Next Chapter Book Club Helps Developmentally Disabled People Keep Reading

Jeffrey Fadel, from left, Grace Underwood and Ashley Barrow read at a Gahanna, Ohio, meeting of a Next Chapter Book Club for adults with developmental disabilities. The group meets at a Panera Bread restaurant. (Next Chapter Book Club)

The Next Chapter Book Club is just that for adults with developmental disabilities; an opportunity to maintain reading and literacy skills beyond school.

Based in Columbus, Ohio, the Next Chapter Book Club has 250 individual book clubs across America, Europe and in Israel. Each club is composed of between five and eight participants facilitated, typically, by two trained volunteers. They meet once a week for an hour primarily in bookstores and cafes. Libraries are also a natural setting for the book club, program manager Jillian Ober said in a phone interview, but one of the objectives of the nonprofit organization is to enable book club members to participate in a “coffee club culture” in a public meeting place.

Participants take turns reading aloud. As with any book club, facilitators are charged with keeping members of the group with a diverse set of abilities and reading levels similarly engaged, Ober said. “We include people who don’t read at all or who need help with every single word on the page. The facilitators keep things moving and fun. It’s not meant to be a class.”

​Book selections range from classics such as “Treasure Island” and “Black Beauty” that have been adapted for a third- or fourth-grade reading level to youth and young adult fiction such as “Charlotte’s Web” and “Little House on the Prairie.” “‘Harry Potter,’ even,” Ober said.

The Next Chapter Book Club was created in 2002 under the auspices of the Ohio State University Nisonger Center. The center is devoted to “research, education and service to improve the lives of persons with disabilities, their families and service providers worldwide,” according to its vision statement.

​”It’s one thing to live in a community, it’s another to be included as part of your community,” Ober observed. “After they graduate, opportunities are limited for this particular population to maintain the literacy and reading skills they’ve developed. We all continue to learn and grow.”

For more information about starting or joining a Next Chapter Book Club in your area, log on to

Donald Liebenson is a freelancer.

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