How Visually Impaired People Can Read Books

Greetings Readers!

Today is World Book Day, so in the spirit of the day I thought I’d answer a common question I get asked by sighted people…

Living with sight loss, whenever I mention my love for books one question always seems to crop up into the conversation.




“How do visually impaired people read books?”

Having grown up with a visual impairment, I know all to well how frustrating it can be when you don’t have the luxury of walking into a library or bookshop like anyone else and pulling a book from the shelves.
Instead, I’ve had to become more resourceful in my methods when it comes to accessing literature.
Having studied a BA in English Literature and an MA in Children’s Literature with extensive reading lists I’ve learnt to use a variety of resources and services to read books.
These aren’t the only ways that a person with sight loss can read and access literature. But these are the ways that are most useful and easy for me to read books. I access literature using technology, I am not a braille user. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who has a visual impairment can read braille.

I would also like to add that people with visual impairments don’t always necessarily need to use visual aids to read books, many can in fact real print normally without. I can read print, although due to my Nystagmus (an eye condition that causes involuntary eye movements) I cannot focus which makes reading print difficult. So, I use a variety of different visual aids and apps to help make reading more easier and accessible.



Magnifying Glasses and Visual Aids


There are a variety of different magnifying aids available both electronic and manual. I have always used a basic magnifying glass to read small amounts of print and I also used a handled electronic magnifying glass which has a number of different features like zoom, colour contrast and an option to pause the screen on what you are magnifying. I don’t use this option all the time as I find it more time consuming, but I do use it when I’m only reading a small amount of text.


Personally, I think that an audiobook makes the experience of reading a book and hearing a story a lot more immersive. It’s rather like watching a play or a film. In the busy world we live in it can be so difficult to find the time to sit down and read a book. Audiobooks are a lot more easy and accessible to listen to whenever you want, even if you are in the middle of a rather humdrum task like doing the ironing or on the commute to work. There are a number of websites that offer audiobooks for you to download like Audible, Google Play and iTunes.  However one service that has been hugely significant to me is the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Talking Book Library.

RNIB’s Talking Book Library offers over 25,000 titles that you can stream and listen to on their Overdrive App. The App is fantastic, it’s essentially an online library service where you can loan and download a number of books to your Smartphone, Tablet or Computer. This service has proven to be invaluable when I was studying for my Degree. The RNIB Talking Book Service operates the same way that a library would for a sighted person and that’s why it is vital that the service is able to expand its collection.

Large Print Books

When I was very young before technology was as prevalent as it is now I mainly read using large print books. But, this may still be a preferred format for many people, especially those who may not be able to access a book electronically for whatever reason. Organisations like the RNIB and Guide Dogs with their CustomEyes service for visually impaired children offer large print books in a variety of genres. With the CustomEyes service the font size and colour contrast can also be customised to suit your access needs.

eBooks and Electronic Books

There are plenty of apps and online resources where you can purchase and download eBooks in various formats depending on what technology you use.
There are a number of Apps which can be made accessible or that have accessible features which people with print disabilities can utilise. I use the Kindle and iBooks apps on my iPhone or iPad. This is because I am able to customise the size of the font and enable accessible features such as Speak Screen and Voiceover, which will read the book to me. You can change the speed of the voice so that you are able to read at your preferred pace. The classics also tend to be free to download and there are plenty of websites where you can download them in various formats.

Transcription Services

Sometimes if a book is not readily available in an accessible format I will have to take measures to get the book transcribed. This does take a longer amount of time, but there have been a number of occasions where it’s necessary. The RNIB offer a transcription service, which is free to use. The books can be transcribed into a number of formats including speech, electronic text, braille and large print.


Sometimes there are occasions where the book isn’t in an accessible format and I need to access the book as quickly as possible. In those circumstances I use various apps and software on my iPhone or Macbook to convert print documents into accessible formats.
Apps like Prizmo or Tiny Scanner on my iPhone and Readiris on my Macbook allow me to scan documents into electronic files. I predominantly had to utilise this method when I was studying and I came across a chapter in a print book needed for a seminar or lecture.

Tactile Picture Books

There are organisations that offer resources to make picture books accessible to those with sight loss. The charity Living Paintings produces books with tactile raised images to enable people with sight loss to be able to access the visual world. They offer books in a variety of genres from picture books to tactile guides of art galleries. These books are also accompanied with braille transcriptions and audio CD’s to make the text itself accessible.
So you see there are plenty of ways a person with sight loss can access literature and even more besides. With the developments of technology and advances made by various sight loss charities reading when you have a visual impairment has never been so accessible.
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Thank you so much for reading!

Fashioneyesta xx

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Emily is a Masters Degree Student, Writer, Journalist, YouTuber and blogger who runs the blog and YouTube channel

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