The Blind Teaching the Reader: An Interview

SyncBraille Portable 20 Cell Braille DisplayOne of the sessions I attended at Tools of Change was from BeneTech, which works to make books accessible to those with significant physical obstacles to reading, such as visual impairment or learning disability. Listening to that presentation, I tweeted some of it and heard back from a reader named Sassy Outwater, who agreed with some of the points and offered to school me on what blind readers need and have to facilitate their own reading enjoyment.

I know absolutely squatnada about blind readers. And so I asked a bunch of really ignorant and obvious questions, and Sassy was kind enough to humor me – as she said, “no question is ignorant or not. The more in the publishing/review biz who know, the more I get to read.”

Boy oh boy howdydamn, did she ask for it.

What do you like to read, romance-wise?

Sassy: Blame it on a short attention span, or a career where I have to
hang out with a lot of men… but I like romance when it’s woven into
something else. My preference is toward scifi/fantasy or fast-paced
suspense and mystery. I find favorites and stick with them, like
Yasmine Galenorn’s Otherworld series, or Linnea Sinclair’s Dock Five
series. That’s the other thing, I don’t often read solo books, I like
my books in series, so I can really get deep into the heads of my
characters. J.D. robb’s In Death series is another one of my

Are there authors or books you wanted that you couldn’t get?

Sassy: All the time. Until about five or six years ago, blind people often
had to wait a year or more for the Library of Congress to release a
Braille or talking book version of a book, even if it was a
bestseller. There’s nothing worse than waiting a year for a new book
in your favorite series, knowing it’s sitting on a bookstore’s shelf,
and you can’t get it! You know those conversations when you go out to
dinner with friends about the latest books or movies everyone’s raving
about? Yeah… awkward. color me clueless until a few years ago.

Now I have a variety of options for getting books. I can A: go to and download a Braille or E-text copy of a
book if they have it there; B: go to the Library of Congress’ website
and see if they have it there; or C: buy an audio book if it has come
out (but with the amount I read, that adds up fast); or D: go buy the
book at my local bookstore and scan it into my computer myself. It
takes a lot of time to do the physical scanning and editing before a
book is legible though. I can even read using iBooks on my iPhone now

Do you shop in bookstores, or look for new titles there? Where do you learn
about books?

Sassy: I don’t often wander into a bookstore and browse… Just not
practical. Usually I look at online lists or reviews, or hear from
friends about a good book. If I just want to browse, I go search,, or the Library of Congress website. Kind
of limiting in a way, but I’ll take what I can get. It’s certainly a
huge improvement from the way it used to be.

The National Library Service used to send out catalogs of their books to us. We’d pick from
the meager selections, send in our lists, and be sent a book at a
time. Forget picking what you wanted to read; you had to choose from
their options.

We’ve been reading ebooks longer than the general
public. It was the way I studied in college: all my textbooks in
e-text on a CD given to me at the start of a semester. Now that
publishers are beginning to see the advantages of ebooks, my options
for reading matterial are expanding every day. Publishers and advocacy
groups for the blind and print disabled are still at odds about many
things, but it’s certainly better than it has been in the past.

Do you prefer to read in Braille or to listen to books? Or both? What other
options are there for blind readers? (I am stone ignorant when it comes to blind reader
accessibility issues).

Sassy: I usually read my books on my computer using a screen reader called
Jaws for Windows. Jaws speaks very
fast, but allows me to read hands-free, so to speak. I can start Jaws,
and go make dinner or do work, and listen to the book, but if there’s
a part I want to spell, or read slowly, I can stop and arrow through

If it’s a Favorite author or series, I download in a Brf
(Braile file) and read using a refreshable Braille display—basically
pins that pop up and down in different configurations to show me
what’s on a computer screen. It’s my equivalent of your computer
monitor. When .I download a Braille file, I
can put it on my BrailleNote, put that in my purse, and read wherever
I want.

