Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Giving the Gift of Accessibility

There's so much going on these days at Bookshare: a growing community that's getting hard to keep track of!

Snow globe with snowman, stack of books and laptop displaying Bookshare
We came up with a book wishlist for donors who wanted to pitch in and buy specific books requested by Bookshare members. We have talented members of the team that whip together graphics and even videos to promote these! It was fun singing along in the Bookshare holiday video.

One donor made a special offer to our top volunteers, those who have provided at least 150 books to Bookshare: that they could request any one book and we'd (not they!) get the book scanned and into Bookshare. More than fifty book requests have already come in. Our Volunteer Coordinator, Pavi Mehta, sent me this email last week and I thought it was definitely blog-worthy!

From: Pavi Mehta
Sent: Monday, December 21, 2009 11:36 AM
To: Bookshare Team
Subject: Thank You Notes from the Volunteers

Hi All,

Just wanted to send out these snippets of appreciation from volunteers (in response to what Carol Lake’s donation made possible). Through her contribution we were able to give our most active volunteers (those who have directly contributed to adding 150 books or more to the library) a chance to request a book -- any book that they wanted to see in Bookshare’s Collection. All they had to do was send in their “wish” and we take care of the rest. We have requests in for 51 books (wide ranging in subject and genre). Have included a list of the titles at the end of this mail for those who are curious.
It was great to be able to extend a Thank You gesture to our most dedicated volunteers (and we’re in the process of designing and implementing a more comprehensive Appreciation Program).

Passing on their thrilled gratitude to the Bookshare Team here … and echoing their good wishes to all for a Happy Holiday Season and terrific New Year!


• What a great present! Thanks, and thanks to the generous donor!

• WOW! This is totally unexpected, and so neat! Thank you!

• Thanks for the opportunity to choose a book! What fun!

• What a thoughtful way of saying "thank you" by Bookshare; thank you so much

• Hi! What a wonderful gift!! Please extend my thanks to the donor and to the entire Bookshare staff!

• Thank you so much! That is such a kind and generous thing for you all at Bookshare to do. And my thanks also to the donor who made this possible. And it is a pleasure on my end to volunteer, I only wish I had time to do more.

• Thank you for this opportunity to choose a book and not have to do anything else other than see it listed in the new books section (smile).

• Your e-mail was deeply appreciated, It's a joy to be part of your volunteers.

• What a wonderful gift! :D Your note and the gift of getting a book into the collection has made my day. Getting to read a book I like without scanning it first is a real luxury, better than chocolate. Will you please tell the staff and donor how much I appreciate this?

• Thank you! What an absolutely delightful gift, and I appreciate it very much. Submitting books for bookshare has been a favorite volunteer activity of mine for years.

• Thank you so very much for thinking of us! I've been a long time Bookshare member and volunteer and the growth is just amazing!

• It is truly a pleasure to be a BookShare volunteer, and it is wonderful to feel appreciated! What a lovely gift for the holidays!

• I want to thank you for the email. It is nice to know the work I have done has been appreciated.

• Thank you for asking me to add a title to Bookshare's collection. I feel honored! Seasons greetings to you too!

• Thanks so much. You have made my holiday!

• Thank you so much for this privilege. I am so happy to be able to volunteer for bookshare. As an avid reader myself, it brings me great pleasure to be able to share the books that I enjoy with others.

• Please pass along my deepest thanks to the donor who made this possible. Happy holidays!:

• I hope you'll pass on to the donor that I, for one, couldn't have received a nicer gift than a book I can read in braille, in my comfy reclining loveseat, to the melodies of soft classical music, a lilac candle burning, diet cream soda within reach (..), and Blackberry pie, my dog, at my side. If it can't be a book I'm requesting, There are literally hundreds of books on my list of books in the Bookshare collection I know I'll love reading. The best part about receiving your letter is knowing Bookshare notices how much I try to send you well proofread books and that my dedication is as unflagging as my health allows.
Volunteer Requests:

1. Rural Nurse
2. Celtic Myths and Legends
3. Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America
4. The Online Copywriter's Handbook : Everything You Need to Know to Write Electronic Copy That Sells
5. Where Love Rules
6. Piece de Resistance: A Novel
7. As Meat Loves Salt
8. Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
9. Conversations With Nostradamus: His Prophecies Explained, Vol. 1 (Revised Edition & Addendum 2001)
10. Designing Great Beer
11. Pantheism: A Non-Theistic Concept of Deity
12. Elements of Pantheism
13. Brethren: Raised by Wolves, Volume One
14. Each One Believing
15. The Structure Of Evolutionary Theory
16. The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination
17. Grounds to Believe: Elect Trilogy #3
18. Disney High School Musical: Stories from East High #13
19. Comanche Moon
20. Dead Men Walking
21. Lake in the Clouds
22. The Raiders
23. Twin of Fire
24. Twin of Ice
25. Any books by Michael Feldman
26. Any books by Michael Perry.
27. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma
28. The One Year Devotionals For Teens
29. Hunger's Brides: A Novel of the Baroque
30. 1,000 Indian Recipes
31. The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel
32. The Dangerous Book for Boys
34. The Celebration Hymnal
35. Songs and Hymns for Worship
36. By Heresies Distressed (Safehold)
37. Who Knew II
38. The Skylark
39. Shadows in bronze : a Marcus Didius Falco novel
40. Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha
41. No: The Only Negotiating System You Need for Work and Home
42. Heaven's my Destination
43. Exalted, Second Editio
44. How Pathogenic Viruses Work
45. Knitting the Season
46. Knitter's Book Of Yarn
47. The Knitter's Book Of Wool
48. Culinary Harmony
49. Pleasures of your Processor
50. Herbal Healing For Women
51. The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Peer Water Exchange | Blue Planet Run

It never ceases to amaze me: the cool social entrepreneurs that I get to meet all the time, coming up with mind-blowing innovative ways to accomplish social good.

I was recently introduced to Lisa Nash of the Blue Planet Run Foundation, about their Peer Water Exchange. Get this: the funding decisions on their new clean water projects are made by peer project leaders. So, your effort to address the needs of your community through a new water or sanitation project is going to be evaluated by a group of people who have been through doing the same thing in their communities. Not only that, projects agree to remain part of the network, providing information about the success of their projects after they are completed.

With all the energy around effectiveness and transparency, PWX is a great example of how to operate a network of hundreds of projects in different communities, with the detailed project information available to donors and partners. Wondering about whether a proposed project duplicates one already built? Apparently this happens a fair amount. You can go to a map and see what's already been done in the district.

I went to their map and quickly found some other leading social entrepreneurs that are part of the PWX network, folks I've had the pleasure of meeting many times in the past decade, people like Joe Madiath of Gram Vikas in Orissa, India, and Bunker Roy of the Barefoot College in northern India. You're known by the company you keep!

As a successful example of how to build a scalable approach to a chronic issue, I noticed that PWX was highlighted in the recent Irvine Foundation convergence report. And of course, under the hood of PWX is technology that makes this kind of network run and hum.

Clean water and sanitation are such fundamental needs, that any system to increases the effectiveness of these efforts as a global society is exciting to see! I'm sure we need more approaches like PWX in other fields.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Flat World Knowledge Partnership

We got great feedback about our announcement a couple of weeks ago about doing open content textbooks for K-12, thanks for funding from the US Department of Education. How were we going to top that one?

By announcing we're doing open content college textbooks with Flat World Knowledge, a cool for-profit startup. I mentioned meeting one of their key people at BYU last month in a recent Beneblog post.

The announcement got a ton of pickup: more than a dozen stories came out, including one at Publishers Weekly.

Why am I so excited? Because open content scores on so many counts. For Bookshare, these are high quality textbooks that are free to everybody on the planet, that we can adapt to be highly accessible for people with disabilities. Because they are covered by open content licenses, we don't have to have people prove they have qualifying disabilities. Parents, teachers, teachers-in-training, people with disabilities, people who can't read, people who just want to hear a book talk: they can all have these books for free!

