320,000 book boost helps tackle accessible reading famine in education sector

A free service that helps print-disabled people in the UK access educational texts has tripled the number of titles available since last year – reaching more than a quarter of a million books overall.

320,956 books are now available through the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Bookshare service, which has offered accessible education resources to students, schools and colleges across the UK since its launch in 2016.

It was established to help tackle the worldwide book famine, which sees less than 10 per cent of published works being made into accessible formats, such as braille, large print or audio. This low availability of accessible materials has a large impact in the education sector – alienating over 40,000 children and young people who are living with sight loss in the UK, as well as 1 in 10 people who have a print disability, such as dyslexia.

Since its launch three years ago, learners and teachers have accessed more than 196,902 titles via the RNIB Bookshare portal. Nine in ten learners (90 per cent) who used the service felt they had increased independence and inclusion, while a further 86 per cent felt they had improved literacy skills.

David Clarke, Director of Services at RNIB, said: “Learners with a print disability are typically denied access to key curriculum and educational resources because they’re not able to access the text of a printed book. Despite their ability, knowledge or skill, this lack of resources can restrict their potential within the educational system.

“With the incredible growth of our Bookshare library over the last year, we are in a better position than ever before to be able to address the imbalance of support for learners with a print disability. We are now allowing millions of people to literally open up their education with access to materials that allow for an entirely independent learning experience.”

Case study: “It would have been almost impossible to do my GCSEs without RNIB Bookshare”

Charlie Beeston aged 16 from Lincolnshire, has optic nerve hypoplasia (a congenital condition where the optic nerve is underdeveloped), nystagmus (which causes constant, involuntary eye movements) and ocular albinism (a genetic disorder causing reduced pigmentation of the iris).

Charlie is registered severely sight impaired but he can read large print. However, at school it was often difficult for Charlie to take part in education alongside his peers. He said: “My secondary school didn’t really know how to help at first, as I was the only visually impaired person in secondary school in the county at the time. I wasn’t able to join in several lessons, like art, technology, geography and ICT. Sometimes I had nothing to do.

“I always struggled on being able to get the kind of resources that all the other pupils had. Textbooks for school, revision guides. Basically, anything that any other student can get from a teacher. RNIB Bookshare changed that. Now, I’ll go to my Teaching Assistant and say, ‘can we get this off RNIB Bookshare, please’ and, she’ll put it on my laptop, where I can enlarge the font.

“Taking my GCSEs would have been almost impossible if I didn’t have RNIB Bookshare. Being able to come home and revise independently was a massive help for me.”

Last month, Charlie achieved one A**, three 3 A*s, four As and one B in his GCSEs. He’s now back in school studying for his A-levels (Psychology, History, Government and Politics) and he continues to use RNIB Bookshare.

For more information about RNIB Bookshare, please visit www.rnibbookshare.org