In the early 1930's, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and its collaborating research partners pioneered the "Talking Book." Originally created on acetate and vinyl records, this new audio format provided print-disabled users with recorded human narration and some rudimentary navigation, and it quickly became popular. This new format steadily evolved into four-track cassettes, and, for the past few decades, has been the primary format of both NLS and Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.
Concurrent with the development of digital source files as the preferred medium for the efficient creation of Braille, digital versions of audio books have also evolved. Research and development over the years led to the approval of the "Digital Talking Book" standard by National Information Standards Organization (NISO) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002. Synonymous with "DAISY 3," a "Digital Audio-Based Information System" format developed by the international DAISY Consortium, this ANSI/NISO standard provided the foundation elements of the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS). Regardless of which "flavor" of the standard is applied, digital talking books (DTBs) hold enormous potential. This format supports recorded human audio either as a stand-alone medium or synchronized to on-screen text, extensive navigation, support for additional media (images, charts and graphs, video), and, by design, well-formatted Braille.
While these broad-based initiatives have been evolving at the national and international levels, special educators, assistive technology vendors, and students have also capitalized on readily-available and cost-effective digital solutions. The use of text in electronic formats (e-text) by students with disabilities has increased exponentially in the past ten years, and students with visual, learning, and attentional disabilities have experienced enormous benefits from the flexibility these formats have offered. Students with visual impairments may use screen readers such as JAWS or WindowEyes to have any on-screen text spoken aloud, while students who do not need to have the entire computer interface read aloud may use supported readers like WYNN, Kurzweil, Read & Write, ReadPlease, and others to have text spoken aloud by synthetic speech. The majority of these assistive technologies will auditorize files created in Word, RTF, ASCII, or HTML, yielding a high degree of flexibility.
Sources of Digital Audio Content
- Assistive Media
Assistive Media is the first Internet-based reading service of print works offered online. Narrators read books, newspapers, and magazines aloud for the benefit of the blind and vision-impaired.
- Books Aloud, Inc.
Books Aloud, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization supported by donations from individuals, corporations, foundations, trusts, businesses, and service clubs. The Books Aloud "Reading by Listening" Program provides a wide variety of recorded reading literature to eligible individuals of all ages. The service is free.
- National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
The National Library Service at the Library of Congress coordinates a network of regional and sub-regional librariesthat provides a free library service to persons who are unable to use standard printed material because of visual or physical disabilities. Library patrons can expect to borrow audio or Braille books such as they might find in print at a local public library. Books and magazines in audio form (talking books) and in Braille are delivered to eligible readers by postage-free mail and are returned in the same manner. Specially designed phonographs and cassette players are also loaned free to persons who borrow talking books from their library.
- Learning Ally
For 60 years, Learning Ally, formerly Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D), a national non-profit, volunteer organization, has been the leading producer of accessible audio books for students with disabilities such as visual impairment or dyslexia that make reading standard print difficult or impossible. With titles available in many subject areas and grade levels, Learning Ally's digitally recorded textbooks help students challenged by the printed page. RFB&D distributes Digital Talking Books (AudioPlus) on CD-ROM. AudioPlus books are audio-only, human-voice recordings that conform to DAISY navigation requirements. These products require specialized hardware—desktop or portable "players"—or AudioPlus-compatible computer software for playback.
Mainstream Sources of Digital Audio Content
One resource to consult is the Audio Publishers Association. Local book stores often stock digital audio books either on cassette or CD.
In addition, consider the following: