Bookshare Program Makes Books Digitally Accessible

Jefferson Award Winner is President of Benetech

PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) — Kevin Leong’s computer set-up might be typical for a 15-year-old. But what he uses it for is certainly not.

“I’ve read so many books because I read ’em so quickly,” he said proudly.

At six years old, Leong suffered an organic brain injury that also affected his vision. But his computer uses a program called Bookshare to help him see and hear books.

“It was so boring in the beginning and it took forever for me to read the stuff,” he explained. “I could comprehend it but it just took forever.”

Betsy Beaumon is president of Benetech, the Silicon Valley non-profit that developed Bookshare.

“I’ve talked to parents who say, ‘I remember a time when I would be cooking dinner and at the same time reading my son his textbook,'” she said.

Launched in 2002, Bookshare is now the largest library of digitally accessible books in the world.

Since coming to Benetech in 2009, Beaumon has guided its growth from 30,000 members to more than 300,000… from 20,000 digitally accessible books, to more than half a million. And Bookshare is entirely free.

After selling two tech start-ups, Beaumon knew her next chapter was going to be different.

“How do I take all this that I’ve learned and all these things that I’ve been able to do in high tech and apply them to communities around the world that have needs that really can be benefitted by tech plus really good implementation?” she asked herself.

It’s especially rewarding when people like Leong replace an obstacle with an opportunity.

“I really enjoy listening to books,” he said. “And I enjoy listening to them quite fast.”

So for giving the visually impaired and physically challenged equal opportunities to read and enjoy books, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Betsy Beaumon.

More from Allen Martin
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