Sunday, July 22, 2012

Meet the Bookshare in-house summer volunteer team!

Bookshare, Benetech's online library for people who are blind or otherwise print-disabled, is fortunate to have a variety of summer interns and volunteers working in our Palo Alto office this year. Our main focus has been our text book image description project. Our summer volunteers write text book image descriptions, review and revise descriptions, provide technical assistance, and proofread children’s books with new image descriptions. We’re especially grateful for the participation of two blind Bookshare members, who have provided input on how to write the best image descriptions. Volunteers have also helped us prepare for the ACB and NFB summer conferences, and contributed to our marketing, collection development, and international departments. We are sincerely grateful to our enthusiastic and dedicated group of volunteers. Here is more about each one in their own words!

Nilofer Chollampat

Nilofer Chollampat, smiling with orchid in her hair, standing in front of an orchid plant, holding a laptop
I’m a Natural Science major at U.C. Davis with minors in Education and Statistics. I was born and brought up in Palo Alto and graduated from Gunn High School a year ago. I hope that one day I can live my dream of becoming either a teacher or a Hospital Administrator. (Yes, I know those are two very different careers, but I think they seem the most fun and rewarding) I love watching TV and movies and eating just happens to be one of my greatest hobbies. I have watched every single episode of The Office and Seinfeld. Don’t get me wrong, my love of TV doesn’t make me hate the outdoors; I love meeting new people and getting to know them.

It was the UC Davis website that actually brought me to this amazing company. I was looking for things to do this summer and came across this company and it just happened to be in Palo Alto! I started looking over the website and I really loved the idea and drive behind this company. I shot Alisa Moore an email, and three weeks later here I am, editing children’s books that are mostly about trees and leaves. And I LOVE it! I’m so happy to have found Bookshare! It’s a great place to work and I love having a desk! It makes me feel so professional. I have only been in the job force for the last four years, but I must say, that working here has been the most fun.

John Pastorius

John Pastorius, seated on grass with dog guideI am from Smithfield, Virginia. I attend Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Virginia where I am studying music performance. I play French horn in the college wind symphony and orchestra. I first found out about Bookshare when it was starting as I found a technology tutor, and she showed me how to get books in electronic form so I didn’t have 26 volumes of a textbook. I am doing this internship as I want to make sure the textbooks that go out electronically are as accessible for blind kids as they can be. I also want to make sure that blind kids have the textbooks as early as possible. I also want blind kids to be able to read books electronically as soon as possible as I did not get electronic books until 6th grade, and before that, all my braille books I read for leisure took up a whole room in the house.

Kelli Lee, smiling

Kelli Lee

I recently graduated from Foothill College with an Associated Arts degree in Business Administration and will be attending San Jose State University in the fall. As I am disabled, I have used several programs that Bookshare/Benetech provides for their consumers. In my spare time, I love biking, going to the movies and hanging out with my friends. I am disabled and proud and an advocate for the disabled.

Yue-Ting Siu ("Ting")

Yue-Ting Siu ("Ting") smiling, with man behind herHello! I've been a longtime fan of Bookshare's services, and this summer, I'm thrilled to be working with the people that develop these amazing resources. I'm a recent transplant to California, and just finished my first year as an NLCSD Fellow in the Joint Doctoral Program for Special Education at UC Berkeley/San Francisco State. Previously, I taught in NYC in the Department of Education's branch of Educational Vision Services (EVS). I worked with students with visual impairments as well as other teachers, focusing on needs and training to use assistive technology. I am excited about how technology continues to progress and am particularly invested in helping to improve the quality and access to materials that will promote equal opportunities for students' success. I'm glad to have this chance to work with Bookshare this summer, as well as catch up on other fun (albeit nerdy) endeavors such as learning how to write computer code for my new blog: No Bread, No Butter, No Thank You?!

