Wednesday, June 07, 2006.
Benetech http://benetech.org/ based in Palo Alto, launched a digital library for the visually impaired in 2002 called Bookshare.org . I came across Bookshare.org while I was entering some entities from a list that Kevin gave me and I thought that it was worth mention, what with the "death of print" becoming a more popular idea everyday. While digitization endeavors like Project Gutenberg take aim at the general population, Benetech created Bookshare.org with the specific goal of making books accessible only to users with visual disabilities.
In order to gain access to the library, a user must register on the site and then provide proof of their disability. Proof of disability is the way Bookshare.org is able to comply with copyright law, using an amendment that allows copying for the purpose of making it accessible to people with disabilities. The user then pays a set up fee and a yearly subscription fee, both of which are cheap (set up is $25 and subscription is $50 a year). Through Bookshare.org, they gain access to a digital library of scanned materials and are able to download Braille versions that can be translated through a reader on the user's computer or printed out and read by hand.
According to Benetech CEO James Fruchterman in a May 24 blog post (Beneblog),
LINK: http://benetech.org/about/beneblog_archives/beneblog_archive.shtml the World Intellectual Property Organization recently discussed Bookshare.org at length in a paper entitled "Automated Rights Management Systems and Copyright Limitations and Exceptions," recognizing it as an outstanding model. LINK: http://www.wipo.int/meetings/en/doc_details.jsp?doc_id=59952
Fruchterman is himself a model, recognized as the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship's 2003 Social Entrepreneur of the Year
LINK: 2002 Caltech news article http://pr.caltech.edu/periodicals/CaltechNews/articles/v36/bookshare.html
The work of Benetech is proof that technology can be used to improve people's lives in more ways than simply making things more convenient. While we sit back and entertain ourselves with digital cameras, iPods, and shiny new Mac computers with Intel chips, Benetech is thinking about how the new technology we take for granted can be applied as a social resource
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