Talking Books Are a Blessing for the Visually Impaired

The poet emily Dickinson once wrote, "There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away, Nor any coursers like a page of prancing poetry." She's right! Books can take us to far off lands and exotic places beyond some of our wildest dreams. We can sail into the distant past or fly far into the future. It is the way to travel to moons and stars never before seen by the human eye. Within the pages, it is easy to have dinner with kings and queens or talk with animals. We may even choose to stroll down a yellow brick road or be chased through the misty jungles by fantastic creatures of giant proportions. Often, the worst part of reading a book is coming to the end when we must say goodbye to those who, for a short time, have become our close companions.

For many of us, as the years have gone by, our eyes have become tired and weak. Some of us are casualties of glaucoma or cataracts. The ship has returned to port for the last time and our books collect dust on the shelf. But there is still another way to read our favorite stories. Have you heard of "Talking Books"?

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), a service of the Library of Congress, is a FREE library program of braille and audio materials circulated to eligible borrowers. The service is available for people whose poor vision, blindness, or physical disability makes it difficult to read a regular printed page.

When you call the Talking Book Line of NLS (888-657-7323), you will hear a clear and easy to understand automated menu. Options include program eligibility and general information about the service. The recorded information is clear and easy to understand. The final option connects you with the regional library in your state. You will transferred to a pleasant librarian who will graciously answer all your questions about the program before making arrangements for you to recieve an application. Applications can be sent by mail in a written form, in braille, on tape, on line, or they can even be completed over the phone. Almost anything will be done to make this process as easy as possible for the applicant.

There is also a requirement to confirm your reading limitations. Authorization can be obtained by a medical doctor, ophthalmologist, or optometrist. Your librarian, a registered nurse, therapist, or the professional staff at your hospital, institution, or welfare agency can also satisfy this requirement.

After you have been approved for the service, you will be assigned a reading advisor who will make arrangements for you to recieve an easy-to-use digital audio player with in-depth navigation capabilities, and will help you make your first reading selections from the library of over 50,000 recorded books. Shortly thereafter, you will receive your first reading selections on digital cartridges that offer superior sound quality along with a postage-free mailer for you to return the book cartridge when you have finished with it. From that point on, you will automatically receive a recording every other month which lists and gives you a short description of all the books that have recently been recorded by the NLS. Your reading advisor will be available to assist you and answer any and all of your questions for as long as you are in the program.

Magazines are also available! You may receive your favorite weekly, monthly, and bi-monthly magazines on digital cartridge. Read or browse through the magazines at your convenience using your Talking Books audio player. Titles include Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, and Harper's Weekly.

For those of you constantly on the go, there is an app that lets you play your Talking Books on your iPhone, iPad, iTouch, or any other iOS devices. The set-up guide, help options, and instructions are easily accessable within the app as well as on the mobile web site. Once you have logged into your account, you will be placed in the "Get Books" tab, which provides access to the catalog of digital talking books and magazines. You may then navigate the NLS mobile website. As you browse the book titles, a "more info" button is available to give you a book's author, narrator, total time, book number, and informative annotations. After the book you select is downloaded, it will appear on your digital bookshelf. You are ready to read. This process may also be completed using iTunes.

As you read, you may adjust the speed and tone of the voice as well as place bookmarks in the text. For most titles, you can also move backward or forward by chapter, phrase, and bookmark as well as fast forward or rewind by increments of five seconds in either direction. There is even a search function to find specific words and phrases in the text.

Bookshare is another digital library of over 220,000 books that is available to print disabled readers. There is an application and authorization process along with a subscription fee of $5 a month.

For those of you who are considering going back to school, Learning Ally (previously named Recording For The Blind and Dyslexic) produces and maintains a library of over 80,000 educational accessible audio textbooks for people who cannot read because of visual impairment, dyslexia or other disabilities. If your textbook is not in their library, they will record it for you. There is an annual membership fee of $119, with hardship waivers available. Both of these services provide mobile apps for those of you who wish to download your books on your iOS devices.

Happy sailing!


Written by William E. Andres