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Are Students With 'Reading Barriers' Ready to Start the New School Year?

Most teachers of students with "reading barriers"—blindness or low vision, dyslexia, or mobility impairments that prevent them from using traditional books—feel ready to start the new school year. 

But they're not sure that their students are. 

Those are the findings from a recent survey of more than 700 teachers conducted by Benetech, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based company that creates free, accessible texts through its Bookshare initiative. Benetech, now in its third five-year funding cycle from the U.S. Department of Education, has about 500,000 student members, most of whom have dyslexia. 

The respondents were special education teachers, the majority of them current or past Bookshare members. A little more than two-thirds of teachers said they were prepared for the new year. But only about 40 percent said that they agreed that their pupils with reading disabilities were prepared. About 39 percent said they neither agreed nor disagreed with that statement, and nearly 22 percent said they disagreed or strongly disagreed. 

The instructors surveyed said they were more likely to believe their students were prepared for the new year if they also agreed that their students had access to accessible texts and appropriate technology, and if the teachers felt supported by their administrators with the resources that the teachers need.

In contrast, class size, the nature of a student's disability and the location of a school didn't appear to make a difference to teachers in how ready they perceived their students to be for the new school year.

Brad Turner, the vice president of global literacy for Benetech, says one takeaway is that teachers need to know that resources for accessible texts are out there, whether those texts come from Bookshare or from other organizations that supply books for people with disabilities, such as Learning Ally or National Library Service. And it's also important for administrators to be aware of how much teachers rely on their support, he added. 

"However that student wants to read, I just want that student to read," Turner said. 

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