An embossed hard copy Braille book is often three or four
volumes or more, and humungous! Not practical for taking on an
airplane or a train. Until about ten years ago, all my reading had to
be done at home. Now, Laptop, BrailleNote, iPhone—I’m good to go. It
often takes a week or five to get a book, even a bestseller into the
bookshare or Web Braille (National Library service) online archives,
so sometimes I can’t wait and give in and buy the audio books. But I
personally don’t often fancy the inflections or voice delivery style
of some narrators, and would rather read it in my own head, but that’s
just a personal thing. There are a lot of blind readers who prefer
audio books to anything else out there. There are a ton of devices
coming out now designed to give us better access to books, including
the Victor Reader Stream, hand-held cameras that scan books on the
go… It’s mind-boggling how accessible the print world is becoming,
and I’m loving it.

What are the device options for blind/visually impaired readers?

Sassy: More than you might think. As listed above, I use Jaws, a Braille
notetaker, a laptop or netbook, an iPhone: even the e-readers like
Kindle are slowly becoming accessible. Kindle has a ways to go—the
menus are not accessible yet, but they’re trying, and that’s what
counts to me. my world has opened up in the past few years thanks to
technology. I can’t remember the last time I’ve held a hard copy book
in my hands. That’s why we constantly struggle with Congress and
publishers to enact laws giving us access to books. We’re not out to
rip off authors or publishers; we believe in paying them for their
work just as firmly as any other demographic… but we access the
matterial differently. It’s my hope that someday, publishers do a
print run of a book, and simultaneously send an E-text copy to to put up on release day, so I can buy a book at the
same time as any sighted person. That’s happened a few notable times,
and it’s an amazing feeling. Even better, if e-reader designers really
get it together and make Kindle, iBooks and other e-readers fully
accessible off the shelf or with a piece of software, then that would
level the playing field even more.

How do you read the web and email? Voice software?

Sassy: Jaws reads when I’m on my computer, laptop, desktop. There’s a feature
on Apple products like iPad and iphone and iPod called Voice Over that
you can turn on to read. Jaws and Voice Over read anything from Word
docs to web, email, music.

(SB Sarah interrupts: listen to JAWS read a website aloud: BOY did this make me think about website design)

What are some of the limitations from publishers
that limit your ability to read in braille or in audio?

Sassy: I don’t know all the details of the publisher war, unfortunately. They
have a lot about it up on bookshare, or if you email them, they may be
able to give you more in depth info or direct you to someone on the
front lines. You could also check with the American Council for the Blind (ACB, or the National Federation of the Blind, NFB. To my
limited knowledge, it goes something like this:

It’s very cost prohibitive to create Braille and talking books. No
publishers have done it. Talking books are different from audio books
in that they are only available to the disabled population, and are
created using federal funding.  Probably about fifty or sixty years
ago, the federal government began a library service to take care of
that. Maybe later, I don’t know. They created the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped for literature, and
Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic for textbooks and educational

In the early 90s, disability advocacy groups started pushing
publishers to offer more of their books to NLS in electronic form to
keep costs down. As you know, publishers relinquishing control of
electronic copies of their books has always been a touchy subject, and
we were the first to really light a fire under their ass to make them
do it. (So yeah, the idea of ebooks can be attributed to us blindos…
thank you very much.)

Piracy was the main topic. Library of Congress has always instituted a policy
that any subscribing patron must be medically certified as blind or
handicapped, and unable to use regular printed materials. Publishers
weren’t happy with that alone as a guarantee against theft. Having us
buy their books, at that time, was never discussed, as cost would be
astronomical (as in hundreds of dollars PER BOOK), and about
seventy-five percent of the blind population is unemployed, and on a
rather low income relative to the general population.

(SB Sarah interrupts: Have a look at this. Guess How Much I Love You, the children’s board book:
$39.95 in Braille.)

The only way for us to get books was on a lending basis, or to buy an
audio book, until about ten years ago. The battles have gotten rather
nasty at times. Publishers’ unwillingness to provide easy access to
their books has resulted in me struggling in high school and college
to have access to my textbooks, for one thing. I had to work extra
hard, and often fell behind in my coursework as I waited for my
university to scan in my texts, or fight with publishers about
obtaining readable material. What a nightmare that was!

