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Aiming for Access

June Behrmann

June Behrmann is a longtime special education teacher (pre-K to grade 6) who retired for about two seconds, and is now prospecting for accessible instructional resources. Follow June on Twitter @aimnoncat. Thank you to AIM-VA: Accessible Instructional Materials for sharing this blog with us.

New Open eBook App Just Out. Is It Accessible?

February 26, 2016

The Open eBooks app debuted this week creating access to digital books for children in need. Right out of the box, there are questions on social media about accessibility features. That is a good thing. Many ebooks are not accessible or accessible enough for seriously struggling readers.

Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)

They need "born accessible" electronic books with speech, highlighting, note-taking and other options or other assistive formats that support their learning such as audio or braille-ready files. These are available at no cost through AEM programs in all states. AEM converts books in print and works with state and national partners like Bookshare and Learning Ally to deliver book formats that maximize learning in ways the straight e-books cannot do.

Are the Open eBooks Accessible?

"Do the books work with Voice Dream?" one Twitter follower asked about Open eBooks? Teachers and parents of struggling readers wonder if the stories can be heard as a read aloud. Here's the answer:

The Open eBooks app uses next generation eBook technology to make reading on your smartphone or tablet simple and convenient. It is designed to make browsing, accessing, and reading eBooks simple and easy, according to the website. Questions about text-to-speech are not addressed, but there is guidance on built-in features that Open eBooks offers. Readers can:

  • Change font type, size, contrast or brightness
  • Exit or navigate to a particular section

Initially the app can be downloaded to an IOS iPhone, iPad or iTouch and to Android tablets. Another version is due later that will be optimized to work on a variety of devices.

Who Qualifies?

Children and their teachers first must qualify in order to receive access codes. The app is available to any educator, student or administrator in 66,000+ Title I schools or in 194 Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools in the United States. Librarians, after-school counselors and others can register students.

Good News for SPED

All special education teachers can register students without meeting the poverty designation! The Open eBooks app will be available exclusively through educators, librarians and program leaders who are signed up with First Book. Signing up with First Book and accessing the Open eBooks app are both free of charge. On the First Book registration form, check the box that says "I work in a classroom or with a program primarily serving children with disabilities."


The free app is not part of any federal program for poor children but results from a partnership between Digital Public Library of America, The New York Public Library, and First Book. Content support comes from Baker & Taylor, a digital books distributor. Ten publishers are contributing books. Partial funding also comes from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (an independent federal agency) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Open eBooks is part of the White House ConnectED Initiative. A team of librarians shaped the collection of books.

Access the App

Sign up on the website in order to receive codes that students will need to download the free Open eBooks and access the library of eBooks that is arranged by age groups.

"For millions of America’s kids, Open eBooks can be a passport to a world of learning and opportunity — delivering over $250 million of reading material to students who need it most, and introducing them to a love of reading," the White House says.

“No matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you’ve got, you should be able to access the world’s knowledge and information just like anyone else.”

— President Obama, Anacostia Library, April 30, 2015

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"Books are a uniquely portable magic." —

Stephen King