In January of this year, I learned of an opening at Benetech to fill a position as volunteer coordinator for the Bookshare project. Of course, since Bookshare is an initiative I strongly support and have featured several times in these pages over the past three and a half years, I immediately applied for consideration. Six weeks later, I was contacted, and a seven week hiring process ensued. There were ten telephone interviews with others on the Bookshare team who would have been my co-workers. On April 16, I was invited to the Benetech offices to meet everyone in person for further interviews as the next step in the process. All seemed to go very well and it was certainly an honor to meet and put faces to the names of all the staff behind my favorite blind community project. After my return home that night, it was simply a matter of waiting as feedback was collected from everyone who interviewed me, the hiring process moved forward and Jim Fruchterman made the final decision. Near the end of the process, several rumors started to be passed around Twitter and I received several e-mail and MSN (Windows Live) Messenger communications congratulating me for landing the job before I had heard any official word from Benetech!
Ever since Bookshare got started back in February of 2002, I had wondered how I could participate in a more official, paid capacity beyond my volunteer efforts as a book validator. This volunteer coordinator position was an excellent fit for my hard and soft skills, and I still believe it would have been the most compatible for the project as well. As an accessibility evangelist, I have always wanted to take a paying, action oriented position with an organization I felt was doing real work to fulfill our hopes and dreams for a brighter, more accessible future. This position represented for me and for Benetech a fantastic opportunity to reach even higher levels of book accessibility and an increased standing of the entire Bookshare.org project inside and outside the connected online community of people with print reading disabilities. My wish to be granted this opportunity to serve my blind brothers and sisters was second place in my life only to that April 1, 2005 date when I proposed marriage to Karen!
On Friday, May 2, I finally received the horribly disappointing telephone call from Lisa Friendly, Director of Bookshare Operations, telling me that I was not selected. I came in “second” to a sighted lady with more “volunteer management” experience. Obviously, I feel the decision against me is a huge let down not only for me but for the entire community served by Bookshare. Those of you who know me or have been readers of Blind Access Journal for awhile will be keenly aware of my position that any organization, or project within an organization, that serves the blind and visually impaired ought to be filled with qualified employees from our population at all levels of influence and leadership. Bringing me on board would have represented an excellent chance for Jim, Lisa and the rest of the Bookshare management team to have further demonstrated to the world the true innovation of the Bookshare project, that of the fully sighted working in concert with those with print disabilities to enhance our accessibility to the information around us, especially as compared with the institutional nature of most other organizations in our field. I was the right man for this job!
Despite everything written thus far, I continue to believe that Bookshare is one of the best initiatives currently going in the blind community. I urge anyone who is eligible to sign up for Bookshare, giving you access to more than 37,500 books in all genres. I also ask everyone, whether or not you have a print reading disability, to volunteer your effort and time to the cause. You may scan and submit new books to the collection, or validate (correct formatting and scanning errors) books already submitted as they are processed toward ultimate availability to Bookshare subscribers. Even in light of the hurt caused by this rejection, my own book validation efforts continue with gusto. Each newly scanned and validated addition to the Bookshare collection brings us one tiny step closer to the dream of full accessibility to all that is already made available to the sighted in the wonderful world of books.
I wish all the best to the newly appointed Bookshare volunteer coordinator. She has a lot of work on her plate right from the start. Expectations from this volunteer community are quite high to provide some much needed direction and fill some long-standing gaps. I trust that all of us in the Bookshare subscriber base and volunteer teams will do everything we can to ensure that our needs are met and that the project moves forward in an effective manner that works not only for the Department of Education grant but for the best interests of the entire community.