If a publisher does not provide files, volunteers must go in and spend
hours scanning books in, and proofreading for errors made by OCR
software. Days can be spent doing one book, whereas if a publisher
provides a file, it’s instantaneous.

Since only accepts certain file types, so they can be
watermarked, publishers are a big part of that process, but not big
enough yet. Every book I download is prefaced by a long legal
statement describing my rights to use the book. My files are password
protected, and monitored to make sure I don’t re-distribute.

I pay a $50 annual subscription membership to, and download all the
books I want from the site. The rest is paid by the government and
donations. Great deal for me, thanks to the federal government, but to
be thought of as a potential criminal just because I want to read…
not so great.

Many authors I reach out to with a request they make
their books available on treat me as a pirate and
disdainfully reply to my message without even reading up on
first. Disheartening. For every snooty reply, though, there are ten
who want to help, and do step forward and push their publishers to pay
attention and get a move-on, thank Heavens.

If you don’t mind my asking, what is the nature of your visual
impairment? Can you see anything, or nothing at all? Were you born
blind?  (HA – would you believe my ipad just changed that to “bling?”
hahahahah) I know there are many kinds of visual disability.

Sassy: No I don’t mind you asking at all. I had a rare childhood eye cancer
called retinoblastoma and lost my sight when I was three years old. I
have no vision at all—totally blind, in our lingo. The cancer spread
to my brain a few years ago… I have one remaining brain tumor, but
am doing very well. :-d And hahaha, yeah, I would believe the bling
thing, my iPhone does stuff like that to me, and my friends get a kick
out of my texts and emails when I don’t hear it happen. :-d Legally
blind people with some useable vision can read using something called
Zoom Text, or a CCTV to enlarge text, but they face a lot of the same
issues I do. Accessing material for them is just as frustrating, if
not more so, because sometimes their vision fluctuates, and what they
can read one day may be impossible to decipher the next.

What would you like authors, publishers, librarians and/or your fellow
readers to know about blind readers?

Sassy: Remember your blind readers when making decisions about the
distribution of your books. We are often avid readers, and we’re not
pirates. We have to medically qualify to use sites like bookshare or
Web Braille. Please work with us to provide access to your books, so
we can support you, and you can support us: one of those mutually
beneficial simbiotic relationships. Technology is our friend in this,
but you have to make the first move.

Right now, volunteers are
scanning like crazy to give me access to books, and you could
exponentially reduce their mountain of work by working with and the library of Congress to provide accessible
matterials to your blind and visually impaired fans.

Readers, get
involved. All it takes is a scanner and some time to volunteer for If you don’t have time, please consider donating.

Authors: speak out. If you want your blind fans to have access to your
books, pester your publishers; make this your fight too. We need as
many authors to make as much of a fuss to publishers as we can get,
you are voices they hear. They can ignore our requests, but they can’t
ignore you. Speak up, please!

Librarians, most blind or visually
impaired people know about the National Library Service for the Blind
and Physically Handicapped, but as baby boomers age and lose sight,
they may come to you with no idea where to turn for their literature.
It’s your job to be informed. Learn about what the NLS offers. Keep
abreast of audio book news, and stay in contact with audio
distributors in case blind patrons do frequent your library.

And booksellers, ebooks. Use them, fight for us to use them. Piracy is
always an issue, print or ebook… and one person’s piracy shouldn’t
curtail another person’s reading rights. A little idealistic perhaps,
but very true. If we team up on this issue, then soon, every book will
be accessible to the blind and print disabled reader, and won’t that
be a miracle worth being proud of!

Now, these are the responses and preferences of one visually-impaired reader. I know there are many, many more. Are you one of them? Do you have impairments to reading books, and like Sassy do you consume books digitally using a device that makes the text accessible to you? What do you use? Where do you get your books? And what can publishers, authors, and other readers do to help?


