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DoE Grant to Fund Digital Materials for Students with Disabilities

A five-year grant issued by the Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs will help Benetech fund its DREAM Center program, making digital materials accessible to students with disabilities.

Closeup of a black keyboard with one red key that says "Accessibility" and has an icon of a person in a wheelchair.
The U.S. Department of Education (DoE) has doled out several grants this year with the hopes of improving education across the board, including one given to a company to address literacy and learning loss, and another to study the efficacy of a math tool earlier this year. The latest beneficiary of the department's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), the California-based global nonprofit Benetech, has received a five-year grant to open doors for students with special needs.

Benetech, which focuses on making education accessible to students with dyslexia, blindness, low vision or other physical disabilities, said in a news release today that the DoE grant will go toward its DREAM (Delivering Revolutionary Equitable and Accessible Materials) Center, a program that provides accessible educational materials, plus STEM content, professional development for educators and outreach to underserved groups.

“We must ensure all of our students have the tools and resources necessary to support a lifelong love of learning and academic fulfillment,” Valerie Williams, director of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services within OSEP, said in a public statement.

Williams said that lack of access to content hinders educational success and directly affects social-emotional learning for students, and the Benetech DREAM Center is something that could “improve disparate educational experiences and outcomes while also supporting inclusion and equity to help all students shine and succeed.”

The Benetech effort builds on its work over the past decade and a half of creating centers – primarily funded through OSEP grants – which led to the development of the organization's Bookshare platform, the release said. According to Benetech's website, Bookshare supplies digital textbooks and other materials in accessible formats to students in all 50 states who struggle with reading and comprehension, with the goal of knocking down barriers to literacy and education. Bookshare, which is a free service to school districts, their schools and teachers, as well as their qualified students nationwide, also provides outreach, training and support, the organization said.

According to Benetech's news release, its Bookshare platform has provided more than 20 million books to date, serving students in urban school districts like Los Angeles Unified and New York Public Schools as well as the smallest rural districts. Counting more than 1 million titles, Bookshare is accessible to students through mobile devices and assistive technology, while educators can use it to form classrooms with access to academic and non-academic content, the release said. The organization earlier in the year launched the Bookshare Reader Suite, which provides tools to help increase equity in reading and learning for those who either don’t have reliable Internet or resources to equip themselves with assistive tech. The suite has apps for smart speaker, web and mobile, the release said.

“Access to equitable education is a human right and a critical step on the path to economic, educational and social fulfillment,” Benetech Chief Executive Officer Ayan Kishore said in a public statement. “Today’s solutions must meet students where they are regardless of ability and support the hard work our teachers are doing to help level the playing field.”