According to UNESCO, one in five adults is illiterate, with the majority living in the developing world—where access to books, libraries, and education is often limited. But the barrier to literacy isn’t simply a question of access, nor is it limited to the developing world. It’s a problem we see in the U.S. as well. People may struggle to read for lots of reasons. Some of these have to do with basic literacy skills, such as inadequate vocabulary.

Sometimes readers have trouble "decoding" what that string of letters on a page really means--they might have reading disabilities, for example. Readers may not have enough background knowledge about a story’s characters, geography, or culture.

At the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), an educational nonprofit near Boston, we have spent the past two decades working to leverage the potential of personal, digital technologies to customize educational media to meet individual needs. In celebration of World Book Day, CAST has created a powerful new tool, UDL Editions, that showcases how classic and sometimes difficult texts—such as Shakespeare’s 18th Sonnet and Jack London’s Call of the Wild—can be rendered in smart, reader-friendly ways to provide a whole host of learning supports—such as multimedia glossaries, chapter summaries, and read-aloud features, links to Google Maps to place settings in contemporary contexts.

The books are one of the many projects being featured starting today on The Literacy Project, a joint effort by Google, LitCam, and UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning. The project encourages literacy and reading organisations from around the globe to connect and share materials and best practice—from a searchable maps database to e-learning tools—like PlanetRead’s same-language subtitling videos—that can be used in the classroom.

We’re really excited to be participating in the project. Come join us on the site and share your thoughts!