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    N says:

    Darn! I was all fired up by the Bookshare Digial volunteering option until I saw you have to be a US resident. Does Sassy/anybody know of ways those non-Americans among us can contribute?

  2. 2
    Anony Miss says:

    SB Sarah, interviews / posts like this are why I am so proud to, dare I say it, be a part of this site. Well done raising awareness and cluing in the clueless, and bravo to Sassy Outwater (what an awesome romance heroine name that would be!) for her self-advocacy.

  3. 3

    In ‘95 I had to have community service hours to graduate from high school and my dad asked if I would volunteer at his university’s disabled student services office (sorry, can’t remember exact name, but that was their function).  I agreed and was told that the biggest thing they needed was for volunteers to read textbooks on tape.  Because it took SO long to get one textbook onto tape, blind students had to pick their classes a semester ahead.  I ended up reading a psych book, it took ages, loads of cassette tapes, and I kept losing my voice from all of the hours spent reading out loud.  My dad says that there are still some textbooks that have to be recorded this way because the industry hasn’t caught up (whether by choice or b/c of expense) with the needs of visually impaired students.

  4. 4
    J L Wilson says:

    This was such a fascinating story for me. I grew up in a small town there our state School for the Blind was located. As part of my small town education, we often had ‘field trips’ at the school where we had a chance to learn Braille and interact with the kids there. My mom used to read textbooks for the school. It’s great to read about what is now being done to accommodate folks with a sight impairment. And thanks for the info about I’m an author who would love to see my books get to folks who want to read them.

  5. 5
    Lindsay says:

    Thanks Sassy and Sarah for this incredibly interesting post. looks like a fantastic resource, and it’s a shame that some publishers drag their heels about participating.  I hope that more will get on board in the future, especially now that technological advances make this much simpler to do.  I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for readers like Sassy to have no way to access the books they want or need.

    For N and others looking for volunteering opportunities, try having a look at your national/regional organisation (like the Royal National Institute of Blind People here in the UK) to see what they need.  Also, some universities, as mentioned by Jennifer and J L above, take on volunteers to help scan/read textbooks in their accessibility departments.

  6. 6
    Diva says:


    That was hella informative. Thank you, Sassy!

    I had this very limited idea of audio books being the answer to accessibility for blind and low vision readers. I never thought about how annoying it would be to listen to say, Ethan Hawke, read one of those suckers aloud to you. I don’t listen to audio books for that VERY REASON, yet I didn’t think beyond my own preference.

    While I think it’s fantastic that e-books and iPhone are improving things for blind readers, the seemingly pervasive suspicion that y’all are pirate is more than a little disgusting. I hope sincerely that the publishing industry wakes up to this demographic and serves you better in the future!

    The wait! Omg if I had been forced to wait to read Mockingjay last August…the furor I would have kicked up! I can’t imagine dealing with such a limited selection. Holy crap this is a PROBLEM! Readers are being disenfranchised here! I’m headin to bookshare.

  7. 7
    Diva says:

    PS Over at bookshare their “new releases” were from like 2003. We are talking some OLD Eloisa James and Harlequins. Blaah!

    why44: why are there 44 radio mixes of the new taylor swift song you can download but not one freakin recent romance novel for people with print disabilities?

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    I am so glad you find this information as interesting as I did as I was emailing with Sassy.

    I do think part of the initial OMGNO reaction to is the name. Except for that .org, it sounds like something ENTIRELY different.

    Also, I would totally volunteer to read textbooks. It would be terribly tempting to interject things like “Bitch, please! It is time for OSMOSIS.”

    Thank you again, Sassy!

  9. 9
    hechicera says:

    Accessibility is one reason (shameless self-interest being another) I’ve been irritated at the tendency of more and more publishers to disable the text-to-speech feature of their Kindle books. There’s certainly no piracy risk. The rationale seems to be that if you have access to the Amazon robo-voice, you will decide not to spend the money on the corresponding audiobook. Which is a steaming pile—I either buy the e-book OR the audiobook, but never both. And it seems churlish of publishers to make their e-books inaccessible to blind readers just for the sake of that small sliver of putative profit.

