Technologies Assisting the Blind to Read

Technologies Assisting the Blind to Read

By Laura Neely

Back in the 20th century, I used to record myself reading chapters of a fellow college student’s textbooks, as he was blind. At the time, unless someone was sitting with him reading the textbook out loud, his only option to hear the text was to listen to a tape. Sure, Braille was also an option, though I’m guessing most of his textbooks may not have been available in Braille.

Fast forward to the 21st century. One of our beta readers recently noted in an email that she hoped she could continue to beta read for us, as she is blind. An allergy to penicillin at 19 took most of her sight in one eye, and she lost her other eye. “I can see shadows and colors, though it is like looking through wavy (church) glass.” 

She and I had a phone conversation recently, as I was curious to know some of the technology available that allows her to read or hear manuscripts.

Our beta reader relies primarily on technology through her iPhone, which has voice-enabled features. She might utilize the Voice Over App, which has been available since 2009 (which is also compatible with Braille display devices), the built in GPS to hear of nearby landmarks, or use the Voice Dream app which reads text from web pages, and PDF or other files. Read more at Seeing Eye Phone

Sure, we know that audiobooks have gained popularity over the last several years. Who doesn’t enjoy having the option to listen to a story on the drive to work or while doing busywork around the house? Audiobooks had their start back in 1932 when the American Foundation for the Blind recorded short works from books on vinyl records. Read more about A Short History of the Audiobook.

There are a multitude of apps (and hardware, see links below) that can convert text to audio. In Microsoft Word, you can literally dictate your words with the click of a button, which populates (types directly) into a document. And then have it read aloud by clicking Alt + Ctrl + Space.  Adobe Reader has a read out loud feature within a PDF file. Our beta reader can literally hear the words in a document, in a book, or on a web page.

And, as with other technologies, I’m sure she would say, there is always room for improvement.  

Accessible Mobile Apps

Digital Talking Books Hardware

Digital Talking Book Player Software

Screen Readers