Help with reading
Who Am I?
I suppose it might be worthwhile explaining who I am, as you’ll be reading more articles written by me. My name is Rebecca and I met Aidis Trust at an event in Birmingham this year. Aidis asked if I’d like to write for their blog and so here I am!
I am blind and have been all my life. While I’ve a little useful colour and light vision which can help when moving around, it is nowhere near enough to be able to see to read and write. I read and write Braille. I know many blind and visually impaired people, as well as people with a range of other disabilities. However, I’m not as familiar with the technology people with other disabilities use as I am with technology used by blind people. I can write this blog because I have access to technology that lets me use a computer.
I wanted to start off by talking about reading, as it’s one of my favourite hobbies, yet it’s something I wouldn’t be able to do without the technology we have today. In fact, despite all the technology, I don’t have access to as wide a range of books as I might like. However, I know a variety of places I can get accessible books from. So I thought I’d share these resources with you, in the hope that they may be useful to you or someone you know.
Braille and the RNIB
You may wonder why I see technology as so vital to my reading, as I can read a book in Braille without any modern technology. But technology has seriously increased the number of Braille books available, as rather than someone typing them by hand, they can be produced electronically. This has meant that the RNIB now have a massive library of Braille books. Thanks to the internet, they also have a very good online library catalogue, which is very accessible when using screen readers. Their library catalogue covers the books they offer in large print for visually impaired readers, Braille books for blind readers as well as audio books. If you’re blind or visually impaired and don’t already, I highly recommend you join the RNIB library. It’s free, so it won’t cost you anything. You can browse their catalogue and find out more at:
Unfortunately though, you cannot have all the books you want, in Braille, large print or on audio from the RNIB, as there is a limit to what books they have in their library. I have managed to find quite a lot of great books there, however there have been plenty of other books that I’ve wanted that I’ve had to find elsewhere. In fact, even the RNIB themselves advise seeking books through other sources, as well as using their library.
Finding the books you want in an accessible format is about being resourceful and having a range of sources to try. Thankfully, there are other options. I highly advise that these are used in combination, because it is unlikely that you will be able to find all the books you might want, in one source.
The Seeing Ear
The RNIB are not the only charity providing books. The Seeing Ear, has an online library for blind and visually impaired people as well as people with dyslexia to use. It allows for titles to be downloaded in Microsoft word and plain text format, amongst others, so that the user may modify them to suit their needs. This could be something as simple as enlarging the font or something as big as converting them in to Braille electronically or completely changing the colours so that it is easier to read, depending on the user’s needs. It is free and really easy to sign up for, with only a simple form for you to put your details in to before you get started.
The Seeing Ear is not a massive library but their collection is growing all the time. You may not be able to find everything you want but I have managed to find many useful books in their library, so it’s definitely worth using. Unfortunately, they do not have as much publicity as they deserve. I only found out about them because I happened to enter a poetry competition they were running, when I was at school. However, as I said before they’re definitely worth checking out. Their website is:
Audio Books and OverDrive
A reading option a lot of people who aren’t blind and even many blind people overlook, is audio books. They can be obtained through many sources. The RNIB have an audio book library. Books can be had in three different formats: on USB sticks, on DAISY CD or digitally through an app.
I used to have DAISY CDs. The way they work is they come in the post. You used to receive a special player for them, though I’m not sure if that’s the case anymore. The RNIB promote the player, on the selling point that it allows for more specific navigation within a title than a standard CD player. While this is true, I have known the DAISY player to be somewhat temperamental and know many people who have had a lot of trouble with them.
I no longer use Daisy CDs, as I now have my RNIB audio books digitally through an app. Many libraries now, including local libraries around the world and specialist libraries such as the RNIB and even those of certain schools, are having digital libraries through a service called OverDrive. OverDrive is a service that can be used online or downloaded as an app on to a smartphone or tablet. The app is good in the sense that you can download a book whenever and take it wherever easily if you have a portable device. However, it can be a bit troublesome in terms of accessibility. For example, I find when trying to search on my phone, it sometimes takes time for it to actually let me type in the search box.
The RNIB didn’t design the app. OverDrive is a standard app used by a variety of libraries. I also have books from a library local to where I live on there. Because of this, it’s not the best for accessibility. I’m guessing the RNIB just tolerate it, because the positives outweigh the negatives. You can find out more about RNIB OverDrive, as well as their other audio books services on the on the RNIB website:
There is also the option of using the OverDrive of a local library. Not all areas do it, but quite a few do so it’s worth looking. Unlike the RNIB, they are likely to provide E Books as well as audio books. I don’t know how accessible or inaccessible the E Books are, as I haven’t tried them yet.
Reading Devices and Accessibility
There is also the options of different devices for reading through other E-Book apps. Apple have a very good reputation for accessibility through their iPhones and iPads. They have developed a whole range of accessibility features, including their own speech program called VoiceOver which very successfully makes a touch screen accessible to blind people as well as a zoom facility that allows visually impaired people to zoom in and out on text, the option to change colours, backgrounds and contrasts. The iBooks app itself, allows you to change features such as: font, colour and screen brightness. All of this means that reading can be made accessible electronically for people with a range of different needs. Along with the Apple IBooks app, there are many other reading apps by different book services, which can be used on Apple devices. There are other E Readers of course, but in my experience and the experiences of people I’ve spoken to, Apple seem to be the best for accessibility, at least for blind and visually impaired people. There are additional programs that can be bought to increase the accessibility of other smartphones, tablets and E-readers, but with that added expenditure, people often find it can be more economical to purchase an Apple device, as that device can often be used for other things, such as as a phone, to browse the internet, for maps, as a calendar and can even take apps such as Microsoft Programs. However, not everyone has the resources to have an Apple device or any other device with additional programs added, which means though the technology is out there, not everyone can appreciate it.
The Overall Picture
I think there needs to be an increase in E-Books and audio books offered by local libraries. As I mentioned earlier, they do have E-Book collections, but not all libraries do.
I also think people who make tablets, smartphones and E-readers, need to follow the example set by Apple and include a range of accessibility features built in to their devices. If they can do that, it will actually benefit them, as they will see more sales to disabled people. The majority of disabled people I know, who have phones, have IPhones. It must have cost Apple to design all these features for a minority of people, but while disabled people are only a small percentage, we are a percentage of the market. At present, that percentage of the market is dominated by Apple and a few other specialist providers. So in the long run, I think technology businesses can benefit from making technology that’s accessible to disabled people.
I hope you have found this useful and it may inspire you to try reading in some new forms, if there are services here that you do not use already that you are eligible for.
Please comment and let me know of any other services or technology you use to help with reading.
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