  10. 10

    I’m so glad you guys are finding this info … useful? :-d I’ll pop in and out throughout the day, and try to answer any questions left here. If you do not live in the US, places like CNIB in Canada, RNIB in the UK, or other national organizations always have programs in need of volunteers. From universities needing readers, to blind athletic organizations needing people to guide us while we run or bike—to puppyraisers for our Guide Dogs, there’s innumerable ways you can be my bitch. 😮 Adopt a blind friend today. :-d Seriously, I personally think (and i might be a tad biased) that making friends/doing things to help the disabled is one of the coollest experiences you will ever have. It opens up a whole new side of life. Giving money is great, but let’s face it, we’re bookworms… we’d rather spend our dough on books, so get online and look up a local organization serving any disabled population in your area and go get blindified. It’s way fun… unless you can’t get your fave book on release day. Then life just bites hard. There are organizations out there devoted to just getting blind kids out into the world, or teaching them how to live independently. One of my fave memories was learning from a volunteer how to do makeup… (yes I apply makeup by myself and occasionally get it horribly hilariously wrong). And my name would make a great romance heroine’s name?! LMAO! as long as my Guide Dog can be my sidekick, I’m so down with that!

  11. 11
    verenka says:

    I work at a library in Austria and our city has very high standards for making all our web services accessible. When we couldn’t go online with our ebook lending website, before passing the test, I admit I sighed, but I realised then as I do now how necessary it is.

    Now I know the website itself is up to WAG 2.0 standards, but what I’d love to find out is if the ebooks themselves can be used at all by the legally blind. Most of the ebooks we licensed are in pdf format, although they are adding epubs as well now.

    If a pdf file has columns, will it read across instead of down? how do they handle graphics in pdfs? I suspect – not very well.

    And I agree – the “every reader is a potential pirate” (yarrr!) approach to ebooks some publishers seem to take is utter crap.

    PS: longtime reader/lurker, first time commenter
    PPS: turned46 !? way off!

  12. 12
    Alia says:

    I read the textbook/reading (for our *dance* class!) that my blind friend was taking with me in college. I thought “Oh, this’ll be great! Getting paid to do my class reading.” It took hours. And it *was* really hard not to interject editorial comments. I think I didn’t always succeed. But I also remember one passage that we read together (it was a poem) and he was so excited he asked me to read it again to a blind friend of his who didn’t take the class—because it was such a pleasure to hear something read with feeling. And she actually wept. (It wasn’t like it was that deep a poem. And I’m not an actress.)

    I’ve also been thinking about issues of accessibility because a friend suffers from severe lyme disease and gets most of her reading done through audio books. It can’t be comfortable listening to erotica or even tamer romance when caregivers are in and out of your space. And what about fan fic/ unpublished works?

    Is there an internet source/collection of spoken text that has not been published already using traditional channels?

  13. 13

    Verenka: Re: PDF reading Jaws For Windows is the primary screen reading software and it works pretty well with Adobe now, though that has not always been the case. It can usually tell based on document layout where to read next, though mnot always. And graphics either throw Jaws off, or get completely ignored unless they are labeled. Alia: I can read almost anything published online. E-pub books are not accessible especially if they are designed for e-readers like Kindle or Nouk. As far as interjecting editorials… SB Sarah: Whenever someone is reading to me, I’m just smartassed enough to have to throw my 2 cents in to the detrement of all involved. One of these days you should post a reading with your added comments just so we can LOAO.

  14. 14
    Aubrey says:

    Thank you, Sarah, for blogging about this, and to Sassy for being so forthcoming! I’m the girlfriend of a blind yet voracious reader, and in the 2+ years we’ve been together I’ve often wondered why more wasn’t being done to make the world—and books—more accessible (I’ve kinda taken up the cause, so to speak, and advocate web accessibility standards like nobody’s business).

