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If you’re curious about your options for listening to digital audio books, magazines, and newspapers while on the move, read on.
While anyone can purchase and download audio books and magazines from websites such as www.audible.com or purchase audio books on CD from www.Amazon.com and rip these to a portable MP3 player, if you’re blind, visually impaired, or physically challenged, there are additional options. In the past, I’ve received books on cassette from my state’s Department of Libraries. The cassettes, prepared by the National Library Service, or NLS, are mailed and returned free of charge, and the cassette player is also provided on loan. However, in the very near future, this service will be upgraded to 21st century technology, adding much more flexibility. First, NLS will be providing its content digitally over the Internet, as well as on cartridges mailed to you, and will replace the bulky tape players with smaller digital audio players. This will revolutionize the service, and will allow any authorized member to download any of the thousands of digitized talking book recordings that the NLS has in its catalog including magazines, novels, biographies, non-fiction books, and many other talking book content. You’ll need to be an NLS member to access this content. For details on becoming a member, call the Department of Libraries in your state or your state agency for the blind and visually impaired.
Currently, due to budget cuts to NLS, it will still be a while before they are ready to provide digital players to all of their current customers. However, if you already have a HumanWare Victor Reader Stream, you may be in luck. The NLS is offering a pilot program for Stream users which allows you to download Talking book content now. In order to do this, you need to firstly, be a member of the NLS. Next, apply and be accepted as a part of the NLS pilot download program. Finally, activate your Victor Reader Stream for reading NLS content. If you want to know more about this pilot program, go to www.nlstalkingbooks.org/dtb.
I can’t say enough good things about the Victor Reader Stream. At $349, it is a real bargain for an AT product. It is masterfully designed for blind and visually impaired users to easily navigate audio recordings in any of the talking book formats, as well as play MP3 files, and even read text documents with a built in speech synthesizer. It is not going to read text files with the same eloquence as a human recording (as in the audio books from NLS and audible.com) or as well as ZoomText’s AppReader, but if your need is great enough to listen to text documents while away from your PC, then you will probably be quite pleased. You can even transfer and play your email messages, podcasts, RSS feeds, and audio-described movies if you subscribe to Serotek’s System Access services. Personally I don’t want my email to follow me, but I am loving the digital flexibility of having all my audio and text content on one portable device which is masterfully designed for blind and low vision users. If it’s quiet, I can dig into a good novel, or if I’m getting Arden interruptions (yes. that 4-year old little lady), I can switch to a lighter, humorous “100 Years, 100 Stories” by George Burns, for example. When feeling curious and scientific, I listen to Discover magazine or for that low point in my life when I might be interested in Brad and Angelina’s ski vacation, I switch to People magazine. I downloaded all of these from the NLS download pilot sight. The Stream can access the files from both an SD card and USB flash drive. The Stream is also getting better every day. Humanware will upgrade the Stream’s features, and it will support Windows Media files, WMAs, by June. In short, I liked the Stream so much that I decided to buy one, and not wait to get a free NLS player, which will not be as small and feature-rich as the Victor Reader Stream. To find out more about the Stream, go to www.humanware.com.
In addition to the NLS talking book content, if you’re lucky enough to live in the following states: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, California, Colorado, Oregon, or Texas then you can also gain access to the “Unabridged Talking Books for the Blind” web site. This web site contains commercially recorded audio books that you can download and play on your PC or on a WMA-enabled portable playback device. The Victor Reader Stream, as previously mentioned, will become WMA compatible this summer via a free downloadable update.
If you live in one of the above 8 states and you are an NLS member, you can call your state’s Department of Libraries to receive a library card and pin number to access the audio downloads. The 8 states pay for this service yearly, so there’s no guarantee that your state will continue this service. To find out more about Unabridged, go to www.unabridged.info.
In the education realm, Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic has digitally recorded text books, for kindergartners, grad students, and everyone in between. Membership is $100 (your school might already be a member). For information, go to www.rfbd.org.
For books in text format (no audio), these two websites are available to the general public:
Another electronic book source is www.bookshare.org. Membership is free for students and $50 per year for the blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print disabled individuals who are not students. You have the choice of downloading in DAISY BRF or HTML format. ZoomText’s AppReader can read these in either format. Or, you can download these files to the Victor Reader Stream and let it’s built-in text-to-speech synthesizer read it to you.
On a similar note, I recently tried out NFB-Newsline and was quite pleased. With this free service, you can listen to local and national newspapers as well as TV listings over the telephone. And yes, that means cell phones too. It’s quite easy to use and even remembers where you left off the last time you called. To sign up, call your state’s Department of Libraries or go to www.nfb.org/nfb/Newspapers_by_Phone.asp
We have arrived! Reading a novel or newspaper in planes, trains, and automobiles or better yet, on the beach, is no longer a pipe dream.