How can you read books when you have a visual impairment?

Having a visual impairment doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy books! There are plenty of audio and e-book options available, each with different factors to consider – for example how current are the books, and do they use a synthetic or active voice?

With support from our monthly Tech Talk group in Manchester, we’ve rounded up the best ways to access audio and e-book books when you’re blind or visually impaired; covering services, apps and different devices that will enable you to read your favourite books.

Please note we’re not covering braille in this blog – just audio and e-books. If you would like to find out more about braille, please visit our braille group page.

Library services

Your local library service will provide free access to e-books and audio books. You must be registered with your local library in order to access the service, which will be free to do and the library should support you to do this.

Cost: Free

Advantages: Easy to access, free service with narrated books or the option to listen to a wider range of books using the synthesised speech on your device

Disadvantages: Loans are restricted to a two week period, and there can be a limited range of books available.

To find out your local library and the services they offer, enter your postcode on the website here: gov.uk/local-library-services.

Kindle

Kindle e-books are purchased from Amazon via the Kindle app or Kindle device. These use synthesised speech (a robotic automatic voice), although there is an option to upgrade some books to a narrated version for an additional cost.

Cost: Books need to be purchased individually and prices range from a couple of pounds up to £20

Advantages: Most books can be found in the store, and there is no time limit on reading the book

Disadvantages: You need to have an Amazon account to be able to purchase books.

Image of a Kindle, in a case that's opened up like a book, being held in someone's hands.

It’s useful to bear in mind that the Kindle app is available for PCs as well as phones and tablets, and can be used on any computer running Windows 7 and above.

RNIB Talking Books

RNIB offer a free talking book service to people with sight loss. They have over 25,000 narrated books in their library, which can be accessed as a digital download via OverDrive, or can be sent out as a DAISY CD or USB.

Cost: Free

Advantages: Free access to a wide range of narrated books

Disadvantages: There can be delays in waiting for new books to be available once they are released.

Audible

Audible is an audio book store, where all books are narrated by actors and can be downloaded via the Audible app or Kindle device.

Cost: Books need to be purchased individually, and prices range from a couple of pounds up to twenty pounds. A membership fee can reduce the book cost, and a £6.50 monthly voucher can be purchased to use for one book, regardless of the book’s cost

Advantages: Wide range of audio books recorded with a personalised voice to a high quality

Disadvantages: Monthly subscription cost, and you need to have an Amazon account to be able to purchase books.

Calibre

Calibre works in a similar way to the RNIB talking library, where you can access your book digitally or via CD. Calibre has access to 10,000 books, which is less than RNIB Talking Books, however their selection has more up-to-date releases.

Cost: Initial £30 joining fee and then free for life

Advantages: Software is easy to navigate and user friendly

Disadvantages: Not all of the books are narrated, some books have been recorded using synthesised speech.

Image of the Calibre library on a computer, which has different books available surrounded by icons and setting options.

These are all ways in which you can borrow or download books onto an existing digital device, although there are some products that you can buy which are solely for accessing books, which you may prefer to save memory space and battery on your phone, for example:

RNIB In Your Pocket

The RNIB have released a new product called ‘RNIB in Your Pocket’, a Samsung device which provides access to the RNIB library, newspapers and magazines.

Cost: Purchasing the device requires a 24 month contract which will cost £20pm for the device, data and subscription to the magazine and newspapers.

Advantages: Voice controlled device, very portable

Disadvantages: Dedicated device so can only be used to access the RNIB resources, monthly subscription cost.

Victor Reader Stream

Products such as the Victor Reader Stream from Humanware can be used to store a range of audio files, including audio books, to be listened to on the go. The newest edition of the device also has access to over 36,000 web radio stations.

Cost: £295

Advantages: Easy to use, one-off cost, access to radio as well as books, and can store a number of audio books at once

Disadvantages: Expensive initial cost, uses synthetic voices, and it can take a while to get used to the layout of the device.

Image of the device in someone's hands, which is black with different buttons like a phone including a number pad as well as 7 other functional buttons.

There are plenty of ways to read when you have a visual impairment, and we hope this blog helps you to find the one that works best for you! If we’ve missed one of your favourites, get in touch with us on 0300 222 5555 or email us at stories@henshaws.org.uk.

If you’d like to find out more on how to read text using magnifiers and devices, we also have a blog which is available here.

If you’d like to find out more about any of these products, receive training or even just have a chat with other like-minded people about technology, we have a number of different groups and courses across Greater Manchester and Liverpool. You can find the group that suits you on our page here, or contact our First Step team on 0300 222 5555

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Carrie
Carrie is Henshaws' Rehabilitation Officer, specialising in digital technology. She offers a range of digital support including one-to-one assessments and training with devices such as the OrCam, and she also runs the Manchester Tech Talk groups.
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