Accessible Books and Magazines
This page covers the following topics:
- Accessible newspapers and magazines from TNAUK
- Audio books from Calibre, the RNIB, Audible and others
- Accessible books in text format from BookShare and others
- Accessible mainstream players
- Players for the visually impaired
Accessible newspapers and magazines
The charity Talking Newspaper Association of the UK (TNAUK) provides a wide range of weekly and monthly national newspapers and magazines in a variety of formats to visually impaired people. They have nearly 200 titles in the following formats:
- Audio CD with abridged content of a single title
- A weekly Daisy CD with a choice of compilations of weekly and monthly publications with abridged content
- An audio download service enabling you to download or podcast MP3 files for as many titles with abridged audio content as you like
- A full text service enabling you to download or receive Email of text versions of one or more titles
The service is not free. Yu have to pay a modest annual subscription depending on which service(s) you choose. You need a standard audio CD player or a computer for the audio CD service. You need a computer or Daisy CD player to play the weekly Daisy CD. You need a computer for the audio download or full text download services. You can transfer MP3 files downloaded from the audio download service to a portable MP3 player. You can listen to text files downloaded from the full text service on your computer using a screen reader or you can transfer such files to one of the specialist portable book players described later. Also note that not all titles are available in all services.
Abridged and unabridged audio books are available from the following organisations. Some of these lend the audio books free of charge to visually impaired people, whereas others are commercial organisations who provide the audio books to anyone.
- Calibre audio library.
This charity lends unabridged audio books to people who have difficulty reading print due to sight loss, dyslexia, or physical problems. They have a library of over 8,500 titles including over 1,400 titles suitable for children. Their library includes both fiction and non-fiction and contains books to suit all tastes. Their catalogue is available in various formats including online. They have a quarterly magazine containing book reviews and recommendations and the list of new titles for that quarter. You can order books by telephone or mail or online. You can ask for specific books or you can let Calibre choose books within one or more specified genres. Each book is sent to you by mail as either one or more boxes of standard cassette tapes, or one or more MP3 CDs, or as MP3 files on a USB memory stick. You normally have two books at a time posting completed books back to Calibre using their pre-printed address label, and you usually receive a new book by return of post. The books are sent as articles for the blind and so you do not pay any postage. You can play the MP3 disks on a standard MP3 CD player costing around £25 or you can play them on a computer or use a computer to transfer them to a portable MP3 player. You can play the USB memory sticks on a low cost portable player such as the USB Boombox which costs around £30 or on a computer from where you can transfer them to a standard portable MP3 player. There is a one time joining fee of £35 (£20 for children) and from then on everything is free for ever, but feel free to make a donation!
The Royal National Institute of Blind people (RNIB) National Library Service includes a library of over 20,000 audio books. These are sent to you as Daisy CDs and must be played on a computer or a Daisy CD player. The talking book service costs £82 per year which includes the loan of a Daisy CD player and as many books as you would like to borrow. You can borrow six books at a time with no specified loan period.
- The RNIB BookStream book club.
You can read any of the RNIB's 20,000 Daisy audio books immediately through your internet connection. Choose a book, add it to your personal bookshelf, select the stream button and sit back. In a few seconds you will be reading the book of your choice. Skip forward and back, close it when you've had enough and come back to the same place at any time. You can also elect to have a copy of the book sent to you on CD which you can then download to a portable Daisy book player. Just select the button to order a copy. The BookStream book club is open to blind and partially sighted people living in the United Kingdom. The service costs £50 per year enabling you to have five books concurrently on your book shelf.
- Downloadable audio books from Audible.
This is a commercial site offering over 60,000downloadable audio books both abridged and unabridged and both fiction and non-fiction. The books are delivered in a choice of proprietary formats offering different trade-offs between audio quality and download size. Format 4 is the most widely supported by mainstream MP3 players and this uses about 14 MB per hour of audio. these books can be played on a computer or can be transferred to a wide range of mainstream and special purpose MP3 players and mobile phones. the audible format remembers your position in the book meaning that you can listen to multiple audible books and switch between them returning to your last reading position in each book. The audible server maintains your library allowing you to download again any book you have previously purchased. Audible sell the books on an individual basis or you can subscribe to one of several plans. A popular plan lets you download two audible books of any price per month or a monthly subscription of £14.99. The advantage of this site over Calibre or the RNIB is that you can immediately download and listen to the same books as your friends and you can listen to trilogies and the like in the correct sequence.
Accessible books in text format
Here are some web sites where you can download books in text format which you can listen to using a screen reader on your computer or which you can transfer to a portable player which supports text to speech. Alternatively you can convert the text book into MP3 on your computer and then transfer it to a standard MP3 player:-
- Project Gutenberg.
Project Gutenberg is the place where you can download over 40,000 free books to play on your computer or to transfer to a portable MP3 player which supports text to speech. They carry high quality items: their books were previously published on paper by bona fide publishers and digitized with the help of thousands of volunteers. Most of their books are out of copyright and hence were originally published before 1923. Thus you will find most of the classics here, but few modern books.
- Bookshare in the UK.
