2022 Kirby Prize Finalist Spotlight: Benetech

The Problem Benetech is Working to Solve

Access to information is a universal human right.  Yet because of the way books are produced today, more than 90% of published materials remain locked in inaccessible formats that cannot be read by millions of people with reading barriers due to learning differences or disability.

Why We’re Excited About Benetech’s Impact Potential

Photo courtesy of Benetech

While Benetech has over 20 years of success providing accessible materials to people living with print disabilities, the organization recognized the need for continued innovation to meet the magnitude of the problem it is trying to solve.  One of Benetech’s well-established initiatives, Bookshare, is the world’s the world’s largest online service for accessible eBooks.  Converting books to an accessible format after the books have been published requires a time-intensive process.  And, although Benetech has added an impressive 160,000+ accessible books to the Bookshare library in 2020 and over 130,000 in 2021, there are an estimated 1 million books published annually in just the United States.

Enter the Global Certified Accessible (GCA) program – a systems change approach that has the potential to revolutionize the publishing industry by creating digitally accessible reading materials at the point of production, rather than after publication.

We’re excited about the impact potential for several reasons, including:

  • Reshaping Publishing: GCA is reshaping publishing by driving market demand for accessible digital books available directly from the publishers, and by helping publishers meet this demand by teaching them accessibility best practices and certifying accessible book creation. An initial investment in certifying publishing organizations then has a major, long-term impact on the reading material accessibility, without significant ongoing costs for Benetech as an organization.
  • Commitment to Inclusion: Beyond Benetech’s work toward ensuring the availability of accessible reading materials, we were also very impressed with the organization’s commitment to inclusion by ensuring their products and processes are accessible by all – including their own employees.  Its workforce includes many individuals from the communities it serves with intersectional identities (e.g., individuals with print disabilities) and adheres to a robust anti-discrimination and inclusivity policy, that creates a working environment where all individuals have the infrastructure and support to be successful.
  • Track Record of Success: As noted above, Benetech has a track record of success with its Bookshare program, giving us the confidence that it has the systems and learning culture in place to achieve impact at scale through the GCA program.

The Plan to Achieve Impact at Scale

To date, Benetech has certified 24 organizations – 7 of which are key U. S. publishers – and is working with over 50 other organizations at various stages of the certification process. Over the next five years, Benetech plans to scale the GCA program to onboard 200 new publishers and conversion houses, expand geographically to cover more countries in Europe, and deepen engagement in India and the Philippines. To accomplish this goal, Benetech is planning to deploy the following scaling strategies:

  • Sharing technical expertise: Benetech is providing its expertise to publishers in the United States to train, certify, and audit GCA certified publishers as they create high quality, accessible eBooks.
  • Enabling others to scale the work: Through the GCA International Partnerships Program (IPP), Benetech recruits and trains local partners who will carry out GCA’s work in their respective region or country.  This will multiply the reach and certification power and will provide critical cultural and language skills necessary in a global context.
Benetech GCA Logo