Accessible Books for Science Instruction

Many thanks to Rich Lampert, Technology teacher at TSBVI, for his invaluable input to this blog. 

In order for students with visual impairment to have access to science textbooks in an accessible format, it is vital that Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs) understand how to access the services of the two main text access organizations for students with print disabiities:  Bookshare and Learning Ally.  

TVIs  should also be aware of the differences between Bookshare and Learning Ally in order to provide the most appropriate format for the student. 

Notable differences between Bookshare and Learning Ally include format, book selection, and cost.


Learning Ally is only available in auditory format (Daisy audio).  Bookshare provides DAISY 3 text files for use with a screen reader, text highlighted or enlarged on the screen and refeshable or embossed braille through the BRF (Braille-Ready Format)

It is therefore preferable for students who require braille as well as auditory formats to access textbooks through Bookshare or to maintain an account with both Bookshare and Learning Ally.  Students who will only access text auditorilly may prefer the human-narrated audio available through Learning Ally. 

Bookshare provides digital text (computer-generated voice from a screen reader) and Learning Ally provides human-narrated audio.  For Learning Ally audio, volunteers record the text. 


Though both Bookshare and Learning Ally include a wide selection of books, Bookshare has a much larger library which includes a greater selection of newly published textbooks and periodicals. 


Bookshare is free for qualified students which includes all students with visual impairment.  Learning Ally's cost is based on a scale fee structure. Learning Ally has partnered with some states and school districts to provide services for free. Please see the resource post for Learning Ally below for more information.


Comparison of Bookshare and Learning Ally (Maine AIM Program) offers a detailed side-by-side comparison of Learning Ally and Bookshare.

The article Bookshare or Learning Ally: text access solutions for students with print disabilities by Mary Mazzoni also provides a clear outline of the two organizations and how they differ.  

More background information on Bookshare and Learning Ally can also be found in the following resource posts:


  1. From the blog: Life after IEPs - It's your Child's Future: Bookshare or Learning Ally: text access solutions for students with print disabilities, Mary Mazzoni, June 21, 2012
  2. From Maine Aim Accessible Instructional Materials: Side-by-side comparison of Bookshare and Learning Ally 

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