AAC, AT, Families, Inclusion, Literacy, UDL

Tar Heel Reader: An Open Source Library of Talking Books

by Samuel Sennott

Children, teenagers, and adults need books to be able to learn to read and getting accessible books to them is the goal of the Tar Heel Reader. This open source library of books that are switch accessible, talking, internet accessible, and downloadable will grow exponentially due to the terrific job Gary Bishop, a computer scientist from UNC Chapel Hill, has done designing the Worpress powered interface. This combination of efforts between computer science and education is phenomenal. He presently teaches a course in Computer Science focused on accessible software and hardware. Karen Erickson, Gretchen Hanser and Gary Bishop have been meeting and collaborating for quite some time. It is inspiring to me to see as an example as I emerge into the research phase of my teaching practice. From earlier efforts from this team of computer scientists, The Tar Heel Typer and Dance Dance Revolution mods, to the present and into the future, they surely serve as a powerful example of what we can do as educators to team up with computer science programs. Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver have worked tirelessly on the concept of creating accessible texts that are age appropriate, rich in quality, and powerful in the literacy instructional process. See the Beginning Literacy Framework by Karen Erickson, Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite, and Ruth Ziolkowski to understand types of texts helpful to early readers. This project has the potential to make texts available to people in a way only possible with the advent of the internet and the concepts behind the Read/Write web and Web 2.0.

I believe in this project and concept with all my heart and am more than happy to be now seeing it come into the world. As I step forward from teacher to both teacher and researcher, I have seen a very powerful lesson: combine your dreams, visions, gifts and technical skills with others who have other dreams, visions, gifts, and technical skills and you can create and help more than ever imagined.

So start getting these books to your students and start authoring. Remember if one thousand people each work for one hour on a project with agreed upon standards you can create…

Go to the Tar Heel Reader

Let’s See the Books and How it Works!

Here is how you choose a book.

Here is a page from a book:

You have multiple options for accessing the books:

  • on the web
  • download the PowerPoint File
  • Open Office Impress File
  • Flash File

Speech can be enabled or disabled.

Switch Scanning

Switch Scanners can access the books with various keystrokes, including most of they keys on the keyboard. (soon to be optimized to go forward and back)

The power of this project is in the exponential amount of material to be available for all types of individuals learning to read. I have been working on this concept quite a bit and I believe that this is a One to One Thousand scenario. One key concept is the availability of age appropriate texts on an unprecedented level.

Here is how the book building process works:

  • You use images from the Creative Commons section of Yahoo’s Flickr.

  • The images are automatically cited. See how it works here.
  • You add your text to each page you create.

  • Add some keyword tags, such as words about the content, if it is an enrichment, transitional, or conventional text, or anything else you would like.
  • Click to post your book. A talking book that is switch accessible and and able to be downloaded offline is created.
  • It is that simple. No more PP notes citations, large file problems, conversion nightmares! Hallelujah.

Let us rally behind this amazing project in a way never before seen! Let’s go! We can do it all together!

Go to the Tar Heel Reader


June 19, 2008 - Posted by | Special Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. AWESOME idea Sam! Can’t wait to help and watch this project grow!

    Comment by S.Gorham | June 19, 2008 | Reply

  2. S- It will be awesome to see it grow at GLEC! Do it up.

    Comment by alltogether | June 19, 2008 | Reply


    My 9 yr. old (Elias) has already opened his Tarheel library (via touch screen) and (perhaps for the first time ever), been able to CHOOSE INDEPENDENTLY among MANY choices of REAL, INTERESTING books he WANTS to read and CAN read
    (as opposed to recent school experiences, e.g., having choices made for him and memorizing words on a page….)

    As I write this, he has been screaming: “I LOVE THIS MOM!!!” (honest!)

    NEXT UP…he’ll be writing and submitting his own book about what its like to read Tarheel readers…

    Wasn’t it just about a year ago in Florida this concept was being discussed as a “what if” dream? I am in awe of all of your relentless efforts to make this a reality.

    How do we thank you for such a gift?

    I hope we can contribute to this amazing effort.


    Jill and Elias

    Comment by Jill & Elias - Philadelphia | June 20, 2008 | Reply

  4. Jill. That was pretty cool when it was originally dreamed about last year at the seminar. Don’t thank me. Thank Karen Erickson and Gary Bishop. That is so cool that Elias is loving it. Right on!

    Comment by alltogether | June 20, 2008 | Reply

  5. […] Tar Heel Reader: An Open Source Library of Talking Books « Alltogether […]

    Pingback by Daily Bookmark Post 06/25/2008 | Thoughts from a tech specialist... | June 25, 2008 | Reply

  6. […] being said, it is fun watching the theory unfold over on the terrific collaboration between UNC’s Center for Literacy and Disability Studies and the Computer Science Department, the Tar Heel Reader. Look at how quickly an open source library of books is growing, by checking […]

    Pingback by One to 180 « Alltogether | June 30, 2008 | Reply

  7. Post subbed, interesting blog post. Loving your blog.

    Comment by Anonymous | April 4, 2011 | Reply

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