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Read an EBook Week

BARD Mobile app showing navigation buttons to play/pause forward and rewind.
National Library Service BARD Mobile app

 The first week of March is Read an Ebook Week, so it’s the perfect time to celebrate how digital eBooks have transformed reading for those of us who find print difficult or impossible to read, with a vision loss. EBooks are so varied today that regardless of your comfort level with technology, there is a way to read, no matter what your vision loss might be, or your level of comfort with technology.


One of the easiest ways to dive into eBooks is with the free Talking Books program from the National Library Service (by phone: 888-657-7323). This is a federal program that will send you a Talking Book player, at no cost, which plays eBooks on a digital cartridge. It’s about the size of a portable cassette player and pretty easy to use. Books are recorded on digital cartridges and sent to patrons in the mail with postage-paid to return them to the library. Books can be ordered with a phone call to the state’s library affiliate. Also, there are many magazines available this way too, so if you want the latest copy of Reader’s Digest, for example, it can be delivered on a Talking Book cartridge. Just slide the cartridge into the player, press the “Play” button, and sit back to listen to the magazine. Each book or magazine is read by ahuman narrator, so it’s like having a personal reader.

For smartphone or tablet users, there are even more options. Talking Books is also available as an app, called BARD Mobile, available for both iPhone and Android devices. The app allows users to download eBooks and magazines immediately to the app, rather than waiting for the cartridge to come in the mail. The app, like the Talking Book player is easy to use, free, and has some great features, like a sleep timer.

For braille readers, Talking Books now offers an electronic braille eReader, also at no cost to patrons. With the braille eReader, books can be downloaded over the internet to the device and read using the 20-cell braille display.

In addition to Talking Books, Bookshare (by phone: 650.352.0198) offers over a million book titles to subscribers with a vision loss or other print disability. Bookshare is free for students, and $79/year for non-students. For this fee, subscribers can download up to 100 books a month! It is worth noting here, that in some states, the Talking Book program will cover the cost for Bookshare titles, so it’s worth asking if this is something your state’s NLS program supports. Also, registered members of Hadley are considered students by Bookshare, and the annual subscription fee is waived.

Bookshare books can be read on a computer, smart device, or even on the Amazon Alexa smart speaker. One of the biggest differences between Bookshare titles and Talking Book titles is that most books from Bookshare are in a digital text format that is read by an app. Although some of these electronic voices are very human-like, it is not the same as a human narrator for some readers.

On the computer, eBooks can be read right in the web browser from the Bookshare website. On a smartphone or tablet, an app like Bookshare Reader, Dolphin Easy Reader, or Voice Dream Reader can be installed to download and read books. When using Amazon Alexa, just say, “Open Bookshare Reader,” and follow the instructions and prompts.

In addition to Bookshare and Talking Books, programs specifically designed for patrons with a print disability, many public libraries are lending sBooks using services such as LibriVox and cloudLibrary. Both of these services will require an app on the computer or smart device. EBooks can be downloaded and read for a specific amount of time, before they time out—usually within several weeks. Like physical library books, they can be renewed if there is not a waiting list for them. 

Both of these services are also free from most libraries. The disadvantages of these alternatives however is that at times, you may need to wait for the book you want, and some features of the apps may be less accessible to screen readers than the apps for Talking Books or Bookshare, which have been specifically designed with accessibility in mind.

While there are many options for reading eBooks with a vision loss today, one of the biggest obstacles, may simply be our ability to make the transition from reading print to reading digital eBooks, where the electronic device is doing the reading in a computerized voice, or even listening to a human reading the book on a digital cartridge, rather than reading it in print. It is a different experience and for some, may seem less satisfying, at first. What is truly amazing, however, is the way these eBooks have totally transformed the ability and ease with which we can access an ever increasing number of books at no cost. It is ironic that a vision loss, which we might assume will makes access to books more difficult, in fact, opens the door to more books than we can ever hope to read.


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