in 1952 and expanded in 1966 to include those who have physical limitations, including reading disabilities that prevent the reading of standard print. Administered through regional locations across the U.S., the NLS provides free shipment of more than 446,000 popular-literature Talking Books, magazines, and musical titles to those certified as eligible through blindness, physical limitations, or learning disabilities such as dyslexia and language processing.
Originally, Talking Books were vinyl records, but they have been distributed since the late 1960s as specially formatted cassettes that require a player loaned at no cost. Currently, the service is transitioning to new digital players and Talking Books stored on flash memory cartridges, as well as downloadable titles. Talking Books feature studio-produced recordings with professional voice actors. For more than 80 years, the NLS has loaned playback equipment and Talking Books delivered at no charge to listeners of all ages, fulfilling their motto: “That All May Read.”
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic
In 1948 Anne T. Macdonald, of the New York Public Library’s Women’s Auxiliary, learned of soldiers who had returned home from World War II blinded, unable to read Braille yet eager to take advantage of the college education promised through the GI Bill. Macdonald organized volunteers to read aloud textbooks, an effort that evolved into the nonprofit group Recording for the Blind. In 1970 the group began to assist those with learning disabilities, changing its name to Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) to reflect the group’s goal to serve all students with any print disability. RFB&D has more than 7,000 volunteers who record novels, nonfiction, and textbook materials at studios across the country for listeners from kindergarten through graduate school. RFB&D has the ability to produce an audio version of a novel or textbook on an as-needed basis, with the finished recordings containing descriptions of the original text’s footnotes, endnotes, charts, graphs, and other nontextual material. A new RFB&D teacher resource, Learning through Listening, provides lesson plans, online videos, support materials, and webinars for teachers, focusing on listening skills and integrating RFB&D titles into the classroom. The services of this nonprofit group are funded through nominal subscription fees, grants, and donations.
To celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of RFB&D, any student with a qualified learning or print disability in the U.S. can sign up for 12 months of free access to RFB&D’s Library of more than 53,000 textbooks and literature, via Internet download. This special offer, made possible by RFB&D’s donors and funding from the U.S. Department of Education, will continue through January 25, 2010. Every teacher and librarian should make known this no-cost endeavor that continues to ensure Anne Macdonald’s dictum: “Education is a right, not a privilege.”
The Center for Applied Special Technology
Other initiatives open the world of literature to those who cannot access print through the use of both human- and computer-aided text-to-speech. The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) was founded in 1984 to expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through Universal Design for Learning (UDL), by providing cognitive as well as physical access to the curriculum. UDL calls for multiple approaches to meet the needs of diverse learners with learning differences, English-language barriers, emotional or behavioral disabilities, lack of interest or engagement, and sensory or physical disabilities.
Explore CAST’s Universal Design for Learning Book Builder to see how educators are providing new ways to create, read, and share digital books that build reading skills for all students. The UDL Editions provide full text of a limited number of selections for readers ages 10 and up, with leveled support, context-specific multimedia glossary, enrichment activities, background information, English-to-Spanish translation, and the Texthelp Toolbar for text-to-speech audio. The CAST Strategy Tutor assists students and teachers through Web-based lessons (either teacher created or from a database that can be modified) that include the ability to use a text-to-speech screen reader to provide audio of posted material. All of CAST’s resources are made available at no charge through federal and corporate funding.
Other No-Charge Audiobooks
A new no-cost source for students is Bookshare, an online library of digital books for people with print disabilities, where a book’s encrypted text file is downloaded to the computer and is read aloud via text-to-speech. Two volunteer organizations have harnessed the Internet to distribute no-charge audiobooks through downloaded sound files. Project Gutenberg, the first producer of free Web-based e-books, has a large collection of both human- and computer-read audiobooks of public-domain titles on its Web site. LibriVox provides volunteer-narrated free audiobooks from the public domain through both its Web site and via podcasts. Those interested in the ever-increasing number of assistive technologies available for children and adults with disabilities may want to follow groups such as Abledbody, the Institute for Human Centered Design, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Web site, the American Foundation of the Blind’s AccessWorld, and the National Disability Rights Network. Become familiar with these exemplary institutions that recognize the right of every learner to access audio literature, providing materials at no cost, so that all may read.
Explore these providers of no-cost audiobooks for the blind, physically disabled, and learning disabled; advocacy groups; and suppliers of assistive audiobook readers.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped: www.loc.gov/nls/index.html
Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D): http://www.rfbd.org/
Free offer of one-year subscription to RFB&D: www.rfbd.org/promotions.htm
Learning through Listening: http://www.learningthroughlistening.org/
Center for Applied Special Technology: http://www.cast.org/
Universal Design for Learning Book Builder: http://bookbuilder.cast.org/
CAST Strategy Tutor: http://cst.cast.org/cst/auth-login
Project Gutenberg Audiobook Project: www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:The_Audio_Books_Project
The Institute for Human Centered Design: http://www.adaptenv.org/
National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research: www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/nidrr/index.html
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: http://idea.ed.gov/
The American Foundation for the Blind’s AccessWorld: www.afb.org/aw/main.asp
The National Disability Rights Network: http://www.napas.org/
Reviews of assistive digital audio players: www.afb.org/afbpress/Pub.asp?DocID=aw0905toc&All
Plextalk Pocket player: www.plextalk.com/in/
Milestone 311 & 312 players: www.bones.ch/bones/pages/eng/bones/bones.html
Victor Reader Stream player: www.humanware.com/en-usa/home
BookCourier player: http://www.bookcourier.com/
Mary Burkey is a teacher-librarian in the Olentangy School District in Columbus, Ohio, and the author of the Audiobooker blog.
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