Audio Books for the Blind: So They Too Can Read

There are more than a million people in the United States who are legally blind.  Although blindness may be temporary in some, it is a permanent condition among many.  Despite this, the government and society has developed measures to enable the blind to live normal lives.  Perhaps, the first notable feat to empower this sector was in 1924 when Louis Braille invented the braille system, a method that is now universally used by the blind in reading and writing.  Then there are guide dogs that lead and assist the blind or visually impaired around obstacles, and defend if necessary. Training schools for guide dogs were first established after World War I in support to returning veterans who lost their sight during battles. Along this line, the audio book for the blind was created as a valuable resource for them.

Audio books for the blind began with the establishment of NLS (The National Library Service for the Blilnd and Physically Handicapped) by the U.S. Congress in 1931. Overseen by The Library of Congress, NLS undertook its Talking Books program that created audio recordings of books that were then mailed free to blind American adults.  Subsequent legislative acts in the 1950s and 1960s expanded the program and included children’s titles. Consequently, the cooperating libraries grew from the initial 19 libraries in 1931 to about 60 regional and almost 80 sub-divisional libraries all over the country.

Those eligible to participate in the program will find quite a wide range of genres for their listening pleasure, generally of the same type that are available in public libraries.  NLS selects the books for recording as an audio book for the blind from those that were favorably reviewed in national publications or listed in respectable bibliographies. NLS aims to provide audio books for the blind that cover the classics and other informational reading materials as well as popular titles that may be preferred by children, young adults and the older set.  Thus, borrowers may pick their choice from the likes of science fiction, romances, mysteries and westerns or national bestsellers, and standard religious works.  Considering that learning braille can be difficult for those who lose their sight as older adults, they do find the availability of audio books as a more practical way to continue enjoying the company of great books.

Most of the books selected by NLS to be produced as audio books are recorded by professional narrators in the studios of contractors who participate in the annual bidding on the production of NLS books. More often than not, these contractors are non-profit companies that cater to the needs of the blind by providing related services and other products.  Then there are volunteer studios that also record for NLS although they produce only a small number of audio books considering their own time constraints and other commitments.  NLS itself maintains a recording studio its Washington D.C. office just so it can remain current with developments in the recording technology.
They may not see but the blind appreciates history, religion and literature just like we do.  They too have the right to information and education.  And audio books for the blind is one sure way to provide for their rights.

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