Mark Lind-Hanson

Mark Lind-Hanson, smiling, arms crossedI have been involved in nonprofit administrative and development work for a decade and a half, and came to Bookshare in the summer of 2010 as a volunteer. Originally I did book metadata adjustments and wrote synopses. I have been working with image description since the project began, first doing QA for the Poet tool and now involved in writing and editing the illustration captions. I enjoy what I am doing primarily because it's socially useful-(socially needed!) and because it's very much a field which is new and growing, and the technology to support this is as well. "Getting it right" is my highest priority and ever-present concern.
Before Bookshare, I worked for the Friends of the San Francisco Library and a local bookstore, throughout the past eight years, and my love of books is such that I would probably always be drawn to working in some regard with them. How wonderful this is to be able to share my own (patiently self-acquired) knowledge of world history, art history, science, and language, and to keep on learning, as I work. In my spare time I also play music and write fiction, and knowing I am doing something quietly decent with my time - otherwise - is a healing energy and a source of self-renewal. I like the idea that it makes a difference for a lot more people than just myself.

Robin Sanders

Robin Sanders at a PCRobin is a well-rounded high school student who participates in everything from varsity basketball, to playing the viola and touring with the Palo Alto chamber orchestra. He has taken advanced classes in math, biology, chemistry and physics. He is an editor for the school paper. Robin is sharp when it comes to technology, energy, physics, mechanics, writing and research. He’s been a great help to Bookshare this summer, where he writes image descriptions in science text books and assists on a variety of marketing projects.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Bookshare Members Enthusiastic Comments

Every week our Bookshare team hears from our Members. I am thrilled to get copied on these emails: it reminds me of why we do here at Benetech! I appreciate that so many of our Members take the time to write and thank our team. Changes often inspire Members to write and it is so helpful to hear about what works (and what doesn't work so we can fix it). The recent upgrades in our Bookshare site and service such as the new audio formats, images, and image descriptions motivated several Members to share their thoughts, and we sought their permission to share those thoughts with you!

For example, new Member Annette Moore wrote:
the fact that Bookshare offers their books in mp3 format is why I decided to become a Member. I don't have a VR Stream or a Booksense; I just use the NLS digital talking book player. I do have to say the Bookshare TTS voice for the mp3 format is great! I love Christian fiction, and while NLS does have some in that particular genre, Bookshare has so much more! I feel like a kid in a candy store when I go up and look through what Bookshare has to offer.

Another Member, Diane Fazackarley also commented on our new downloadable audio formats. In addition to our ability to download digital text in DAISY and Braille file formats, we recently added DAISY audio and MP3 formats. Because we are creating the audio files from the text on a server, we can use the state of the art Ivona text-to-speech engine.  Diane said,
I just wanted to give you some feedback on the new audio downloadable files. I love them. I know they take a bit longer to download, but they are of a very high quality. Considering most of us probably use our screen reader to read the books, this is amazing.
Judy, who asked to be quoted with her first name only, is finding more and more books with images. She told us,
As a sighted but disabled Member, I'm also grateful for and thrilled by the number of publisher quality books that have entered the collection in the last 18 months with the original illustrations intact. I haven't read a book where I can look at the illustrations for over 20 years. Way to go, Bookshare! I'm psyched about the POET project to get illustrations described. It gives me hope that eventually everyone can have access to both illustrations and good descriptions of the illustrations in the future.

Member Dornetta, also using just her first name, has already discovered that image descriptions in books are very helpful in an unexpected way!
As a child I have always loved to read and enjoyed a good book of any kind so when I lost my sight I felt as though my world ended as I knew it. When a friend told me about Bookshare, I thought that "all was finally right in the world of being blind," at least from my prospective. Recently in a class that I am taking, I had to evaluate 150 children's books in 7 different categories. The added descriptions gave me a new respect when doing my evaluations. I also read some of my evaluated books to a class at a child care center. I just wanted you guys to know that I am very grateful and thankful for what you do, making reading accessible for us. I started volunteering so that I can give back to an organization that has touched my life so and can only hope that my volunteer work is as excellent as some of the veterans’ work.
Thanks to Annette, Diane, Judy and Dornetta for agreeing to share your comments with the world.  Our staff and volunteer team is dedicated to equality of access, and you remind us very well that we're making progress on that goal!