Showing posts from 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! 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 w

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 pro

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 t

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 l

Bookshare to Convert Open Content Textbooks to Accessible Formats

Just spent a week in Washington DC doing all kinds of things, including actual lobbying (it's fun!) as well as meeting with our Bookshare funders at the Department of Education. One of the coolest meetings was with Under Secretary of Education, Martha Kanter, who headed our local community college here in California before getting the appointment. She and her senior policy adviser, Hal Plotkin, are huge fans of Open Educational Resources (OERs), having been involved in starting that movement in community colleges. Our new announcement about the Department granting Bookshare supplemental funding to convert open content textbooks to accessible formats went over very well. We're promising to do highly accessible versions of 80 open content textbooks. There's even a quote from Governor Schwarzenegger in the press release! Accessibility is a huge asset of open content materials, which are frequently released under the Creative Commons licenses and are freely distributable

Accessibility and ACTA

Brief Comments on Accessibility Concerns on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) The disability community should be concerned about ACTA for two reasons: 1. At its core it’s an anti-piracy agreement. The digital measures designed to defeat piracy usually end up equating accessibility with piracy. 2. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is being negotiated in secret. We don’t know if it’s benign or hostile to accessibility. Accessibility of digital media has been repeatedly and systematically denied because of digital measures to “protect” content. People with disabilities are repeatedly left out in the cold because accessibility concerns don’t rank high on tech company priority lists. A great (bad) example is Adobe, one of the leading ebook technology vendors, who just introduced their Digital Editions. Unfortunately, although accessibility was in the prior Adobe product, the Digital Rights Management (DRM) of Digital Editions locks out print disabled people. T

Eulogy for my father

Three weeks ago was my Dad's memorial service. A few times a year, I share something outside of the tech enterprise field on the Beneblog. The Definition of a Gentleman Eulogy for James R. Fruchterman, Sr. When my brother Bill was leaving to join the Army, our father took him aside and asked him to write down a quotation. Ever resourceful, Bill grabbed one of dad’s business cards and wrote out the following quotation: It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. Cardinal Newman. Bill still has that business card. Newman’s message, and Dad’s, was that a gentleman was always aware of his impact on others. Our Dad was always aware of his impact on others. That was my dad! He inspired us, he inspired each one of his children, by his example, by the people and pursuits he loved, to keep our impact on other people in mind. Of all the many ways he inspired us, six really stood out for Dad’s six children when we talked about it. First, he inspire

Disabled Students Need Accessible Books: On Huffpo!

The Huffington Post recently invited me to become a guest blogger, based on a connection to Arianna Huffington from the Craigslist Nonprofit Boot Camp. HuffPo recently published my first post, Disabled Students Need Accessible Books . It's great to be able to bring this kind of attention to our work at Bookshare helping students with print disabilities.

Training Human Rights Defenders in the DRC

A Guest Beneblog by Vijaya Tripathi, Vijaya.T at In my job as outreach coordinator for Martus , Benetech’s free and open source information management technology, I teach human rights workers in many countries how to secure their data. I have just completed two 2-day trainings of human rights NGOs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. During my visit, I also had an opportunity to meet staff members at the United Nations Mission of the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC). The Benetech Human Rights Program was invited to conduct these trainings by the International Center for Transitional Justice which assists countries pursuing accountability for mass atrocities or human rights abuses. Martus is a secure software application designed to gather, organize and back up human rights information. It allows human rights defenders to create a searchable and encrypted database of sensitive information from witnesses and victims - and back this data up remotely to their choice of pu

BYU ESR conference on Social Entrepreneurship

I just got back from the Economic Self-Reliance Conference at Brigham Young University in Utah. When I attend conferences to give a keynote, I usually try to stick around for more of the conference and listen in to the other presenters. This practice was especially awarded at the ESR conference. David Wiley's keynote was on the social returns from a new venture he helped create, Flat World Knowledge . His projection was that students were going to save more money on textbooks after three semesters of Flat World operations than investors had put into it. Not the typical SROI calculation, but the dramatic point was that Flat World is making impact the center piece of their foray into Open Educational Resources (OERs). OERs are the open source equivalent of open source software. My biggest concern about OERs has been that few people developing them have been measuring the impact: they celebrate the creation of the open content textbook or coursework, but don't collect the in

