New Program Offers OnLine Library for Free to Eligible Students with Vision Disabilities

NEW YORK: Reading is a simple pleasure. However, millions of people are denied the joy of reading due to vision disabilities. Now, Lighthouse Guild and Bookshare have partnered with the American Academy of Ophthalmology to empower students with low vision to reach their full potential. The organizations are working alongside LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco and the members of VisionServe Alliance, who provide services for individuals who are blind or have low vision throughout the United States. The new program will use the Spotlight Gateway app for iPad to expand access to digital reading materials specifically designed for people with low vision.

“Reading should not be a privilege,” says Mark G. Ackermann, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Lighthouse Guild. “Books document our history, mark our present and inspire our future. We’re pleased to join in establishing this program to break down barriers and open a world of possibilities to students who are blind or have low vision.”

Rebecca Alexander, author, psychotherapist, fitness instructor, and extreme athlete who is almost completely blind and deaf due to a rare genetic disorder called Usher syndrome type III said, “I am an avid reader, and I access the extensive Bookshare library through the Spotlight Gateway app for iPad. It has changed my life. I am thrilled this new initiative will allow more people with low vision to expand their horizons and explore new worlds through reading.”  Ms. Alexander, author of the book, “Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found,” added, “This is a wonderful program that helps students of all ages with low vision to live as fully and independently as possible.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology’s community of member ophthalmologists — physicians who specialize in medical and surgical eye care —  will support this effort by certifying qualified students across the country for the program. Participation in this program is part of the Academy’s ongoing effort to refer low vision patients to vision rehabilitation services that lessen the impact of their vision loss, provides them with greater independence and overall quality of life. “Living with vision loss is never easy, but patients can learn how to maximize their potential by using assistive devices and techniques,” said Philip R. Rizzuto, MD, a spokes- person for American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Vision rehabilitation is now the standard of care for patients who are blind. This initiative supports ophthalmology’s commitment to helping these young people in every possible way.”

As part of the program, Lighthouse Guild in New York City and LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco will distribute a limited number of iPads through participating vision agencies, giving more students access to this extensive online library. iPad includes a range of built-in iOS accessibility features for blind and low-vision uses including VoiceOver, Zoom, Speak Screen, Display Accommodations, Dynamic Type, Magnifier, Siri and Dictation. In addition, VisionServe Alliance, which has offices across the country, will provide locations where students can access iPads if they are not in NYC or Northern California.

Bookshare, a Benetech initiative, is the world’s largest online library for people who are blind, visually impaired, have a physical disability, or a learning disability that interferes with reading, such as dyslexia. “We are proud to partner with Lighthouse Guild to make Bookshare’s library of over 500,000 books available to individuals unable to read standard print,” said Brad Turner, Benetech’s Vice President of Global Literacy. “Organizations like Lighthouse Guild help Bookshare ensure everyone has equal access to content by expanding our reach into the communities we serve.”

Training and educational sessions will be available at Lighthouse Guild headquarters in New York, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, and participating vision agencies to help patients and their family’s access, navigate and utilize the library. Detailed videos have been created and uploaded to YouTube as well, to help participating vision agencies and individuals understand how to access and navigate the expansive library.

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