A new digital library has been created which will greatly widen the number of books that third-level students who are visually impaired, or who have other print disabilities, can read.

Bookshare Ireland will provide instant digital access to more than 500,000 academic books and other materials, many of which were previously unavailable to students with such disabilities.

The new library includes a wide range of international material as well as books published by three Irish book publishers.

The National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) is launching the facility this morning.

The organisation says that until this year the range of material blind students, and others with disabilities such as dyslexia, could access here was extremely limited.

It says the new facility means that, for the first time ever, visually impaired students will be guaranteed equity of access to their curriculums.

Bookshare.ie makes texts available in Braille, as audio books, and in formats where the print can be enlarged.

Specifically designed to support students attending higher or further education, the facility will be free for students deemed eligible.

NCBI's CEO Chris White says that studying in third-level with sight loss is a huge challenge. 

He says obtaining books and information in accessible formats should not be an additional barrier.

The NCBI hopes that the development will lead to an increase in the number of students with a visual impairment attending Third level.

With such students currently comprising just 1.8% of the student population, the organisation describes this level as "chronically low".

The department has contributed €150,000 to the project, and three Irish book publishers have joined the scheme, O’Brien Press, Gill, and Oak Tree Press.

O’Brien Press says that 300 of its publications will now be available to students on their computers, phones, and assistive technology devices.

The Dyslexia Association of Ireland has welcomed the development. It says 10% of people have some form of dyslexia, the organisation says.

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Aoife Watson is a student with sight loss who recently graduated from NUI Maynooth.

"I absolutely loved my time in university", she says, "but it was extra challenging for me as the books I needed were simply not in an accessible format".

Welcoming the new digital library, she says it was "frustrating" to see how easy it was for other students to access the books that she could not access.

"I know if I had access to the books I needed when I needed them, I would have achieved a higher overall mark in my degree".

She says the advent of the new library is encouraging her to return to do a Masters sooner than she had originally planned.

Bookshare Ireland says it will continue to work with other Irish publishers to increase homegrown content available to readers.

Students can register for the new service by signing up at bookshare.ie.