Now we know there’s going to be more staying home, here is a guest post by technology instructor Julie Atkins. She lays out in detail the best ways and best apps for reading on a smartphone or tablet when print becomes squiggles or invisible. The post has omissions on Android products especially TalkBack (which is inferior to VoiceOver,) but The overall content is excellent. This post somehow never got posted! I have updated prices, websites and phone numbers and added one link at the end.
The first thing to understand as a visually impaired reader is the difference between an audio book and an eBook. Audio books are narrated by real people. The term “eBook” means it is a print book in electronic format that is accessed on an electronic device such as a computer, tablet, or smartphone. eBooks can be read visually or read aloud with electronic speech.
The main app used for reading by people with vision impairment is the BARD Mobile app. This is the app of the National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). The app gives you access to their BARD website, where you can search for and download audio books by name, title, author, topic, most popular, and recently added. You must be a patron of the Library for the Blind, and must also have an account set up for using the BARD website. The app is free and the books are free. The books are read by people. See https://nlsbard.loc.gov/login//NLS for more details or call the Library for the Blind at 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323.
Audible if you can’t find a book in BARD and you really prefer books read by a person, try the Audible app. You have to sign up at the website, Audible.com first, and you have to download books on the website, also. Then they will show up in the app where you can listen to them. You have to pay for books at Audible, and they are more expensive since they are narrated. Audible has different plans where you can pay by the month, by the year, or per book. www.audible.com.
The eBook reader app built into the iPhone and iPad is called iBooks. You buy books for it from within the app itself, and they typically range from $9.99 to $14.99. Low vision users may not be able to get the text large enough without using the Zoom feature on the iPad (it depends on the book). You have four text color choices: black on white, black on tan, white on dark gray, or white on black. If you want to listen to the text, you must use electronic speech. You can have it read to you by VoiceOver, the built in screen reader, or, if you are not a VoiceOver user, you can use a feature called Speak Screen to listen to each page. If you have this feature enabled in Settings, you can run two fingers down the screen, and the page will be read aloud. A little control panel will appear that gives you the ability to play and pause speech, fast forward and rewind, and speed up or slow down the speech. The panel shrinks to a little circle after a few seconds. To bring the panel back up on the screen, touch the circle. To completely close the panel, touch the X in the upper right corner.
Another reading service especially for visually impaired people called Bookshare has two apps for their customers: Read2Go and Spotlight Text have the ability to increase the size of the font, change the colors of the text and the text background, and highlight the word being spoken (if you are using electronic speech output). Spotlight Text intended for low vision readers has a Teleprompter mode that puts only one line of text on the screen at a time. Read2Go (note spelling) and Spotlight Text are free for students of all ages and $50 annually for other people. Bookshare books are NOT read by humans. You can either read the books visually, or listen to them with electronic speech. To decide if Bookshare is for you, go to www.bookshare.org.
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A favorite eBook reader for many visually impaired readers is Voice Dream Reader. This app also allows you to change the font size, change the color of the text and background, the distance between lines and the space between letters, and has a screen curtain that allows you to isolate one or two lines of text on the screen (depending on how large the text is). It also uses electronic speech, but if you don’t like its default voice, you can purchase higher quality voices that sound very human. You can import various types of eBook formats, and even copy web articles into it. It even has its own web browser built into it. This is my favorite app for low vision readers, and it is also very popular among blind readers. It costs $14.99 for iPhone and other Apple products and $9.99 for Android phone users .Bookshare books can be read on Voice Dream Reader at a lower cost. It reads content on DropBox, pdf files and much more. Here is a review.
If you have previously used a Kindle or a Nook as an eBook reader, they both have apps for the iPad and Android tablets. They don’t have as many options to adjust the size and color of the text, but you can use the iPad’s Speak Screen feature in both apps to listen to the text, and, of course, you can use the Zoom feature if needed to enlarge the text. The Echo/Alexa Smart speaker from Amazon will read Kindle books, and the Google Home smart speaker will read books from Google Play books. Nook books are purchased within the app, but Kindle books are purchased from the Amazon app. You can also read newspapers and magazines on both of these apps.
If you want to listen to newspapers or magazines (with electronic speech) for free, use the NFB Newsline app. This is the service you used to have to call in to listen to newspapers or magazines. It now also has your local TV listings. Go to www.nfbnewslineonline.org and find a link to download the app from the iTunes store (for some reason it will not come up in the App Store). There is a process to get signed up with Newsline. Go to https://nfb.org/audio-newspaper-service for more information or call 1-866-504-7300.
If you are looking for a good app for Bible reading, my favorite one is known as You Version, but in the App Store it is just called Bible, and it says Life.Church under it. The icon is a brown bible that says Holy Bible on it. It is free. If you are a VoiceOver user, the home page is not accessible, but everything in the actual Bible is. This Bible is easy to navigate by book, chapter, and verse, it is easy to search, and by simply touching a scripture you can share it with others, highlight it, bookmark it, or add notes about it. It has many different versions, and some of the versions (such as King James and New International Version) have audio versions that you can listen to with human speech.
Pocket is a good reading app that allows you to read from multiple devices, but what I especially like about it is its “Reader” feature. Send your web articles to the Pocket app, and use the Reader for an experience that is similar to a combination of the Reader in Safari (which reformats the page to isolate the text) and also the Speak Screen feature (which reads it aloud), but even easier to use. This makes it a great tool for low vision readers.
Lastly, don’t forget about getting books from your public library. They will have both audio books and eBooks available for loan. Get the Overdrive app and search for your local library in it. You will need to put in your library card number to be able to access books from your library.
Here is a similar post on VisionAware.