Tech Entrepreneur Helps Blind To Read

byron pitts, bookshare
Silicon Valley is where dreams turn into household names, and millionaires are minted by the bucketful, CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts reports.

Jim Fruchterman has been an entrepreneur there for more than 20 years, and he embraces the high-tech culture.

"It is a badge of honor to be a geek, you know. Geeks love technology for its own sake, and we like to solve problems," Fruchterman says.

It's solving problems and improving lives, not lucrative stock options, that drive this geek. His startup is a non-profit. He's what's called a "social entrepreneur."

His major product — — is an online library for the blind. It's the equivalent of a medium-sized bookstore. Around the country, thousands of volunteers have scanned more than 30,000 titles, everything from Proust to Harry Potter to the latest best-seller.

It's all legal thanks to a provision of copyright law that allows the disabled to access content they couldn't get in its original form. Once the books are scanned, a computer converts them into either Braille or audio.

"The corporate goal is to make the biggest impact on people in need around the world," Fruchterman says.

Brian Miller of Alexandria, Va., is completely blind. He's one of more than 6,000 subscribers to Bookshare. In addition to books, he downloads some of the 150 newspapers available each morning, so Brian can make his D.C. commute like everyone else.

"It takes minutes. You go on the Web site, you download it, it's in your pocket and you're reading it on your way to work, the same way that somebody who's grabbing The New York Times or the Washington Post out of the machine," Miller explains. "That's bringing you into the community. To have that kind of immediate access to information is life-changing."

"I like being able to get on there and download the latest novel," says Priscilla McKinley, Brian's wife, who is also blind. "I think it's really cool that my siblings can recommend books to me now and I can go and I can read them and I can call and say, 'Hey, I read this,'" she adds.

"So it's that sort of 'I can do these things' that makes me feel good that we've created a way that they can do these things without needing help," Fruchterman says. "We're not going to go out there and read books to blind people. We're going to give them the tools so they can download the books and read them themselves."

Fruchterman recently got a MacArthur genius award. He's now trying to convince the next generation of high-tech entrepreneurs to be socially conscious.

He says he measures success by "how many people we've helped with our technology.

"That's our goal, to make sure technology really serves the bigger social issues, rather than just making a buck," he says.

In a high-tech world consumed by profits, Fruchterman is investing in people. He's doing well ... and doing good.