Showing posts from 2010

Bookshare Creates Opportunities For Gifted Students

I talk a lot about how technology can help create tremendous educational opportunities for students with print disabilities. As part of my holiday greetings this year, I would like to introduce you to two young people who have used Benetech’s Bookshare library to reach academic excellence and find the books that keep them engaged in their off hours. Steffon Middleton and Jessica Pinto have both mastered the art of searching and downloading Bookshare’s accessible texts. Steffon, who attends Gadsden Community College in Gadsden, Alabama is a straight-A student who has made his college deans list each semester. He downloads Bookshare texts to a portable device called a BrailleNote that allows blind people like him to read digital Braille. Two years ago, Steffon worked with us to create a Bookshare how-to video and a video profile which also features his teacher Jill Dunaway who helped him become a Bookshare member. Because the Bookshare collection is free to qualified U.S. students, S

Happy Holidays from Bookshare!

I liked what our Bookshare team did for their electronic holiday card!

Benetech Human Rights Data Analysts Uncover Critical Evidence

As the worldwide debate continues about the release of government information by Wikileaks, history has shown that the uncovering of government data can be an important factor in human rights investigations. In 2010, Benetech’s Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) examined once hidden government documents from Guatemala and Chad that provided key evidence needed to hold former national leaders and security forces accountable for human rights violations. HRDAG analysis of this information was carried out with the support of the current governments and NGO communities in both these countries. Discovered by chance, these police and prison records told the stories of serious human rights violations from the perspective of the perpetrators. They revealed the culpability of powerful people who never expected that these records would ever be exposed to public scrutiny - let alone scientific analysis. The past year of research by HRDAG analysts has supported key criminal prosecutions and

Breakthrough Philanthropy - Thiel Foundation event

I've been asked by a lot of people both inside and outside Benetech lately to not only talk about the what we do, but the why we do it: the thinking behind it. I met with a very senior nonprofit leader last week in New York who explicitly asked us to talk more about what we're thinking. So, I hope to have more Beneblogs that give a window onto our thought processes (even when raw and not quite baked)! So, after I do my readout on what happened, I'll try to inject the way it got me thinking at the end of this post. Last night I had the privilege of attending the Breakthough Philanthropy event put on by Peter Thiel's foundation, covered in the local press with articles like "Silicon Valley billionaire backs futuristic philanthropy" from the San Jose Mercury News . The foundation spotlighted eight unusual nonprofit groups. I knew of a fair number of the groups already. The Santa Fe Institute is probably the best known: a research institute dedicated to st

Testimony From Benetech’s Daniel Guzmán Helps Establish Legal Precedent and Convictions for Forced Disappearance in Guatemala

I announced in this blog last month that judges in Guatemala had found two former police officers guilty in the 1984 forced disappearance of Guatemalan student and union leader Edgar Fernando García. Expert testimony by Benetech statistical consultant Daniel Guzmán provided critical evidence in the conviction of the former Guatemalan National Police officers Abraham Lancerio Gómez and Héctor Roderico Ramírez. Gómez and Ramírez were each sentenced to the maximum term of 40 years in prison for their role in García’s disappearance. This historical ruling has established forced disappearance as a crime in Guatemala and provided government prosecutors with a key legal precedent needed to investigate higher ranking officers for their possible role in the case. You can read more about the verdict here . The entire staff here at Benetech is extremely proud of Daniel Guzmán and his colleagues at the Benetech Human Rights Program who have spent four years analyzing random samples of the estimate

Signals - Stoplights for student success

At the STS meeting in Kyoto, I had the pleasure of meeting France Córdova, the president of Purdue University. I took my first full pattern recognition course at Purdue long ago and far away (my brother Bill is a Boilermaker/Purdue alum, too). France mentioned some cool education technology that had been developed at Purdue, called Signals - Stoplights for student success . Signals blends two key ideas: The patterns of student failure can be spotted early: much earlier than existing systems relying on failing midterms! Purdue can spot patterns that indicate a much higher chance of failure, and intervene early. Simple communications design that everybody gets: green light, yellow light, red light. And, get these signals to both students and faculty. I was able to talk to one of the senior team at Purdue about this at the recent launch of Purdue's Silicon Valley presence. He was quite realistic about the limitations of the system. For example, a really bright student who can pu

The Tech Awards - Technology Benefiting Humanity

A Guest Beneblog by Teresa Throckmorton, Benetech's CFO Walking into the Santa Clara Convention Center last night looked very much like so many other black tie events – but that’s where the similarity ended. I just attended the 2010 Tech Awards Gala Event . Awards were presented in five areas: Environment, Economic Development, Education, Equality and Health. Inside there were 20 stations set up with this year’s laureates. Talking with each of these passionate and amazing individuals was fascinating. It was hard to stop talking to one – so I could move on to the next. The impacts these people and their organizations make are being felt world-wide. Using technology as a base for knowing change is possible, change is happening. What did I learn last night? I learned that in some parts of India everyone has a cell phone but few have indoor plumbing or access to clean water – change is happening. I learned it’s now possible to give immunizations and antibiotics with a needle-fr

Work on What Matters — Social Edge

I'm having a conversation over at Social Edge on What Matters . Feel free to join in the conversation and share your views on the topic. Here's my kick-off post for the thread: I was impressed when I heard Tim O'Reilly, one of the main thought leaders in information technology, recommending to all tech folks last year that they Work on Stuff that Matters . Tim's point wasn't that all tech developers should go to work for nonprofits, it was that people should step back and think about what matters to them. Life is too short to throw your professional life away on stuff you don't care about. Like many techies, I came to work on technology because I loved doing it. We get a charge out of figuring things out, and understanding how the world works in a deep ways. Almost all the geeks I know want to do something important , something meaningful, whether exploring something new in cosmology, designing a building that could better resist an earthquake, cure a

Wikileaks War Data Reveal Underreporting of Iraqi Civilian Casualties

A Guest Beneblog by Anita Gohdes, Jeff Klingner, Megan Price and Patrick Ball The recent release of almost 400,000 secret US military files on the war in Iraq through Wikileaks has attracted wide media coverage . These documents, officially known as the significant acts database (SIGACTS), add new insights to the ongoing debate on how many casualties have occurred in Iraq since the beginning of the war. The unofficial Iraq Body Count (IBC) , which tracks civilian casualties in Iraq based on press reports and administrative records, has initiated a comparison of their own data to the deaths documented in the SIGACTS data. In a commendable effort, they are recoding the SIGACTS data to correct coding errors and in order to match it with their own database. They have estimated that the SIGACTS describes 15,000 civilian deaths previously undocumented by IBC (BBC’s report is here ). Most of these previously-unknown deaths occurred in small incidents, in which 1-3 people were killed

Verdict in Guatemala Disappearance Case!

Just got late-breaking news: the judges just rendered a guilty verdict in the trial I was about to discuss in the following blog post! Will share more details from our team later, but this is a great day for fighting impunity around forced disappearances. Benetech Statistical Expert Testifies in Guatemala Disappearance Case The Benetech Human Rights Program uses cutting edge computing methods and statistical analysis to provide objective evidence of human rights violations. The scientifically defensible data in our findings serve as a powerful tool to combat impunity and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. A strong example of this work was shown on October 18th when Benetech statistical consultant Daniel Guzmán presented expert legal testimony in the trial of two former agents of the Guatemalan National Police, Abraham Lancerio Gómez and Héctor Roderico Ramírez. The officers have been accused of complicity in the disappearance of Guatemalan student and union leader Edgar F

Bookshare International’s Viji Dilip Profiled in Magazine

The staff I work with at Benetech are committed to the communities that we serve with our technology. Among the people I’m privileged to call a colleague here at Benetech is Viji Dilip, the International Program Coordinator for our Bookshare International service . Washington Square Magazine, which is published by Viji’s alma matter San Jose State University, included a profile of Viji in their most recent issue. Entitled The Gift of Insight , the story recounts Viji’s personal journey and how it inspired her to work with members of our Bookshare service who have print disabilities that make it difficult for them to read traditional text. Viji, who is from India, received a BA in accounting from Madras University and moved with her husband to the Bay Area. After receiving an MBA and CPA from San Jose State in 1995, and working for Hewlett-Packard and several tech startups, Viji received an unexpected diagnosis from her doctor. She was told that a brain tumor was pressing on her optic n

Google Maps Dirty Trick or Malfunctioning Feature?

[Update] Brewster and I discussed this, and it looks more like a malfunctioning feature. He pointed out that putting more of the address in gets the right location, i.e. "300 Funston Avenue, San Francisco CA" works. So, perhaps "300 Funston" is ambiguous enough that Google Maps is trying to figure out where it is, connects it to the Archive (Wayback Machine) and then routes to an obsolete location? Reported it to Google of course, but may take a while. [/update] Wasted about 30 minutes this morning thanks to a weird coincidence. I'm going to the Internet Archive's new office at 300 Funston in San Francisco, to attend the Books in Browsers conference . However, Google Maps routed me to a point two miles away when I typed 300 Funston into my Android phone's Google Map function. Not really knowing all of San Francisco's streets, I got out and recognized the old location of the Internet Archive. Walked up, and they said that the Archive had moved

Delivering Bestsellers to the Bookshare Community

An Insider Reveals How the Latest Hot Books Are Added to Bookshare’s Collection of Accessible Titles A Guest Beneblog by Liz Halperin After working for many years as a volunteer for Bookshare, I became a paid proofreader for the collection about two years ago. I now review books that are scanned and uploaded in formats that can be read using different forms of assistive technology such as text-to-speech, digital Braille or enlarged fonts. Most of the books I work with are books requested by students and titles from the New York Times (NYT) bestsellers list. Last spring, I had a chance to visit “The Mother Ship,” Bookshare’s main office at the Palo Alto, California headquarters of Benetech, Bookshare’s parent nonprofit. While I was there, I discovered how the NYT bestsellers make it into the collection. I used to think that publishers just sent electronic copies to Bookshare. Wrong. While publishers do donate thousands of digital texts to Bookshare, the NYT bestsellers are added to the

Science Technology and Society Forum in Kyoto

I'm in Kyoto, Japan for the STS forum, an incredible gathering of top scientists and policy leaders from around the world. The caliber of attendees is amazing from all countries: ministers of education and science, top scientists, university presidents. The event is the brainchild of Koji Omi, former Finance Minister of Japan. His concept was that science and technology was critical to the future of society, and he wanted to build an inclusive international forum of top leaders literally from all over the world to tackle major problems. Of all the discussions I heard, the ones on climate change were the most exciting and compelling. The phrase "the failure of Copenhagen" was often repeated, especially poignant given that we were meeting in the same building where the Kyoto Protocols were agreed. There was special energy around the concept of climate adaptation: the idea that no matter what happens on controlling greenhouse gases (see, failure of Copenhagen), that c

Just Joined a New Federal Commission!

I recently was sworn in by Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter as one of nineteen people serving on the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities . The Commission has one year to do research, hold public hearings and make recommendations to Congress on what should be done to make higher education materials more accessible to students with disabilities. We have top leaders from the Department, the disability community including students, publishers, the Copyright Office, academia and other experts. The law that Congress passed that directed the creation of the Commission has quite a number of issues we're supposed to work on, including definitions of qualifying students and instructional materials as well as considering what systems might be established to help accessibility be better delivered. The details are linked to here in the Federal Register , and includes a pointer to the actual law section.

Mass Market Accessible Books

We've worked with O'Reilly Media for a long time. They were the first publisher to sign on to deliver their books electronically to Bookshare back in 2003, and gave us permission to provide their books outside the U.S. We take their files and convert them to the DAISY format which is a digital format designed specifically to create accessible materials for people with print disabilities. The big advantage of DAISY over typical scanned files is that DAISY includes much more extensive navigation (chapters, sections, page numbers, etc.). More and more publishers are asking that we return to them the DAISY files we create. We're excited about this trend and the opportunities it creates for the commercial availability of mass market accessible books. O'Reilly is again leading the charge. Check out this O'Reilly's announcement that their ebook bundles now include DAISY talking book format files to see the fabulous work they're doing. Why is this a big deal? Beca

Bookshare Volunteers Are the Best!

When Bookshare was first created, we conceived of the concept of a digital library built by the people who use the library, instead of solely by librarians deciding what people with print disabilities should read. Using a provision of U.S. copyright law, our volunteers scanned the books they wanted to read and then were able to upload them to Bookshare so that others could enjoy these books as well. Many of our books come straight from socially minded publishers at this point, but our volunteers still play a crucial role, and Bookshare would not be what it is today without them. This email from one of our volunteers illustrates just one of the ways volunteers continue to contribute to the collection (now well over 80,000 titles!) With the addition of the book "Bright Wampum" to the collection today (September 7th), Bookshare is one of the few (if not the only) libraries in the world to have copies of all of Dorothy Lyons' novels for teens. These novels were mostly publi

Travel Tips for Social Entrepreneurs

I'm just wrapping up a week of conversation on Social Edge, entitled Travel Tips for Social Entrepreneurs . I'm fascinated not only with the big questions in the social entrepreneurship field, but also the practical practices of doing the job of social entrepreneur better. One of those practices is how to travel as cost effectively as possible. The conversation ranged over how to use Priceline, choosing socially responsible travel products and an idea for staying with other social entrepreneurs. Here's how I kicked off the conversation: We spend a lot of time talking about the big picture issues around social change. But, sometimes it’s important to get practical and talk about nuts and bolts issues. Being a social entrepreneur is all about doing more with less. So, how do you stretch your travel dollars? As a social entrepreneur who is typically on the road more than half the time, I find myself thinking about this a lot. What’s the tradeoff between saving time and sav

Making Exercise Equipment Accessible

Benetech doesn't make tangible stuff: we've decided that our expertise is in making electronic bits. Software and content are easily scaled up. But, the world still needs tangible things, and the market often fails to deliver them. Rich Thesing, a long-time disability activist and fellow Fellow of the American Leadership Forum in Silicon Valley, has been thinking hard on how to make exercise equipment accessible. As someone was injured as a result of an accident, Rich knows that there can be severe consequences for people with these kinds of disabilities if they don't maintain muscle tone in their limbs. There are lots of exercycles that are in health clubs and exercise rooms around the world, but they lack minor accessibility features to make them usable. Most people who are quads have partial use of their limbs, for example, little use of their legs but partial use of their arms. Rich's problem is that he can get his first foot onto the pedal and strapped in, b

A Modest Complaint to Bookshare

Thanks to incredible work on the part of socially responsible publishers, our volunteers and the Bookshare team, we've been adding books at at incredible rate: more than 10,000 books in the last month. As a result, I recently received the following complaint letter from one of our long-term members, Chancey Fleet: Jim, I would like to register a complaint! Bookshare is piling on books faster than I can read the titles. Ever since I was a kid, I was a title glutton. I went through every catalog the NLS had and every Braille Book Review. I did the same later with Web Braille, and whole months have gone by during which I knew every book that hit the collection. This was viable, maybe even adaptive behaviour in a climate of scarcity. I could pluck out a handful of the finite number of books on offer and leave the rest, and if I didn’t have absolute choice, I at least got to be sure I wasn’t missing anything. Not. Anymore. Bookshare is adding so much content that favourite authors of m

Exciting Social Enterprise Group I met at the Skoll World Forum

One of the more interesting people I met at the Oxford Skoll meeting this year was Raja Moubarak, founder of Winquest . Raja is a seasoned business executive with senior level experience in multinationals (Coca-Cola, B&W/BAT, BOC Group, Societe Generale) in Europe, Asia and in multiple Middle East/North African countries (MENA), as an entrepreneur and as Managing Director of one of the oldest retail groups in the MENA region. His idea is straightforward: he believe the Middle East/North Africa region is ripe for values-centered for-profit social enterprises that can both make plenty of money and deliver social benefits. With his long expertise in bringing products to this region, he's working to find connections with companies interested in expanding into this area. But, just companies that have social good as a crucial part of their DNA. It's probably not a coincidence that the Obama Administration is focusing efforts on entrepreneurship in the Muslim world: there'

The 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

This has been a really exciting week in Washington, DC, with the focus of today's 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's hard to imagine a world without the ADA, which was passed during my first year in the disability field. It became a model of civil rights legislation for people with disabilities, and I'm sure paved the way for the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Last week there was a strong technology focus in the events: I was invited to an event at the White House (actually, the Old Executive Office Building) to hear from senior leaders from the Administration make announcements and talk about the power or technology to help people with disabilities. Kareem Dale, the President's senior disability advisor, was the master of ceremonies, and he got the federal CTO and CIO , an FCC Commissioner, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce overseeing the broadband program, and a senior federal procurement policy guy there. Ka

Authorized Entities <> Trusted Intermediaries

A hot topic at the SCCR20/WIPO discussions in Geneva on global access to materials by the print disabilities is the term "Trusted Intermediaries"("TIs"). This was first introduced (to my knowledge) in the Stakeholder's Platform discussions, which were the quickly ginned-up alternative option created in response to the original introduction at WIPO of the Treaty for the Visually Impaired ("TVI") by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay (and now co-sponsored by Mexico). The concept of TIs uses U.S. and similar copyright exceptions as a starting point. In the U.S. exception, Section 121, posted at Bookshare as the Chafee Amendment, the term is "authorized entities." In the statute: "authorized entity" means a nonprofit organization or a governmental agency that has a primary mission to provide specialized services relating to training, education, or adaptive reading or information access needs of blind or other persons with disabilities; I

My remarks just made at WIPO today

Statement of Benetech to the 20th Session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights at the World Intellectual Property Organization June 23, 2010, Geneva, Switzerland • My nonprofit organization, Benetech, operates Bookshare, the largest online library for people with print disabilities, with the mission of bringing accessible books to all people with print disabilities around the world • We have roughly 100,000 members in the U.S. with print disabilities, with more than 70,000 copyrighted works in our library, the majority of which have been created under the US copyright exception by volunteers, mainly people with disabilities themselves, helping each other. • At Bookshare, we have been very sensitive to the complaints of blind and print disabled people around the world, feeling that they have been unfairly denied access to our extensive collection o My explanation that it’s simply copyright law doesn’t make them feel any better • We would like a binding instrument so

Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights at WIPO

I'm here in Geneva for the 20th Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights meeting. This is the international forum for discussing copyright issues, and it is the body considering the Treaty for the Visually Impaired (TVI). Jamie Love of KEI took the above picture of ACB's Eric Bridges, NFB's Scott LaBarre (and his wife Anahit Galechyan) and me at the meeting: I was busy tweeting what I was hearing at my Twitter handle of @JRandomF. Hot issue this week are the now four proposals on solving the problem of access to print by people with print disabilities globally: The TVI: the treaty sponsored originally by the World Blind Union and supported at WIPO by Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay and Mexico. [I was one of the co-drafters of the treaty language] The U.S. draft Joint Recommendation The EU draft Joint Recommendation The African broader Treaty draft Look forward to updating on Twitter what's happening.

Supporting Vulnerable Human Rights Defenders in the Congo

Dr. Patrick Ball, Benetech's Chief Scientist and Vice President of our Human Rights Program, is spending much of this year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Patrick is working with a UN human rights project. The importance of supporting human rights in the DRC was underscored this month when it was reported that Floribert Chebeya, executive director of one of the DRC’s largest human rights organizations, Voice of the Voiceless (VSV), was found dead on the outskirts of Kinshasa. Chebeya, who also directed a national network of DRC human rights groups, died of unknown causes after being summoned on June 1st to meet General John Numbi, the head of the national police force. According to news reports Chebeya was found dead in his car early the next morning. Amnesty International notes that there has been increased oppression of human rights defenders in the DRC this past year including illegal arrest, prosecution, phone threats and repeated summoning to the offices of th

Heading out on the road

I'm now on the road for more than 5 weeks on combo business trips and family vacation. DC this week and Geneva next week (international copyright). As I headed out the door, I ran into Scott Rains and we had a picture taken of Scott in his Brazil jersey (after the U.S., I'm a big Brazil fan too). Scott is helping with the Bookshare volunteer community as a Benetech Fellow. I can tell World Cup fever is really hitting!

Towards Global Access for the Print Disabled

A Policy Update from an engineer, Jim Fruchterman of Benetech June 8, 2010 The international copyright negotiations in Geneva around a proposed Treaty for the Visually Impaired (“TVI”) have been steadily heating up. Counterproposals have been made, governments have been engaging with rights holders, consumers and NGOs (or not!) and there’s a general feeling something is going to happen. I’m heading to Geneva later this month for the next major meeting at the World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”), to hear the latest and make my three-minute oration as an accredited NGO representative (first time for me!). My recommendation to the advocacy community is to continue to pursue a “yes-and” approach, as we have so far with the TVI and the Stakeholders’ Platform. However, my suggestion is to pursue the U.S. Joint Recommendation and the TVI, but drop the Stakeholders’ Platform. This update explains my reasoning. Remember, IANAL (I am not a lawyer). So, your lawyer’s opinion may vary