Your local library or electronics store isn’t your only choice when shopping for digital book players or services for reading and listening. A number of specialty products and services are designed for people with vision loss. Here are some of the more popular ones: is a subscription service available exclusively to individuals with vision loss or people who have a learning disability. (You must provide proof of one or the other to join.) For an annual fee, members can download to their computers, PDAs, or specialty book players their choice of thousands of copyrighted bestsellers and periodicals. Non-members can download non-copyrighted material, such as classics by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, free of charge.

Unlike other audio books, Bookshare titles are not read by human narrators. Rather, they produce synthetic speech based on the written text. Most computers come equipped with speech synthesizer software that can perform this function. Bookshare also enables you to read the text on your computer with the use of screen enlargement software, or on your PDA with a braille display.

Material at is uploaded by volunteers—most of them blind or visually impaired themselves—and sometimes contains scanning errors, which are usually minor. To learn more, listen to an audio sample, or become a Bookshare member, go to the Bookshare website.

Peer Advisor Maribel Steel: Blind Bookworms Can Read Too

Maribel Steel head shot
Peer Advisor and reading
enthusiast Maribel Steel

As an adult reader who has lost most of my eyesight to a degenerative eye condition, retinitis pigmentosa (RP), I’ve continued my love of reading by tapping into the world of the audiobook.

With the advent of the Internet, digital downloads of audiobooks are spilling out and being enjoyed by a voracious global reading community. One way to access a vast array of audiobooks is from the Talking Book Program through the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).

More Than Words Can Say

When we put aside time to listen or read our favorite books or to discover new ones to add to our list, we are doing much more than simply reading. Engaging the brain to focus on a developing plot and the description of characters brings a multitude of benefits. Dive into a captivating book and you will:

  • Increase the blood flow to the brain, creating stronger analytical thinking skills
  • Improve focus and concentration
  • Gain knowledge to help cope better with challenges
  • Enhance mental stimulation that can trigger memory by following story plots and posing internal questions
  • Become a better writer and communicator
  • Expand vocabulary that boosts self-confidence when talking to others
  • Foster empathy by being in another person’s thoughts and feelings
  • Reduce stress by taking time to relax into another realm of ideas

Read more from Maribel at How to Get the Most from the Bard in Your Book at the Visually Impaired: Now What? blog. Also see Reading Apps for Booklovers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.


NFB-Newsline® is the equivalent of a news stand, but one that is available over your telephone. Created by the National Federation of the Blind, NFB-Newsline makes it possible for people with vision loss to read hundreds of different newspapers and dozens of magazines from any telephone. Here is how it works:

  • After dialing a toll-free number and logging in with your passcode, you are welcomed by a very clear voice.
  • From there, you can use your phone’s keypad to access any newspaper of your choice.
  • You can skip forward or back by section, article, or sentence; have unfamiliar words spelled out to you; speed up or slow down the reading pace; and skim the headlines.

To listen to an audio sample, find out if you’re eligible, and to sign up, visit the NFB-Newsline® website.

Radio Reading Services

Radio reading services are available in many parts of the country. These services employ volunteer readers to provide audio radio access to newspapers, magazines, consumer information, and other materials that may not be readily available in braille or on tape.

Listeners can tune in for the day’s news, features, sports, business, opinions, advertisements, and other features. Public affairs programs are also available on many services, as are some books or story-based shows.

Volunteer reads the comics section of the newspaper for a radio reading service
Radio reading services allow
you to keep up on news and
even the comics.

Radio reading services are typically broadcast on a sub-carrier channel of an FM radio station. Listeners must have a special, pre-tuned radio receiver to pick up the closed circuit broadcast. Receivers are frequently loaned to listeners by the reading service at no cost.

Some services provide radio reading services programming on television over a SAP (Second Audio Program) channel, community cable system, or FM cable service. Many services also offer live audio streaming of their programming over the Internet while others offer access to archived readings through the Internet or telephone dial-in system.

One popular internet radio service is ACB Radio from the American Council of the Blind. You can visit the site to listen to broadcasts. For more options, go to the International Association of Audio Information Services website to find a program near you.