NCBI launches ‘cutting-edge’ digital accessible library

14 Nov 2019

Aoife Watson using the Bookshare Ireland website. Image: NCBI

Bookshare Ireland will provide digital access to more than 500,000 books and other materials for students with print disabilities.

The National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NBCI) has today (14 November) launched the country’s largest digital accessible library, Bookshare Ireland.

The digital library is designed to support students with print disabilities – including vision impairment, blindness, dyslexia or any physical limitation for holding a printed book or text – who are attending higher or further education. It will provide access to more than 500,000 academic books and other materials in the student’s preferred format, such as PDF, audio or digital braille.

Chris White, CEO of NCBI, said that the organisation is “acutely aware” that studying in third-level education with sight loss is a “huge challenge”.

“Obtaining books and information in accessible formats should not be an additional barrier to achievement for students with a visual impairment in higher and further education.

“Through using Bookshare, these students will no longer be at a disadvantage, but instead be able to embrace and thrive in third-level education like their peers, as the books and resources they need will be available to them. It will also hopefully lead to an increase in the number of students with a visual impairment attending third-level, as it is chronically low.”

‘Cutting-edge and inclusive’

Bookshare Ireland is already working with Irish publishers such as O’Brien Press, Gill and Oak Tree Press, and NCBI said it will continue to work with other publishers to increase the homegrown content available to users.

Ivan O’Brien, managing director of O’Brien Press, described Bookshare as “cutting-edge and inclusive”.

“Ensuring that people with print disabilities can have rapid access to the broadest possible range of reading material, whether for work, study or pleasure, is really important,” he said.

“Now, students can read and learn from over 300 O’Brien Press publications on their computers, tablet, smartphones, assistive technology devices and more.”

The service will be open to all universities, colleges and further education institutions. Aoife Watson, a recent graduate of Maynooth University who has sight loss, said that Bookshare will “revolutionise a student with visual impairment’s experience” of higher education.

“I absolutely loved my time in university but it was extra challenging for me as the books I needed were simply not in an accessible format. It was so frustrating seeing how easy it was for other students to access the books that I couldn’t.

“Being able to access a book at the same time as your classmates is essential to creating an inclusive experience.”

Users can sign up for an account on the Bookshare Ireland website.

Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic