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Audiobooks: A Boon for People with Visual Impairment

A blind man listening to an audio book on his mobile phone in sitting in a park.
Samyak Lalit
Samyak Lalit | December 19, 2021 (Last update: December 21, 2021)

Samyak Lalit is an author and disability rights activist. He is a polio survivor and the founder of projects like Kavita Kosh, Gadya Kosh, TechWelkin, WeCapable, Dashamlav and Viklangta Dot Com. Website:

In the present era of busy schedules, audiobooks are getting traction among book lovers. People who used to complain about lack of time for reading can now listen to audiobooks while commuting to and from work. But, the usability of audiobooks does not end at saving time in reading. It is one of the components of technological advancements that have made life easier for Persons with Disabilities. Especially audiobooks have proved to be a boon for blind people and partially blind people. This article assesses usefulness of audiobooks for visually impaired individuals.

Importance of Book Reading for Visually Impaired Individuals

Well, no number of words can really describe how important are books for the mankind. But, it feels necessary to write a bit about the importance of books for visually impaired individuals. There are people who question the usefulness of anything and everything for disabled people. If they cannot walk, is it necessary for them to go out?”, “As they cannot speak, is it necessary for them to participate in public discussions?”, “If they cannot see, is it necessary for them to read?”. As a part of an ableist society, we often come across questions like these. And, that need to be answered.

Book reading, even as a leisurely activity, is as important for visually impaired individuals as it is for sighted individuals.

A study done by The Reading Agency, Loughborough University, reveals some important facts about the importance of reading for blind and partially blind individuals. The study says –

  • 95% of participants (visually impaired individuals) read books for pleasure more than once a week. About half of these individuals read for more than 10 hours each week.
  • 69% of visually impaired individuals said that reading for pleasure makes them feel good.
  • 55% of visually impaired participants read to learn new things.
  • 50% of visually impaired individuals read to get insights into other people’s lives and cultures.
  • 44% of participants felt that reading helps them release stress.
  • 40% of visually impaired individuals read to escape from the real world to the world of fantasy.

Experts believe that the habit of reading directly impacts the quality of life of visually impaired individuals. Reading helps them cope with life’s pressure. It also has a significant impact on their learning and skill development.

A blind man listening to an audio book on his mobile phone in sitting in a park.

Benefits of Audiobooks over Braille Books

There’s a continuous debate about the preference of people for reading a book or listening to an audiobook. The same debate can be extended to Braille books vs. audiobooks. The preference of an individual may vary as per their likes and dislikes. Some visually impaired individuals may like Braille over the recorded books because of the feel of the physical books. But, Audiobooks have many advantages over Braille books  –

  • Easy to carry – Braille books are bulky. They are much bulkier than their printed counterparts. On the other hand, one does not need to carry audiobooks as a separate item. Hundreds of audiobooks can be carried on our mobile devices.
  • Easy to store – This is self-explanatory. Bulky braille books need lots of space to be stored. They need to be dusted and cleaned regularly. If not taken care of properly, they can be destroyed by rats, mites or moisture. On the other hand, audiobooks just need some memory space in devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Even when a device gets corrupted, one can get back access to their audiobooks, thanks to the cloud storage.
  • Cheaper to buy – Publishing of Braille book is a costly affair and the cost eventually falls on the buyer. Once recorded, audiobooks can be shared with an unlimited number of listeners without incurring additional production costs. On the other hand, each copy of a Braille book requires to be printed and that costs a sum. This is the reason audiobooks are much cheaper than Braille books. Additionally, one can get many audiobooks free of cost on the internet.
  • Easier to access – One can listen to an audiobook almost everywhere – while commuting, while waiting for someone, in the loo, well almost anywhere! On the other hand, one requires a quiet and comfortable place to keep or hold a braille book and feel the raised words.
  • Requires no additional training – Not all visually impaired individuals learn braille as their basic alphabet. A majority of visually impaired individuals gradually lose their vision over a period of time. Such individuals need to specifically learn Braille as a language. Audiobooks, on the other hand, can be listened to and understood by an individual without any additional training as they already speak that language.

List of Websites to Get Audiobooks

  • Audible – For many people Audible from Amazon is synonymous with audiobooks. One can start listening to quality audiobooks from the option of thousands of books with 30 days free trial.
  • Storytel – It’s a Swedish company that produces audiobooks in several languages. They offer a number of attractive subscription plans. Once subscribed, the user can listen to unlimited number of audiobooks within the subscription period.
  • SimplyAudio – One needs to pay a flat fee on this website. After this, the person can access as many audiobooks as they want. Once you finish listening to one audiobook you return it and get access to another book of your choice.
  • com – It is a subscription-based platform that allows you to stream audiobooks online. You can stream audiobooks on different devices without losing your position.
  • BooksFree – The facility is not available globally so you have to check whether it’s available for you. You do not need any device to store the audiobooks as they send you the book of your choice on a CD through mail. After returning one CD you can rent another audiobook.
  • OpenCulture – It is a FREE library that holds everything from classic novels to online courses in audio format.

Audiobooks can be used by blind individuals for their leisure reading. These books can also transform the way they learn if incorporated into the curriculum. Some institutions are already utilizing audiobooks to make learning easier and interesting for students with visual impairment. More institutions need to make audiobooks a part of their teaching methodology for visually impaired students.

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