How to Read a Book: the Twenty-First Century has Revolutionized Reading for Everyone

A paperback copy of 2001– a Space Odyssey sits beside an iPad with the same book cover displayed, and an ear bud dangling.
A paperback copy of 2001– a Space Odyssey sits beside an iPad with the same book cover displayed, and an ear bud dangling.

Since 2001 there has been a cyber revolution in how books are read by everyone, especially people with vision problems…but the old ways are still there and still good, and most people start there.

How can I read a book now?

You may be able to read enlarged or highly contrasted print on a large desktop computer, a tablet such as the iPad, or by using a video magnifier. [There is a blog post about types of electronic magnifier by Bob McGillivray, low vision specialist at the Carroll Center coming soon.]

You may have enough sight to have the print book or magazine open with a magnifier, while also listening to the text. This can be a really good combo, leaving you satisfied without being strained.

If you are new to Vision loss

Beginners with reading through listening will want to contact the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. This is the NLS also called Talking Books. It offers free loans of book players and book cartridges. The staff are usually available on the phone and will tell you titles by your favorite authors.

There is also a huge catalog, and if you don’t have anyone around who likes to read book catalogs, you could ask your regional NLS library if they have a Book Buddy service where they set you up with someone who can help you fill out a list of books you want to read.


Are you eligible for the talking book service, and where do you phone?

If you have not started this process yet and want to know whether you are eligible and which Talking Book Library you should contact, call 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323)

Newspapers and magazines

If you want to read magazines or newspapers, contact the National Federation of the Blind, NFB Newsline to become a new subscriber. The service is free through local access phone numbers, and there are hundreds of newspapers and magazines that you can listen to on the phone, using the keypad to get to the right newspaper and section.

Call 1-866-504-7300

What about braille?

Sitting beside an expert braille reader is kind of magical! Their hands and fingers fly over and between the pages, reading chapter names, page numbers and correct spelling all in a moment. But let’s get real here. For those of us who lose vision in adulthood, our ears not our fingers will be the means of reading for pleasure. We will use braille for long serial numbers, labeling spices, DVDs, etc. and maybe reading to young children, but not for relaxation.

How to read with a smart phone

There is magic for the rest of us too! Just since 2001, the world of reading for people with eye problems has opened to a whole new age of freedom and choice. It’s all there now! Well, nearly all!

But to get to this feast you need some significant training with VoiceOver or other print reading software. The cheapest way to begin is with a reconditioned iPod Touch 4.5 or above.

Using speech software can’t be taught by the teen in your life  

You need expert help to learn voice over and other text to speech software. You cannot get much help from your nephew, or even the guy at the store. With training and a friend who can help you when you get stuck, you can learn to download books from the NLS directly onto your pod, phone or tablet, or use the NFB Newsline app to read periodicals. You can also have a Kindle app for Amazon kindle books  which you can read using VoiceOver.   You can browse hundreds of thousands of books with their almost instant search results, then download a sample for free. You can buy the book for around $9, or read the free sample and then get the complete book from NLS or Bookshare.

Bookshare is a non profit organization that may have best sellers and prize winning books available sooner than NLS. Bookshare also has a lot of high school text books. It’s not free (except for students), but if you can spring for the first cost of $75 ($25 is a one-time only set up cost and $50 is the annual subscription) you can read unlimited books. Bookshare also has an app called Read To Go.

Do you have other reading devices you love?   Do you download podcasts? What about other kinds of reading such as your own notes and lists?Do you want to improve the voice that is reading to you?

We can have another blog about this, with help from an expert.

What do you want to know? send an email to, or call 1-617-272-5220. .

Please post a comment to tell us  what you know. Let the rest of us learn from your experience.

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