My Latest President's Update

Two or three times a year, I publish a president's update for Benetech. This latest one spotlights the many great interns, associates and fellows that are or were working for Benetech over this summer and into this year. Summer 2009 Our growth over the last year has been so phenomenal that I wanted to use this summer update to highlight some of the great people working for Benetech: our interns, summer associates and fellows. Each one of these terrific people has committed to spending anywhere from a month to a year helping Benetech with his or her skills and passion. Here are some of their stories: Aleda Schaf fer A student at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, Aleda Schaffer has worked as an American Sign Language Interpreter in Washington, DC, Alaska and Boston. She joined Benetech so she could learn more about Bookshare and how it is making books and periodicals more accessible to people with print disabilities. She also loves the fact that Benetec

National Family Literacy Day

This Sunday while you're finishing off the Halloween candy, think about doing something for National Family Literacy Day. For Bookshare members, that can be as simple as downloading a new book from Bookshare , or sharing one you already have. The idea behind the day, sponsored by the National Center for Family Literacy is to promote family literacy. Sunday, really, is just another reminder that every day can be literacy day. And, we want to make sure every kid has equal access to the joys of reading! It's a well established fact that reading with your kids helps give them a lifelong love of books, for instance. So, put down the remote control -- and shut down the game consoles and set aside a few moments to read with a family member, a friend, a student -- or just by yourself. Then please share your experience on Bookshare's Facebook page . We're also sharing some of our favorite reads on Bookshare. So please come and join all the discussions. Happy reading!

Climate Warming and Palo Alto -> Miradi and the World

One day last month we were shocked to discover all the street trees on our quaint downtown street had been chopped down. Clearcut. To be honest, most of us probably never took much notice of the 63 mature holly oaks. They were just part of the landscape. Until they were gone. Suddenly the world seemed a little harsher. No more trees. No more shade. No more leafy beauty. Our hot summer (and autumn!) days became a little hotter. Our local version of accelerated climate change. Now, we’re not expecting the world to cry crocodile tears for us. The city made a mistake. But let’s put it in perspective. We live in one of the most comfortable cities in the country, if not the world. Rather, the incident demonstrated just how affected we are by something as simple as a chopped down tree (some citizens were so angry they threatened city officials). If a few dozen dead trees could cause so much grief, imagine living in a place where whole forests are being clearcut, coral reefs bleached, or en

Encyclopaedia Britannica Supports Bookshare!

The news is excellent. We just announced: Encyclopaedia Britannica Grants Digital Rights to Bookshare -- Major Reference Collections Now Accessible for Individuals with Print Disabilities Worldwide . Although it was possible, we never seriously thought about scanning the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Thanks to the support of the EB team, we now have direct access to digital versions of many important reference series, along with the ability to provide these books to people with qualifying print disabilities in Canada, the UK, India and all over the world! Our dream at Bookshare has been that every student with a print disability has accessible versions of every book that would be available to their peers without disabilities. We have already gotten close on trade books: juvenile and teen literature. We're working very hard on textbooks. This agreement gives us access to the last major frontier of equal access: reference works.


Just had a chance to meet Dale Ferrario, the founder and President of an innovative nonprofit social enterprise called FreshBrain . I'm always excited about finding out about a new idea that's already gaining traction. FreshBrain is focused on an important problem - filling the gap in the education that our teens receive, specifically in the area of 21st Century Skills. Skills around technology, creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. Skills that they will needed to be successful in our future workplace and ever evolving global economy. Their website, , provides a social networking based platform where teens can innovate, create and share using a variety of technologies. A project based environment where they can interact with others, pursue their passion, learn, and have fun doing it. FreshBrain is already making great progress. They reached over 270,000 teens last year primarily on the open internet and have the goal to reach 2,000,

Jed Emerson: Steady Returns With Social Impact

Last week I was in New York City and had the opportunity to meet with many interesting people (and got lots of ideas). One key connection was with Jed Emerson. Ten years ago, Jed was the head of REDF, the famous social enterprise foundation in San Francisco. Jed's just published a new article in entitled Steady Returns With Social Impact . His point is: The little secret of this past year's capital crisis is that while many mainstream investments incurred significant losses in value, one category remained steady--with some investors significantly outperforming the mainstream market. It's called impact investing.

Mozilla and Bookshare: Volunteer Power!

Guest blog by Pavi Mehta, Volunteer Coordinator Open source champion kicked off seven days of service earlier this month: September 14-21st thousands of people donated over 6000 hours of their time to good causes in their communities as part of Mozilla Service Week . Through one of our engineering volunteers, Aravind Gottipatti, Benetech/Bookshare received an invitation to help them kick-off the week. Betsy Beaumon, Carrie Karnos, Rick Costa and I visited the terrific Mozilla offices in Mountain View last Monday to give the team a big picture view of what Benetech does and present a range of volunteer projects that they could dive into right away. Workstations were set up in their spacious lounge and through the course of the afternoon volunteers swung by to help type in children’s books for our collection (pre-selected books that for various reasons are easier to transcribe than scan). The following Friday a team from Mozilla paid Bookshare a visit and after a brief tour

A Human Rights Breakthrough in Guatemala | Smithsonian Magazine

Inside naked light bulbs reveal bare cinder-block walls, stained concrete floors, desks and filing cabinets. Above all there is the musty odor of decaying paper. No, this is not a description of Benetech’s Palo Alto, California headquarters. Rather, this is a hot-off-the-presses Smithsonian Magazine article about our Human Rights Data Analysis Group’s work in Guatamala. HRDAG, as we affectionately call the group, is working with the archive of the now disbanded Guatemalan National Police, which as the Smithsonian puts it, was “implicated in the kidnapping, torture and murder of tens of thousands of people during the country's 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996.” Check out the whole story here. And don’t forget to look at the photo gallery, which features some great pictures taken by Benetech’s Communications Director Ann Harrison. One photo features Patrick Ball, director of Benetech’s human rights program examining documents from the archive.

Miradi all over the world!

It's easy to forget how technology spreads. I just heard about the use of Miradi and the Open Standards in the Axios Delta in Greece. They have just released their management plan (in English) . What a thrill to see our software used to figure out how to conserve an exciting nature area I've only just now learned about! And, we're getting reports from all over the world of Miradi being used in countries like Indonesia and China, among many others. Looking forward to seeing more plans and more stories of conservation in action!

The International Institute of Social Entrepreneurship

A Guest Beneblog by Viji Dilip, This summer I visited the International Institute of Social Entrepreneurship (IISE) . Situated on the banks of the Vellayani fresh water lake, on the outskirts on Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, India , IISE is a testimony to social enterprise at its very best. This is another venture of Sabriye Tenberken and Paul Kronenberg who founded Braille without Borders in Lhasa, Tibet. IISE is an institute that has been established to train participants (age 18+) who have the right initiative, motivation and potential to establish and run their own social projects. Paul took great pride in showing me around the three acre campus that has been built with eco-friendly materials . He has incorporated rain water harvesting, solar water-heaters, bio glass plants, “Nothing is wasted here, not even human waste” joked Paul. The campus, that feels like a holiday resort and an university at the same time houses the International Institute of Social Entrepreneurs. Sabriye

The Lost Symbol - In Bookshare already!

The hottest book in publishing is already in Bookshare in high quality digital text. Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol launched yesterday to tremendous sales. Although it's digitally available on the Kindle and other ebook platforms, these aren't accessible to our Bookshare members. Thanks to our team to making sure our users have equal access to cultural phenomena like The Lost Symbol!

