Reading Devices and Services

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Accessible books and a new generation of listening devices are helpful for readers with limited vision. Almost any popular novel or nonfiction book, general interest and trade magazines, and newspapers are now available in a variety of accessible audio formats. Below we outline 10 different resources for listening to audio books, from downloading them onto your tablet or smart phone, to subscribing to an audio book service. As always, our vision services team is happy to assist you in finding the right tool for your reading needs. Feel free to reach out to them to set up a socially distanced store appointment or in-home visit by contacting Amy at or 608-237-8107.

Audio book is a general term for a book that you listen to, narrated by a real person. Audio books are sometimes also called talking books that can be read on a phone, computer, tablet or MP3 player. Audio books are so popular that they are now widely released when a new book is published. 
Talking Books (with a capital T and B) is the name of a service that provides audio books on DAISY cartridge, USB stick, or as a digital download. In Wisconsin, Talking Books come from the Wisconsin Talking Books and Braille Library.
eBooks can be read using “text-to-speech”. This is when computers and eBook readers read out the text on screen in synthetic speech.
Source: Sight Advice FAQ.

Talking Books

The National Library Service (NLS) Talking Books launched in 1933 and is sponsored by the Library of Congress. The NLS for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is a national network of cooperating libraries that distribute recorded books to people with vision loss. These books are loaned and mailed free of charge, and are played on digital-based machines provided by the NLS program. The books come on a plastic cartridge in special containers that are mailed back free of charge.

Talking Books can also be downloaded from the Braille and Audio Reading Download website (BARD) for play on the Digital Talking Book Player, cartridge, USB drive or portable players compatible with the NLS format. BARD Mobile is available in the App Store for iOS devices such as the iPod Touch, the iPhone, or the iPad. It is also available from Google Play for devices running Android OS 4.1 or later. Any resident of the United States or American citizen living abroad who is unable to read or use normal print materials as a result of temporary or permanent visual or physical limitations may receive service through NLS. This includes those who are blind, have a visual disability that prevents them from reading standard print, have a physical disability that keeps them from being able to hold a book, or have a reading disability.

Apps for Android and iOS devices and Fire tablets make the download and listening process seamless for many audio books. If you’re not technically oriented, the digital option may seem unfamiliar, but it does have advantages that make it worth exploring. The main advantage is navigation. Books on CDs offer limited movement backward or forward within the text. Digital playback is much more flexible, allowing the user to jump back or forward by chapter or sometimes by page. You can even set digital bookmarks that let you find a particular passage instantly.

  • DAISY books can contain both text and audio files. The text portion can be displayed on a braille display or on a screen in a larger font size. You can search the text for key words or passages. Unlike CDs, you don’t have to rewind or fast forward. And you can increase or decrease the reading speed without affecting the quality of the narrator’s voice.

  • is the first and most successful source of commercial electronic books online. You can find the same popular audio books that are available on CD from various publishers, usually priced at 30 percent below retail. You have the choice of listening to the books on your computer, listening on your phone, or transferring them to a portable MP3 player.

  • PlayAway Books are ideal starters for readers who have never used a digital audio book. Packaged to resemble print books—with artwork and jacket information reproduced on the front and back covers—PlayAway books are self-contained listening devices. You don’t need a separate device to play them. Each PlayAway is about the size of a deck of cards and contains one featured selection. A set of earplugs, a spare battery, and operating instructions are included. PlayAway books are available through your public library.

  • Public libraries in a growing number of U.S. cities are now offering audio books online. These books are downloaded and played in apps (Libby or OverDrive), which you download for free. Books are generally available on loan for a two- or three-week period, just like hardcopy books. Instead of having to return the book to the library, however, it will simply vanish from your computer’s hard drive when the loan period ends. Talk to your local librarian or check out the Wisconsin Digital Library. You’ll need a library card from your local library to download books.

Audio Players

While there are commercial audio players that work reasonably well for people with limited vision, numerous players have been designed specifically with the vision loss community in mind. There are no visual prompts to deal with. All are operated by listening to audio cues and pressing easy-to-use keys.

  • Victor Reader Stream is sold by HumanWare. It is about the size of a deck of cards and features both text-to-speech capabilities and digital audio support. You can read both electronic files and digital recorded books with human speech. It plays books in a variety of digital formats from Learning Ally [Formerly Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D)], digital Talking Books from the NLS for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and It can also play text files that have been loaded into it, and your favorite music. You can place electronic bookmarks in any file and locate specific information or favorite passages quickly. It has variable speed playback, a time Jump feature, auto Sleep shutoff with multiple time settings, and a key lock feature. A one-button digital recorder allows you to record a note and play it back later. A built-in rechargeable battery provides up to 15 hours of uninterrupted listening time. Built-in stereo speakers included, or you can use headphones or plug-in portable speakers.

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