Bookshare originated in the USA to provide accessible books for print disabled people such as those with sight loss, learning disabilities, or physical disabilities. They have digitised a large number of books in the USA many of which are still in copyright but whose publishers agreed to make them available to print disabled people. Because of copyright law many of these books are not available in the UK. The current UK catalog contains nearly 40,000. These numbers are increasing every day.The service is not free. You have to pay an initial registration fee of $75 for the first year and an annual subscription of $50 for subsequent years.
- Kobo downloadable books.
this is a commercial site whose book store contains over 2.5 million books, magazines and newspapers which you can download. You can read the books on iPad or iPhone or iPod Touch using the Kobo book reader App for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch or you can read them on Macintosh or Windows using the Adobe Digital Edition.
- the Apple iTunes iBBooks store.
If you have an Apple iPad or iPhone or iPod Touch then you can use VoiceOver to read all the books in the Apple iTunes iBook store. You can only read these books on Apple IOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch). You cannot read them on Macintosh or Windows computers.
- The Amazon Kindle book store.
If you have an Amazon Kindle (see later) then you can use its text to speech facility to read many of the 1.5 million books in the Amazon Kindle book store. Note that there are Kindle reader apps on the Amazon web site for various platforms such as Macintosh, iPad, iPhone, Android, and Windows. The Kindle for PC application with accessibility includes the Amazon text to speech engine and so you can use your Windows screen reader to select the desired book and then read it using the above text to speech engine. The Kindle reader for the Apple Macintosh is not accessible using VoiceOver. However the latest Kindle (May 2013) App for the Apple IOS devices (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) is now fully accessible using VoiceOver.
Accessible mainstream players
Here is a list of some accessible mainstream MP3 players which will play audio books from Calibre and Audible but not always the Daisy audio books from the RNIB. unless otherwise specified none of these players will play books in text format. However you can buy software which will run on your computer to convert text files into MP3 files which you can then transfer to your MP3 player.
Note that some of the Apple iPods require you to run iTunes on your computer to download MP3 or Audible files to the iPod.You thus need to be sure that your computer's screen reader or screen magnifier works with iTunes. This is no problem if you use an Apple Mackintosh computer as both the built-in Voice Over screen reader and the built-in Zoom screen magnifier support iTunes. If you use a Windows computer with any screen magnifier or any up to date full function screen reader iTunes will be accessible.
Here is the list of accessible mainstream players:
- Simple USB memory stick players.
The Calibre audio library offer a range of simple USB memory stick players which will play Calibre books which are a set of MP3 files on a USB memory stick. These players all have a bookmarking facility so they will remember your reading position on each memory stick. these players have simple controls and cost around £30. They do not play audio books from Audible or Daisy .
- Creative Zen Stone.
The Creative Zen Stone will play audio books from Audible and Calibre and also music in MP3 format. It does not remember your reading position in a Calibre book if you switch to another item. It does not play Daisy books. It does not have a screen so the blind can use it as effectively as the sighted. Note that the Creative Zen Stone Plus does have a screen and is thus less accessible. The Creative Zen Stone does not speak details of the item it is playing so you have to deduce these from the content. The 1 GB model costs about £25 from Amazon.
- Apple iPod Shuffle.
The latest Apple iPod shuffle is the world's smallest MP3 player. It plays music in MP3 format and audio books from Calibre and Audible. It does not play Daisy audio books, and it does not remember your reading position in a Calibre audio book if you switch to a different item. When requested VoiceOver will tell you the details of the track you are playing and the state of your battery. It does not have a screen and so the blind can use it as effectively as the sighted. It has an internal rechargeable battery which plays for about 10 hours between charges. The 2 GB model costs about £40.
- Apple iPod nano generation 7.
This is the latest Apple iPod nano released in September 2012. It is about the size of a credit card. It includes an FM radio to cover all your listening needs and supports bluetooth for easy wire free connection to headphones and audio systems. It will play audio books from Audible and Calibre and also MP3 music. You can set it up to remember your position in multiple Calibre books. It does not play Daisy books or books in text format. All functions are fully accessible, including the FM radio and pedometer, using VoiceOver which runs directly on the iPod Nano. You can use Voice Over to search for and speak artists and songs or authors and book titles and also to speak menu items. It supports variable speed playback. You can use the Apple ear bugs with microphone (an optional extra) to record voice files. It has a rechargeable battery which lasts up to 24 hours, though using VoiceOver greatly reduces this battery life. Amazon will sell you the 16 GB model for about £130.
- Apple iPod Touch generation 5.
The Apple iPod touch is basically an Apple iPhone but with no connectivity to the mobile phone network, no GPS receiver and no compass. It runs the same operating system (IOS) as the Apple iPhone and Apple iPad. It has a built-in camera with led flash. It has wifi connectivity to your broadband wireless network and can thus do Email and Internet browsing as well as playing music and audio and text books of all types including Audible and Daisy (via the Read2Go App). YOu can download Apps from the Apple iTunes App store and can therefore use it for all sorts of things including playing games. It is fully accessible using VoiceOver. The generation 5 iPod Touch is not yet widely available but should cost around £250. the prior iPod Touch generation 4 16 GB costs around £150.