    Varenka, to answer your question, from what I understand, images in PDF files need to have alt text that describes the photo (just like on a website), just so the reader knows it’s a graphic (especially if it’s something important). Regarding PDF files, though, DRM kills accessibility—and quite frankly it pisses me off that my boyfriend couldn’t buy one of my books and read it because of DRM.

    Bookshare is great, but the new releases aren’t often new at all. Like Sassy, my boyfriend’s a series reader, so whenever a new book from one of his must read authors comes out we’re usually at the bookstore that day, and he’s scanning it in and converting it with Openbook almost as soon as we get home (Openbook takes the scanned file and converts it to audio) since he knows Bookshare probably won’t have it for quite some time, and he’s a bit impatient. College textbooks are the bigger issue. So many courses are now moving to online quizzes, homework assignments and textbooks, but all of those courses are programmed using Flash—which JAWS does not get along with.

    Also, if any of you are interested, I know two blind romance authors—Laurie Alice Eaks (she writes Christian romance) and Emily Carrington (she writes erotic romance for Loose Id, I think her first release is coming out this spring). Both are awesome ladies.

  15. 15
    hechicera says:

    For fanfic and unpublished work, I use one of two options. I can send the docs to my Kindle and have them read in Kindlespeak, or (the better option) I process them on my PC using one of the Cepstral voices. These voices are reasonably priced—I think I paid about $40 apiece for them—and come in a variety of accents. I like being able to use the British ones for HP fanfic. Invariably there are terms and names that the program doesn’t pronounce correctly, and I have an ever-growing Word macro that globally replaces them with more phonetically spelled equivalents.

    Lots of people swear by FoxVox, but I haven’t had much success with it.

  16. 16
    Karen says:

    As a librarian at an NLS library (Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped), I just want to add that library service is available to select non-blind readers. Anyone who cannot see well enough to use standard print in a standard manner, anyone who cannot hold a book long enough to read it (physically handicapped), or anyone who cannot understand printed material due to a physical reason (learning disabled: TBI, aphasia, certain kinds of dyslexia)—all of these could be eligible for books in Braille, in audio form (cassette or digital), or large print.

  17. 17
    Peggy says:

    I forwarded this to the head of the Maine Books for the blind.  Thanks for getting the information out.

  18. 18
    Laurel says:

    Chiming in on the Kindle text-to-speech feature. I, too, was disturbed by the furor over that. It is absolutely not the same as an audiobook in terms of quality but it is a functional option for the visually impaired. Audiobooks are more expensive than eBooks and the notion of sticking it to somebody who has no choice in the matter flies all over me.

  19. 19
    Ashley says:

    If you read sci-fi, you probably already know this, but I’ll mention it for those who might not:  Baen offers all its books free to disabled readers.  The Baen link is here: 

    If you like Linnea Sinclair, Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga and the Lee/Miller Liaden Universe should be right up your alley.  They are both blissfully long series.

  20. 20
    hechicera says:

    And in the same vein, can I just mention that TV programs purchased on iTunes don’t have closed captions available? Shame on them.

  21. 21
    TracyP says:

    Sarah, thank you for sharing this interview with us.  I work in a library and will forward this to my colleagues in the library system.  It’s worth sharing.

  22. 22
    kkw says:

    and it just so happens the RFB&D record-a-thon is next week. they have offices all over the US, and the new york one at the very least is staffed by the nicest people imaginable. mostly i read very dull, very poorly written text books (and now i understand why we never get romance novels up in the mix). they want you to read with flow, so that what you’re reading makes sense, but you’re not supposed to do dramatic interpretations. i struggle not to let my disdain affect my intonation when i’m reading something i don’t like. who knew my waspy inability to show emotions would be so useful? honestly i’m so busy finding and correcting errors in my reading that it actually never occurred to me to throw in some comments! just what i need, another irresistable temptation.

