More than one way to read a book

11 August 2020

For book lovers, nothing beats enjoying a few hours of reading downtime.

People who are blind or have low vision might not have the traditional book with pages, cover and a spine, but there’s a number of ways they can enjoy their favourite books. 

For readers who are blind or have low vision, it’s likely they use braille, audio or large print when reading and each of these formats can be accessed in a number of different ways.

Braille can be read via hard copy, as well as using electronic braille and refreshable displays. Printed versions of large print books are also available, while e-readers also allow people to increase the font size to their choosing.

Audio books can be accessed through speacialist devices such as Vision Australia’s Envoy Connect, as well as standard mp3 players and to a lesser extent these days, CDs.

Other mainstream devices like smartphones, tablets and computers also help put large print and audio books in the hands of readers who are blind ort have low vision.

We spoke with three young book lovers about their preferred format and device.


Matt, who has low vision, has recently been relishing the short stories of sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury on his Kindle e-reader.

“The beauty of the Kindle is it can alter text to 10 different font sizes. I apply one font and it automatically sets all of my reading material to the font I’ve chosen,” Matt said.

Before the arrival of e-readers, Matt used a hand-held magnifier with a light which illuminated the text.

“It was exhausting and also limiting in where I could read. I had to sit up most of the time holding the magnifier. I was in my 20s when I got a Kindle which has a built in light bulb in which wand it was a game changer for me. I can take it anywhere but the biggest bonus is I can read in any position, like lying down in bed.”

Matt said the magnifier is still his preffered method for shorter spot reading, such as newspapers and magazines.

Braille and audio

Librarian and book lover Caren, who is blind, preferred reading format is braille which she says is important for literacy.

“Sighted readers see a word, know how to spell and know how to say it, that’s what braille can offer. Audio throws up all sorts of pronunciations, especially if it’s an automated or digital voice,” Caren said.

“I also really like the feel of a physical book.”

However, as Caren’s favourite genre is fantasy, braille books are not always feasible due to their physical size.

“Traditionally fantasy books can run up to 700 pages, like Game of Thrones or the Harry Potter series. Imagine it all brailed on A4 sheets! I would’ve have been stuck to store them.”

The bulk of a braille book also restricts the options on where they can be read. While there is electronic braille, Caren says the cost of the devices can be a barrier

As such, Caren mainly reads audio books on her iPhone, which gives her the freedom to read where she chooses.

“I read in bed, on the couch and when I’m travelling on public transport.”

Caren said both formats have their own unique advantages.

‘With braille you are left alone with your own pure imagination. For example, in the Hobbit there’s a lot of singing and if you read in braille you have to imagine what that music sounds like.

“With audio, depending on the production, music might be included and the characters are also much more alive. Sometimes it can really can be like listening to a movie.”

Braille however often provides a needed break from audio, which Caren says can be taxing especially if you listen to a screen reader all day.

Making the most of all options

Book lover Tess, who is blind, likes to reads in traditional and electronic braille, as well as audio.

Tess uses her iPhone to download books via the Vision Australia Library app, Audible and iTunes. She also downloads classic books, which are in the public domain, on her computer and reads them via electronic voice.

Unlike Caren, Tess read the Harry Potter series in traditional braille.  

“They arrived in a lot of boxes,” she said.

Before Tess read braille, physical books were scanned for her with a talking scanner although she says the synthesised voice robbed the delight of the book.

With all of these options Tess is mostly able to find the books she would like to read but says things could be improved.

“They should make all books in an accessible format, it’s very wrong that they aren’t. It’s the only gripe I have with being blind.”

If you love to read and would like to find out more information about the range of books and options for reading available to you, check out what the Vision Australia Library has to offer.

The First Friday book group is a group of self-described feisty women who have been meeting for the past 20 years. While they are all blind or have low vision it hasn’t stopped them from enjoying their passion for books and reading.

You can listen to their story here: