Showing posts from September, 2011

My Guide Dog Ate My Paycheck

Brownbag lunches are a regular feature at Benetech, and one of our most popular regular speakers is Bookshare team member Liz Halperin. Liz had just gotten back from getting her new guide dog, Welton. She told an enthralled audience all about the ten stages of guide dog training and the process of being matched up with a dog. Her prior guide dog had not been all that successful and she had to switch after just two years (5-9 being more typical for the length of guiding service). The highlight of the talk was when she took the apparently mellow Wellie off his harness and then he dashed around the room to be petted by 30-40 people. The funniest thing was her description of her prior dog's love of eating paper: the dog actually ate her Benetech paycheck. Our CFO, Teresa Throckmorton, explained that she switched Liz to being paid by wire transfers. As a dog owner, I know that they can sometimes chew through money, but this was ridiculous!

Making the Book Truly Accessible for All Students

Schools are back in session, and with them millions of American children who struggle daily to learn using traditional printed books. Having learning disabilities or various learning differences, they need alternative reading environments that rely on their strengths rather than on their weaknesses. This includes accessible educational materials, such as e-books that can be used with computers, or mobile devices that display enlarged text or read the book aloud while also highlighting text. We have the technological innovations to help these children and their families and educators, who are looking for strategies to aid their success. Yet, we are still far from where we need to be in order to give them equal opportunity to succeed in school and beyond. In September 2007, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) selected our successful Bookshare library as the provider of accessible materials to every student in the U.S. with a legally qualifying pri

Public speaking for change

I originally started this blog as a way to keep more of our Benetech team aware of what was going on with me and other team members (through guest blogs) while on our travels. Many of us spend a big chunk of our time on the road rather than in the office, and it's good to share some of the reasons our office chairs are often empty! Speaking publicly is an important part of our work. We do it both to advance Benetech objectives and projects, as well as advancing the field (we call these karma gigs). We invest in public speaking coaching (thanks, Melinda Henning!) to become better speakers, both for old hands like me and Benetechers getting ready for their first public speech. I asked Joan Mellea, who keeps track of these and many other things at Benetech, about my upcoming speaking commitments: she quickly came up with fifteen! More than ten of these are in just the next two months. So, I thought I'd share what's coming up to give a flavor of where in the world Jim will b

Read2Go Tops iTunes Literacy Charts!

Gerardo Capiel, Benetech's VP Engineering, just sent me a couple of exciting screen shots on our Read2Go iOS application for accessible reading of ebooks. The first one shows the Special Education category on iTunes, with the Read2Go logo being used to represent the Literacy and Learning section. And, the second one shows why: our Read2Go application is at the top of the Literacy and Learning section! We also are just about through the process with the first major upgrade to Read2Go since its release, with a bunch of fixes and improvements requested by our users.

Zerofootprint: A Cool Approach to Sustainability

We’ve been exploring the area of sustainability a great deal lately. We have some new ideas for software Benetech could be developing. But, one of our core values is to see what’s already out there and to not duplicate great work already being done. That means we frequently run into cool projects (and mentally check the box: taken care of!). In this exploration effort, thanks to John Danner, the incredibly connected entrepreneur who hangs his hat occasionally at the Haas Business School in Berkeley, I was able to meet Dr. Ron Dembo, founder of Zerofootprint. Ron showed me a brief demo at TED and we followed up with a more extensive demonstration more recently. Zerofootprint is working to make a dent in minimizing climate change, by changing people’s behavior. And, it’s not clear that making the scientific case is sufficient for people to change. But the reality is that people don’t even need to buy the scientific case for climate change to take actions that address the issue: wo