Bureaucrats with Clue

Last night I was able to meet Vivek Kundra, the new Chief Information Officer of the federal government, at an event organized by Full Circle Fund and the Craigslist Foundation hosted by IBM at their offices on Market Street in San Francisco. For me, it's an amazing change. In the last month, I've been able to meet Obama's CIO, the new CTO, Aneesh Chopra, and the head of the White House Office of Social Innovation, Sonal Shah, all in small group settings where every attendee got to speak. These three are hopefully representative of the technology and innovation agenda of the new administration. They are all coming out to the San Francisco Bay Area, a hotbed of tech and innovation, primarily to listen. But, it's also clear that they have a really clear grasp of many of the issues facing innovation in the federal government, tempered with a healthy dose of reality. In the tech area, Vivek Kundra noted that the annual IT budget of the federal government is $76 billion.

Foo Camp 2009

I just got back from Foo Camp 2009, which was a blast as usual. I think this is my third or fourth Foo Camp, and the energy around public uses of technology was palpable. It's structured as an unconference, where the 300 or so folks showing up design the conference program of roughly 70 sessions in about an hour the first night. The picture above has the schedule for just one half of the rooms/tents on Saturday! If you don't move fast and claim a conference room, your session will be in a row of tents in the parking lot. This actually works out fine, but don't expect to be doing PowerPoint out there! Many cool people attend, and the quality of the conversations is terrific. These are all folks who believe in technology and have a certain level of common language and understanding (even though the range of people is pretty amazing). That's why conversations can cut right to the issue that people are debating. As one attendee put it to me, he can always go to everyone

Braille Silver Dollars

Sometimes you come across something cool and relevant to your work. I couldn't resist getting a couple of the new Louis Braille silver dollars. They have an image of Louis Braille (this is his bicentennial year) and actual raised dots (for the letters BRL which is the code for Braille) on the back of the coin. The National Federation of the Blind convinced the federal government to have the U.S. Mint strike and sell these Louis Braille Silver Dollars , and some of the money goes to supporting Braille literacy. I've been using a Morgan silver dollar from the 19th century when I referee soccer games each fall: this September I plan to surprise the kids with a Braille silver dollar!

The Reckoning

We had an all-company movie, The Reckoning during lunch this last week. One of the top issues that came out during our recent strategy meeting was the team's eagerness to hear about other projects. This was an opportunity to hear about human rights: The Reckoning is about the International Criminal Court. The movie is excellent: it does a good job of covering the issues around the establishment of the court and its early years including its earliest cases. John Bolton, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN during the Bush Administration, is quite direct about why he opposes the court today as he did then. The ICC is still in its infancy: one of the challenges the movie brings up is the inability to get most of its indictees into the court. The current president of Sudan is a good example of the challenge. After the movie, Patrick answered questions of the team about his experiences working at the court and his take on some of the issues raised in the movie. Patrick believes strong

A shining example of quality (and fast!) Volunteer work

I get great emails all the time, but this one needed to be posted right away! Jim From: Rick Costa Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2009 3:26 PM To: Bookshare Team Subject: A shining example of quality (and fast!) Volunteer work Hello Bookshare Team, "The Adventures Of Eddy And Teddy Too Teff" by Lorraine Wooding was given to Robin Seaman by the author was very eager to have it in our collection. Well it is -- thanks to Carrie, who approved it this afternoon! And a very special thanks to one of our new Volunteers: Laurie Bechtler For those who missed Pavi's Volunteer Appreciation Event on Tuesday, Laurie attended as one of the volunteers. When speaking about her, I forgot to give her this book, which earlier that day she'd agreed to proof next. [I gave it to her and then] She took the book home Tuesday afternoon. (She'd just finished proofing a priority book: a B4E high school textbook requested by a teacher!). This afternoon Laurie uploaded the book to the Approval Qu