And for potential Bookshare users, it's a way to try out our content and see how it works without jumping through hoops. Looking forward to demonstrating some of these cool new textbooks when our crack Bookshare production team has turned them into exemplars of exciting and fully accessible textbooks!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Reply Comments on the Proposed Treaty for Access to Copyrighted Works

We filed the following comments to the Copyright Office's request for comments on issues about access for people with print disabilities. Background on this can be reviewed at the Knowledge Ecology International website.

December 4, 2009

Benetech’s Reply Comments
in response to the Copyright Office Notice of Inquiry and Request for Comments on the Topic of Facilitating Access to Copyrighted Works for the Blind or Other Persons With Disabilities

The issue all comes down to human rights vs. money.

The human rights issue we’re discussing are the human rights of people with disabilities that cannot effectively use the printed word. The printed word is essential for education, employment and social inclusion. The status quo is that people with print disabilities are experiencing a book famine. And famines have consequences. Most of this community doesn’t have access to formal education, most of this community doesn’t have access to jobs and most of this community isn’t recognized by larger society as equals. Doing something about this is within our reach.

The money issue is actually not about serving people with disabilities, amazingly enough. They seem to be collateral damage in a larger debate over the question of intellectual property. Many of the comments critical of the proposed treaty come from parties that object in principle to copyright exceptions, rather than having a direct stake in the issue at hand. If the question at hand was a global treaty setting “fair use” as a global norm, I would expect the same objections.

The message of the skeptics is that we don’t need things like exceptions. Society’s interests can be addressed on an ad hoc basis. Everything that needs doing can be done by license voluntarily. They claim exceptions aren’t needed, because IP owners are happy to help.

Except, that’s the status quo. And access doesn’t happen. Because of money. Actually, lack of money. Everything is negotiable under license, except in practice, they don’t want to negotiate about access -- because there’s not enough money involved.

It’s completely rational for a publisher to not bother signing a license that represents either zero or trivial sums of money. It’s a tribute to many publishers and authors that they do engage on a voluntary basis in these activities, but it does go against the normal course of business to focus on things that make money.

Microsoft Press is a great example of this. The irony of this was clear when I saw Microsoft file comments advocating for voluntary solutions. Through the intervention of a senior Microsoft executive, I got to meet with the MS Press publisher to ask for direct access to their content with rights to serve people with disabilities globally through our Bookshare service. Over two years ago, we agreed that this would be a good thing to do. So, we were both favorably inclined. But, it hasn’t happened.

I’m sure the fact that it hasn’t happened isn’t based on anything malicious or negative. The permission form went into the Microsoft legal department and hasn’t been seen in years. But, if you were in the legal department at Microsoft, where it probably costs the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars to review and process any contract, it makes a ton of sense. Do I work on this $50 million licensing deal on a short deadline? Or this free license that might involve some kind of risk of liability?

And on the nonprofit side, to the people who try to meet the needs of the disabled, it doesn’t make economic sense to expend hundreds of dollars on each book to clear the rights. The reason there’s a global book famine is because the money to do this voluntarily, and do it for each and every country over and over again, doesn’t exist and will not exist in the foreseeable future. And so, a good part of why the Microsoft Press deal hasn’t happened is because we don’t think it makes sense to pester them more than once every six or twelve months.

The good news is that for any Microsoft Press book that a U.S. student with a qualified print disability needs, we have a wonderful domestic copyright exemption. We can and will scan it and get it to that student in under a month. That’s why we have an exemption for this: it doesn’t make money for the publishers and the transaction cost for negotiating a license makes it impractical.

In 1996, the publishing industry and the disability community in the United States got together and agreed on an exemption to copyright to solve this problem. We stopped making access contingent on the need to complete a no-revenue contract. And, when it comes to access to the books in the most demand, we can and are solving the book famine in the U.S. Every New York Times Bestseller from the last few years, every Newbery award winning book ever, are all available to Americans with qualifying print disabilities on Bookshare today. In fact, there are over 60,000 books and periodicals available on Bookshare.

And, the book industry hasn’t collapsed. At least, not because of Bookshare!

And this raises the central human rights question. If an exemption regime is good enough for Americans, in the largest market for English language books on the planet, why isn’t it good enough for people in other countries?

Jim Fruchterman
President & CEO