  23. 23
    Ridley says:

    Many authors I reach out to with a request they make their books available on treat me as a pirate and disdainfully reply to my message without even reading up on first.

    Total twats. You’re a better person than I am, because I’d gleefully vent my spleen on them if it’d happened to me.

    Thanks to you both for this article. My vision is perfect, but I have other physical disabilities that limit my ability to read paper books. I can still read used paperbacks that are nice and broken in, but I drop them, lose my place, get vicious hand cramps, and so on. Ebooks and a Sony reader (touchscreen > clicky buttons for mah cripple hands) have been a wonderful thing.

    Thankfully, DRM is not a big deal for me, since I read on a commercial reader and don’t use TTS, but having one disability makes it easier to imagine the barriers to others who have another disability. I’m glad you’ve posted this and there was a keynote talk at TOC about accessibility. It’s like me and doors. If I’m in my powerchair and out and about, ramps are only half the battle. Half the time I get up a ramp to a door only to find it weighs about 6 tons or opens the wrong way. I mentioned this in passing to my dad one day. When I saw him next, he told me that he can’t walk into a store anymore without wondering how the hell a disabled person would get that door open.

    Limits on accessibility generally exist because the able bodied just haven’t thought about it. Whether it’s a 12” wide shoveled path on a sidewalk, a stupidly heavy door at the top of a ramp or DRM restrictions disabling reader features, barriers generally exist due to ignorance rather than malice. The more we speak about it, the more likely we’ll get them thinking about it. And when it comes down to it, these are really minor accommodations for publishers to make. Most publishing professionals acknowledge that DRM doesn’t prevent piracy. They keep it to prevent casual sharing. Abandoning it, like the music industry has, would enhance everyone’s reading experience, not just disabled readers’. Let’s hope they get the message, and soon.

  24. 24
    cleo says:

    (SB Sarah interrupts: listen to JAWS read a website aloud: BOY did this make me think about website design)

    Oh yeah – nothing like “hearing” a website to bring that home.  My favorite accessible web design site is – they have an tool that will evaluate any website in terms of accessibility. 

    Thanks Sarah and Sassy for a great post – I teach web design and try to keep up with web accessibility, but had no idea about all the e-book issues.

  25. 25
    Rosemary says:

    You SO live up to your name.

    I try to remember that I am a TAB (temporarily able-bodied) and that with age and time, much of what I take for granted—vision corrected to 20/20 with contacts, limbs that work reasonably well, and a brain that’s still pretty sharp—may well fail me in the end. And an accident could cause me to lose any one of them tomorrow.

    Thanks for the reminder—and the laughs!

  26. 26

    Ridley, I was very touched by your comment. Thanks, everyone for sharing your insights. Great point, Karen and Aubrey. Rosemary, having neurosurgery a few years ago was the first time in my life I truly felt “disabled.” It taught me that having no eyesight is the least of my concerns, which sounds crazy—until you actually realize that the hard part of any disability is the first unfamiliar days. Then… you learn, you grow, and you either give up, or you bust ass. I love your outlook on life, Rosemary! To all: another fun off-topic blind site I have to throw out there If you would like more info on disabilities or me, visit

  27. 27

    When you first came to me, Sassy, about, I almost thought it was a pirate site, but I looked into it before reacting and realized what it really was. I sent the info right to my publisher. Over the time since then, we’ve gotten to know each other very well, and I’ve not only loved every minute of it, but I’ve come to realize at just what a limited selection there is out there for the blind to read.

    Hugs, and great interview.

  28. 28
    Francesca too says:

    Sarah and Sassy are a post on Metafilter!

  29. 29
  30. 30
    Rae says:

    I saw this site linked from The Consumerist today – an ebook lending library!


  31. 31
    Kristina Wadia says:

    Great interview!  Reading is for everyone, and most people don’t know quite how hard books are to get at for the blind.  Something like 10% of the yearly books printed EVER get put into a readable format for the blind—be that Braille, recorded books, or a digital format.  Crazy!  I LOVE to read!!
    Ebooks are the wave of the future for a number of reasons for all of us—both blind and sighted.  Thanks for getting this great article out there.  Reading is important, and access to books matters for ALL of us.  Great piece!