- The Apple iPad. This is a portable tablet computer and is fully described in the section on Computers. Like the other IOS devices (iPhone and iPod touch) you can use it to play audio and text books of all types including Audible and Daisy (via the Read2Go App). It is fully accessible using VoiceOver.
- All models of the Apple iPhone from the 3GS 16 GB, most or all models of accessible Android phones and most or all Nokia phones which support the Nokia screen reader. these all support audio books of all formats including Audible and Daisy (via the Read2Go App which may not be available on Nokia). See the section on Mobile Phones for more detail.
- The Amazon Kindle 3 (sometimes called the Kindle keyboard). This is a pocket sized battery powered book player which includes Internet connectivity for downloading books and screen magnification and screen reading software for reading text format books. It also plays books in MP3 and Audible formats. The Kindle Keyboard is pretty accessible using built-in screen reading and screen magnification software but with limited accessibility to book navigation capability which could be a problem for reference books. The built-in screen reading software does not support downloading of books onto the Kindle via the Internet, but these can be downloaded via a computer and then transferred to the Kindle. If you want to read books via the screen reader you should be aware that only about 80% of the books in the Amazon Kindle store are authorised for screen reader access as their publishers perceive this as competing with their audio book alternatives.
The Kindle 4 has no internal speaker and no headphone jack and so has no audio or text to speech capability. However if you have adequate residual vision it does have alternate large fonts for the actual book reading but not for any of the menus.
The Kindle Touch is a touch screen version of the Kindle Keyboard. It has similar text to speech support for book reading as the Kindle Keyboard and also supports audio for MP3 and Audible books.
Amazon will sell you the Kindle Keyboard with wifi and 3G connectivity for about £150 and a similar Kindle Touch for about £160.
As noted earlier the latest (May 2013) Kindle App for the Apple IOS devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch) is now fully accessible for reading Kindle books using VoiceOver. However you cannot use this App to search for and download books from the Kindle store. Instead you have to use your computer to search for and download these books and then transfer them to your IOS device. If you are blind and want to access the vast range of books in the Kindle store your best solution is probably to use the Kindle App on an Apple IOS device. You can find this Kindle App in the Apple iTunes store.
Players designed for the Blind
The following players are designed for visually impaired people. They are more expensive than mainstream players. However they do all support the Daisy book format used by the RNIB talking book library. They also all have built-in text to speech which means they can speak folder names, file names, and books in text format books from BookShare and others. all support variable speed playback and all have built-in microphone and voice recorder and sophisticated bookmarking and navigation facilities.
- Victor Reader Stream from the RNIB.
This is a compact and portable Daisy book and MP3 player. Weighing just 180 grams and roughly the same size as a pack of playing cards. The large, well-spaced buttons and advanced navigational controls make reading complex books and reference manuals quick and easy. The Stream uses an SD memory cards to store DAISY audio books, Audible and Calibre audio books, music and text files. It maintains your reading position in multi-file audio books such as those from Calibre. It does not have a facility to play direct from a CD. It has a built-in microphone and voice recorder. It has sophisticated bookmarking and navigation facilities and variable speed playback. It uses a user replaceable re-chargeable battery which plays for about 15 hours between recharges. It costs about £245 with charger, case, and USB cable to connect it to your computer. You will also need an SD memory card. Amazon will sell you a 16 GB SD memory card for about £16.
- BookSense portable Daisy player from the RNIB.
The BookSense is a compact and lightweight portable DAISY player, smaller than the Victor Reader Stream. It is compatible with a wide range of audio formats including Daisy, Audible, MP3, MP4, and WMA. It has a built-in text to speech engine which enables a wide range of electronic documents to be easily accessible. It has a built-in microphone and voice recorder. It maintains your reading position in multi-file audio books such as those from Calibre (this needs version 2.0 of the firmware). The books are held on a replaceable SD memory card. It uses a user replaceable re-chargeable battery which will play for about 12 hours between charges. The basic model costs about £250with charger, USB cable to connect to your computer, and a 2GB SD memory card. The more advanced model includes FM radio, bluetooth, and 4 GB of internal memory. It costs about £315 including charger, USB cable, and an 8 GB Sd memory card.
- Milestone 312 from the RNIB.
The Milestone 312 DAISY player builds on the success of the popular Milestone 311 DAISY player. It retains its predecessors small size and shape but adds a host of new features. It is even smaller than the BookSense. The text to speech program reads both your text files and the names of folders or files saved on the Milestone. It is also compatible with a wide range of music formats enabling you to copy your music and Audible or Daisy books straight to the Milestone. The Milestone 312 Pro (DD44) also has an integrated RFID reader which enables you to label items around the home. It also has a built-in microphone and voice recorder and a built-in FM radio. It contains 1 GB of internal memory and has an SD memory card slot for additional storage. It uses an internal re-chargeable battery which plays for about 8 hours between charges. Because of the Milestone's very small size this battery has to be replaced by the vendor. It costs about £273 including a charger, USB cable to connect to your computer, and a 2 GB SD memory card.
Page last modified: June 2013