The month of March is designated National Reading Month, making it the perfect opportunity to highlight the expanding options for readers with a vision impairment. As a vision rehabilitation therapist, one of the most common complaints clients experiencing a vision loss report to me is that they are no longer able to read the newspaper, books for leisure, or the computer screen.
Several years ago, in a Low Vision Tech audio recording (http://www.airsla.org/broadcasts/LoVisTech111122.mp3), optometrist Dr. Bill Takeshita described his personal efforts to return to reading after gradually losing his vision. He described some of the many options available for reading as a blind or visually impaired consumer, and discovered, after a period of transition, that he was reading a great deal once again. It was also equally clear, listening to this broadcast with Dr. Bill, that there was a significant adjustment process, both emotionally and educationally, as he learned which adapted methods of reading worked best for him.
Let’s look at some of the introductory alternatives available today, to return to reading with a vision loss:
You may find that regular size print, such as newspaper print, is readily accessible again with some magnification. There is a much greater variety of magnifying devices (optical or electronic) than what you find in the local pharmacy or big box store, you just need to know where to look! One of the most comprehensive lists of resources may be found on the Library of Congress website at http://www.loc.gov/nls/reference/guides/magnifying.html. Before purchasing a magnifying device, consider getting an assessment from a low vision doctor, certified low vision therapist (CLVT) or vision rehabilitation therapist specialist or vision rehabilitation therapist (VRT) to help determine which device might be most useful for your reading needs.
A good quality handheld magnifier with LED light is just one possible solution for magnification. Desktop and handheld video magnifiers (CCTVs) are also very useful particularly if changing the color of text from black on white to white on black or other color combinations makes it easier to read. Additionally, some of the newer video magnifiers incorporate text-to-speech, permitting the device to read printed material out load.
If you have a loss of vision, or other disability that affects your ability to read, you may qualify for the National Library Service (NLS) Talking Book Program. Applications may be requested over the telephone by calling 1-888-657-7323 or by going to their web at http://www.loc.gov/nls. Consumers eligible for NLS Talking Books receive an easy-to-use digital audio player, and audio books are mailed to subscribers through postal delivery. Each delivery contains a reusable shipping box with return postage provided. Books and magazines may be ordered based on a preferred genre such as ‘westerns’, or ‘romances’, or by a specific title. One of the best features of this program is that there is no cost to eligible consumers!
The NLS Talking Book program does not require access to a computer to use. If, however, consumers have access to a computer or Apple iDevice (iPad, iPod, or iPhone) books and magazines may be downloaded directly from the National Library of Congress BARD website at https://nlsbard.loc.gov.
If you are an Apple iDevice user, the free app called BARD Mobile will allow you to download and listen to books within minutes. The controls on the app look very similar to what you use on the actual NLS Talking Book player, so it is an easy app to learn to use.
For other tablet and smartphone users, a BARD app will be coming for Android devices very soon!
One of the simplest ways to regain access to the newspaper may be through a local or state Radio Reading Services.
Typically, this type of service is accessed through a radio receiver provided by the reading service or through a secondary audio channel available from a local cable service. Increasingly though, consumers may access reading services through a computer or tablet connected to the Internet. Newspapers and magazines are often read by human readers, and listeners tune in at a specific time to hear the broadcast of their favorite newspaper or section, such as ‘editorials’ or ‘obits’. For more information about a reading service in your area, contact the International Association of Audio Information Services by calling 1-800-280-5325 or at http://www.iaais.org/.
Using a computer or tablet connected to the Internet, two services in particular offer great access to a wide variety of publications: AIRS LA at www.airsla.org, and iBlink Radio at www.serotek.com/iblink. AIRS LA offers a number of national newspapers and magazines archived as audio files or “podcasts” that may be downloaded and played on a variety of devices. iBlink Radio offers a menu selection titled “Reading Services” with a comprehensive listing of state reading services that may be played using a Mac, tablet or smartphone. Both AirsLA and iBlink Radio offer free apps that will work with both Apple iDevices or Android devices.
Another option for newspaper reading in many states is the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Newsline at www.nfbnewsline.org. NFB Newsline provides access to newspapers for both high tech, and low tech consumers with a vision loss. At the most basic level subscribers may use a landline telephone (no smartphone required!) to dial a local number or toll free number. The dialing pad on the phone is used to select reading options, such as the newspaper, section, reading speed, etc. Unlike the radio reading services, however, most of the newspapers on Newsline are read by text-to-speech computer voices. This has the advantage of speeding up the reading to skim through articles if you wish, but lacks the quality and intonation of a good human reader.
Perhaps one of the greatest features of Newsline, is the flexibility the service offers for consumers who are computer users. With a computer or tablet, users may access newspapers using a Web browser, or through an app on their tablet or smartphone. In this way, text can be enlarged to read visually, read by a screen reader, emailed, or converted to an audio file that may be downloaded to another portable reading device. In a nutshell, Newsline offers many different ways to customize how a subscriber chooses to access their newspaper and take it with them on the go.
If NFB Newsline is available in your state, it has been paid for through a combination of grants, donations, or state rehabilitation funding, so their is no out-of-pocket cost to the subscriber.
Bookshare (www.bookshare.org) is a rapidly growing library of books available for subscribers with a vision loss or other print disability. Books are formatted into an electronic format called DAISY (an acronym that stands for Digital Accessible Information SYstem) that may be read using a wide variety of electronic devices. Bookshare may also be read using the NLS Talking Book player, a computer, tablet, smartphone, stand-alone DAISY player like a Victor Reader Stream, or a device with a braille display. Bookshare has a very comprehensive resource on how to play DAISY books at https://www.bookshare.org/cms/help-center/reading-tools.
A subscription to Bookshare is free for any US student. It is worth noting here that student status for Bookshare includes Adult Ed, so if you are taking courses in the community, or distance learning from Hadley School for the Blind (www.hadley.edu), for example, you qualify for a free student subscription. Non students will pay a one-time registration fee of $25, and annual subscription rate of $50. A free or paid subscription entitles subscribers to download hundreds of books annually at no additional cost. To date, Bookshare has a library of over 300,000 books so there is a wide selection. If your state participates in NFB Newsline, you may also have access to the local paper or some national magazines such as Time Magazine, AARP, or USA Today to name a few.
To sign up for Bookshare or get more information go to https://www.bookshare.org/signUpMember or call 1-650.352.0198.
Two popular apps for Apple iDevices to read Bookshare books include Read2Go (www.read2go.org) and Voice Dream (www.voicedream.com). Both offer many options for reading, including increasing the text size, color and background of text, voices used for reading text, etc. In addition, users may highlight and bookmark text.
A relative newcomer to the iPad only, is an app called Spotlight Text (www.spotlighttext.com), which focuses on ease-of-use. Text may be read in a single line scrolling across the screen (Marquee mode) or as several lines of large print scrolling from bottom to top (Teleprompter mode). Users may choose the size of the text, the speed it moves across the page, and whether or not the text is read out loud. The user interface on Spotlight Text is simple to use with large buttons, making it a good choice for users new to using an iPad or reading electronic books.
For Android tablets and smartphones, GoRead (www.goread.org) and Darwin Reader (www.darwinreader.com) are two popular apps that work with Bookshare titles. GoRead is a free app with basic features most suited for reading with text-to-speach. Darwin Reader offers more flexibility with text settings for the low vision user who prefers to read with large print.
This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive list of the many ways individuals experiencing vision loss might return to reading or expand reading options. The focus here is really on low cost and ease of access. choose any one of these suggestions and you will begin reading again, or certainly increase your many options!
This article was originally published on VisionAware.org