  32. 32
    Alyssa Cole says:

    This was a great interview covering a topic most people don’t think of unless they’re forced to. I teared up just imagining not having access to the books I want to read!! Thanks to both you and Sassy for giving us insight into this topic and letting us know how we can help our fellow bookworms.

  33. 33
    Kathryn says:

    Ridley, when I was on summer break from college, I worked at the Center for Research on Women with Disabilites at the Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston.  Many of the other student workers had significant motion disabilities. One of my colleagues had cerebral palsy and used a power chair, and every time she encountered an accessibility block, she would just park her chair where it was maximally blocking foot traffic and sing “We Shall Overcome” until someone fixed the issue.  I loved it. . .until she explained how she would have to allow 45 extra minutes every time she needed to go to the financial aid or administrative offices of her university for any reason.

  34. 34
    Anony Miss says:

    My saying your name would make an awesome romance heroine name made you laugh? You never thought of that before? It rocks! A million times better than all those anachronistic, purple prose names, or names that are “in” when the book was written, but don’t age well.

    Can’t you read the back cover copy now? Shall we go Regency? Yes we shall!

    Sassy Outwater could hardly believe her good fortune. Landing the housekeeper job in the Lord Viscount Duke Robert Wealthy-pants’ house meant one day she could pay her father’s debts. Her father’s creditors were constantly hounding her for money after her father’s invention, a e-book reader powered by a hamster wheel, was dismissed as TOO anachronistic, even for a poorly researched romance novel. But then came the day when she surprised Lord Viscount Duke Wealthy-pants… in his secret identity as a reader to the blind!

    etc, etc. Pity I have to go wash dishes, I was having fun.

  35. 35
    yourlibrarian says:

    This response is now far, far away from the original question about audio files for fan fiction, but I’d point those interested to the Audiofic Archive at  Ther.e are thousands of recordings available with many more being added every day.

  36. 36
    Nicole says:

    THANK YOU for posting this!!! 

    So much good information and I too was foggy on the details & trials that the visually impaired have to go through.

    But, in reading this, it makes me wonder; how can self pubbed authors help with this?

    They don’t have a stuffy publishing house that will growl and moan about piracy; the self published author that can be made aware of these resources could potentially put their book up on, right?  I am reading their Contribute section and it looks to me as if authors can go on and send the file themselves…

    It just seems that (as comments above show) all their ‘new releases’ are quite OLD, and the new authors that have great stories but no audience because they are as yet unknown could really do themselves AND an entire community a huge favor by signing up.

  37. 37
    Merideth Smith says:

    Thank you so much for this post.  I work at a veteran’s blind rehab center and one of my favorite parts of working there is when the vets learn how they can start reading again.  They talk about their worlds opening back up and being given back something precious that they had lost.

  38. 38
    Lynn S. says:

    Thought-provoking post.  It makes me realize how much I take my sight, hearing, and physical mobility for granted. 

    I wonder if the Jaws program becomes easier to understand over time.  It would be good if publishers considered providing audio books to; my reading of the amendment seems to include audio under the exception.  If audio rendering is included, there is also the possibility of volunteers recording books as they are read aloud, if the cost involved wasn’t prohibitive.  This organization and are two great volunteer and donation opportunities for book lovers.

  39. 39
    Anon76 says:

    This topic was AWESOME!

    I have yet to read the reply posts to this topic, and I don’t care about them at this exact moment.

    I’ve been enlightened to the nth degree.

    I would try to articulate that thought more, but eleven hours at the day job has my mind and body wore out.

  40. 40
    Virginia E says:

    I read to tape for a poli sci class in college. I’m a trained singer, but it was still hard on my voice.

    I’m sharing the link to this blog with some of my groups. I’ve got at least one online friend that knows she’s going to lose her sight due to medical complications.

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