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Read On: Alternatives to the Book for the Visually Impaired

As people get older or if vision should become impaired, reading can become more difficult. But there are alternatives to the ordinary book which mean people can still enjoy books even if reading is no longer an option.

There are a number of alternative formats of printed materials for people with visual disabilities:

  • Large print: A publication usually using 16 point type size or larger. This option can make reading printed material possible if the reader simply requires larger text.
  • Audio cassette: A taped recording of a printed book.
  • Braille: A reading system using raised dots (Braille) so that a publication can be read through touch.
  • Diskette: When a publication is put on computer diskette, the user can gain access to information through a computer connected to a Braille printer, voice synthesiser, large print monitor or access the information through screen-reading software.
  • Electronic text: Also known as e-text, this is a general term for any type of text that can be read on a computer. E-text can usually be read by print-impaired readers through some sort of text-to-speech device in which a computer reads the words aloud, or through a screen magnifier to give a larger view of the screen, or by using a larger computer font.
  • Digital audio: A type of audio that can be played on a computer. A CD is an example of digital audio but it can also take the form of a computer file that can be downloaded from the internet. Digital audio is often used these days for recorded books. Many libraries for the blind are beginning to change over from analogue audio to digital audio.

4-Track Talking Book Library

The National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) operates a library service for people with vision impairments. Central to this is its large number of talking books. There are over 10,000 titles in stock from romances and thrillers to biographies and history. All of these books are high-quality recordings and are read by professional actors. Catalogues are available in large print, on disk and on the NCBI website.

The talking books are all recorded on 4-track cassettes and therefore they cannot be played on a standard tape recorder. The library provides members with a talking book machine - a specially designed playback machine that plays 4-track and standard 2-track cassettes. These machines are lent out free of charge to anyone who wishes to join the library. You need to be either registered with NCBI or else provide certification of your visual impairment. If you would like to apply for a talking book machine and borrow books from the library, email the NCBI library. You will then be placed on a waiting list until a machine becomes available for you. Books are sent through the post and there are no charges for postage.

The Braille Library

The NCBI also operates a Braille library with more than 3,500 titles available. A special feature of this service is the children's library which has books which have been specially adapted to include a Braille version of the text. Catalogues of books available are available in large print, on disk and on the NCBI website. There is no charge for this service or for the postage of the books.

The NCBI library has access to over 250,000 audio and Braille books internationally. If a request for an audio or Braille book cannot be satisfied in Ireland, pending availability, the NCBI library can borrow this book from another international source. For more information, contact the NCBI library.

Large Print Library

The NCBI library has a collection of large print books for adults and juniors. The library holds a unique collection of large print books for juniors aged 8 -15. For more information, contact NCBI library.

Magazines on Tape

The Drumcondra Project produces 2-track audio cassette tapes with extracts from a wide range of magazines and newspapers which are distributed to vision impaired service users. Tapes are posted out in special plastic mailing wallets with a reversible address label on the outside, which you turn over to return the tape. The next issue is copied over this tape and sent out again. Publications include the RTE Guide, Woman's Way, Irish Gardens, the Sunday Independent, PC Live and the Irish Times. For membership details and a full list of publications available, contact the NCBI.

The National Council for the Blind of Ireland, Whitworth Road, Drumcondra, Dublin 9
Tel: 01 830 7033
Fax: 01 830 7787

Other Resources

The internet enables us to have access to resources which we would not traditionally have had. There are online talking book clubs with extensive libraries of material which you can become a member of with the click of a button. Some have a join-up or subscription charge and others are free. Some provide the traditional audio cassette format and some provide books in various digital formats which can be read using synthetic speech: a computer-generated voice that speaks the text aloud. Such websites include:

This information has been reproduced from the website with permission from the Citizens Information Board. Assist Ireland is an online resource providing information on assistive technology and a directory of products available from Irish suppliers for older people and people with disabilities.