A great benefit of ebooks is that they have a basic level of accessibility–you don’t necessarily have to hold the book, and since ebooks can be read across a variety of devices including computers, you can use assistive input devices like speech recognition or pointing devices to read.
However, an ebook’s accessibility is only as good as its interface. It has to allow those multiple access methods, so an arrow key turns the pages as well as a click or tap. And for visual disabilities, a book is only as good as its format. If you need to read ebooks via an alternative format, such as DAISY or a Braille output device or screen reader, you can apply for free membership to the Library Ebook Accessibility Program (LEAP). As with membership to the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, you will need supporting documentation.
If you can’t obtain documentation but would still like a little* help, your computer can read library (and other) ebooks to you if you download Amazon’s Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin. The program interface is identical to the standard Kindle for PC, but has a built-in speech engine with a male and female voice. As long as you’re running Microsoft Narrator or other screen reader in the background, “Tom” or “Samantha” will read your Kindle books when you press the appropriate keyboard shortcuts. (The shortcuts can be executed with either physical or virtual keyboards, including vocal keystroke commands.) You can toggle between voices and adjust their speed and volume. They don’t have much inflection, but they’re easily understood, barring an occasional mispronunciation.
To have Accessible Kindle read your library books, simply go to our OverDrive catalog then click Advanced Search. Expand the dropdown labeled “All formats” and choose “Kindle Book,” then enter your search terms. If a Kindle book is available, click Borrow. (You’ll need to sign in with your library card first.) You’ll be directed to your Amazon account and asked where you want the book to be delivered. Choose Kindle for PC. Now, when you open Kindle for PC, you’ll be able to open your library books and listen to them.
(And, of course, we have a broad selection of audiobooks for when you’d like a human voice. I highly recommend the audio Harry Potter. Also, if it’s all right for a children’s librarian to recommend the occasional grownup book, Steven Weber’s narration of Stephen King’s It is some phenomenal storytelling.)
In addition, the CLP libraries have a variety of software and equipment for blind and visually impaired patrons. To find out which libraries have which equipment, go to the eiNetwork Assistive Technology page.
PLEASE NOTE: Accessible Kindle is listed as compatible with Windows XP through 7. I don’t know if it happens to work with Windows 8, or whether Amazon plans on making it compatible if it doesn’t. Amazon’s acquisition of IVONA Text to Speech might affect that, since the current version uses Nuance Text to Speech. Let’s hope development continues!
*I do mean “a little”; it would probably be more suited to partially sighted or dyslexic readers than to blind readers, according to this review from the AFB. But if you don’t qualify for services or can’t afford specialized software, Accessible Kindle is still your best bet.