Big Benetech Day: All Company and Volunteer Meetings

Yesterday was emotionally exhausting here at Benetech for many of us in the most positive way possible, with a couple of rare events. We are working on a new strategic plan, our first in years (we've been working off of the original Benetech plan with minor updates for 8 years). We're doing the planning by starting with our team: we did an all-company survey and then yesterday we did a two hour meeting to go over the survey results and discuss them. Our meeting facilitator, Bob Glavin (longtime advisor to Benetech, teaches at USF and helps many other nonprofits and foundations), told me and the senior managers to not talk and to simply listen. It was hard to keep my mouth buttoned up, but it was essential to hearing from the team instead of from the CEO! And we did. We attract incredible people to Benetech, and it showed. We heard about how much our commitment to transparency was valued, among other aspects of our culture. There was much food for thought, as our manageme

Benetech and the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Benetech Analyzes Human Rights Data for the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission A Guest Beneblog post by Kristen Cibelli Our team at the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) has recently concluded a three-year project with Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help clarify Liberia's violent history. I managed the project in which we analyzed more than 17,000 victim and witness statements collected by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Liberia and compiled the data into a report entitled "Descriptive Statistics From Statements to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission." The report is included as an annex to the TRC’s Final Report released on July 1 in Monrovia, Liberia. As a non-profit organization, our work with the TRC and our statistical report was made possible through the support of United States Department of State Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) and several other donors, which are listed

Helen Keller Archives

Spotted this photo of Benetech's Robin Seaman visiting the Helen Keller archive at the American Foundation for the Blind and holding an Oscar. Helen Keller received this Oscar for the documentary about her life in 1955, as mentioned in the online Helen Keller Kids Museum . One of the great things about working for Benetech is being able to see all the cool things going on around the world. Looking at the 17 volumes of Helen's Braille Bible, I remember why Bookshare members love having a thousand times more content on a two pound Braille electronic display!

University Presses Cooperate with Bookshare

We have been very lucky to continue to partner more closely with the publishing industry, as a major segment of educational publishers come on board with Bookshare: the university presses. We recently announced partnerships with The University of Chicago Press, the University of California Press and New York University Press, where they will be sending digital files of their books to Bookshare to be made available to people with print disabilities. As the debate rages about the accessibility of ebooks, it's good to know that most publishers are committed to seeing their works reach people with print disabilities. We're delighted to be working with these top university presses to meet this crucial need through Bookshare.

I just made an educational microloan!

As someone with three kids in college, I'm used to the idea of educational loans. My kids are borrowing money; I'm borrowing money. It's the American way of higher education! Outside the U.S., educational loans are not so common. And, education is the way out of poverty. This weekend, I made my first educational microloan, to Claudia Belén García Royz of Nicaragua, who is studying to be an industrial engineer. This loan was the result of a conversation I had with Kushal Chakrabarti, the founder of the Vittana Foundation . Multiple people had connected me with Kushal, including my brother Tom, who worked at Amazon with Kushal. Kushal described Vittana as "Kiva for educational loans." It makes a lot of sense to me. I'm not alone. Every student so far that has posted a loan need has had willing lenders snap up the offering quickly (in under 30 hours over the weekend). Kushal's challenge is actually finding more microcredit institutions in the deve

Indian Publishing legend visits Bookshare

We just hosted Indian publishing legend Mahendra Meghani , who dropped in last week when many of our team were traveling. The following account comes from Pavi Mehta, Bookshare's Volunteer Coordinator, and I wanted to post it! It was a quietly special visit. Meghani came with his two hosts and daughter, and at 86 is still keenly interested in learning how technology can help bring books to the disadvantaged. With Carrie’s help he chopped his latest book (a compilation of Gandhi’s writings) up for the Bookshare collection. His publishing house mainly deals with literature in Gujarati but they do have a handful of books in English that they are more than happy to send to us. Viji [Dilip, Bookshare international manager] has sent over the appropriate paperwork and we’ll follow up on that. This is a guy who as his daughter put it, piled books onto a little vegetable cart and trundled it into the market place so that the common man in small town India would be exposed to the literat