Digital library to ‘empower’ visually impaired students

Digital library to ‘empower’ visually impaired students

For the first time ever, students with visual impairments and print disabilities will now be able to access more than 500,000 academic books and resources in their preferred formats.

The National Council for the Blind Ireland (NCBI) today launches Bookshare Ireland, the country’s largest accessible digital library, providing access to resources in digital braille, PDF, Word, and DAISY audio and images.

This new library means that students with visual impairments or print disabilities, including dyslexia, or any physical limitation in holding a printed book or text, will no longer be disadvantaged, said Chris White, chief executive of NCBI.

“We are acutely aware that studying in third level 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,” said Mr White.

Available on Bookshare.ie, the accessible library will allow students to fully embrace third level and further education, he added.

“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 at 1.8% of the student population,” he said.

Aoife Watson, a recent graduate of National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM) and who has experienced sight loss, said that university was extra challenging as the books she needed were not available in a format accessible to her.

“It was so frustrating seeing how easy it was for other students to access the books that I couldn’t,” she said.

“I know if I had access to the books I needed when I needed them, I would have achieved a higher overall mark in my degree,” she said, adding she is likely to return to university to complete her master’s due to the launch of the library.

Dyslexia Association of Ireland chief executive Rosie Bissett said: “Given one in 10 people have some form of dyslexia, we are delighted to be part of the Bookshare.ie initiative.

“It means students with dyslexia will be on par with all other students, thereby empowering them to reach their potential.”

O’Brien Press, Gill, and Oak Tree Press are among the publishers who have signed up to the new platform.

“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,” said Ivan O’Brien, managing director of O’Brien Press.

Bookshare is available to all blind or vision-impaired individuals living in Ireland, as well as to students with dyslexia enrolled in higher or further education.

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