The term “print impairment” refers to any disability that creates obstacles to reading standard print. The most widely recognized of these disabilities are visual impairments. Others include physical disabilities that prevent a person from holding a book or turning its pages; cognitive disabilities that get in the way of a person correctly processing words as they appear; and chemical sensitivities, in which exposure to the chemicals found in paper or ink interferes with a person’s comprehension and may be injurious to the person’s overall health as well.
Despite the obstacles that print impairments pose, individuals with these disabilities can usually find a way to read, Thanks to the development of alternative formats that use other, more accessible means of presenting text.
This fact sheet outlines various types of alternative formats. Contact information for the agencies and companies mentioned can be found at the end of the fact sheet.
Audio Books can be obtained through book stores, public libraries, and the internet. People with print impairments can also make use of sources specifically for people who cannot read standard print. The two largest are the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and Learning Ally (formerly known as Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic). The National Library Service for the Blind distributes recorded materials for both adults and children to a cooperating network of regional and local libraries throughout the United States. Some network libraries will also make recordings, often of reading material that has particular local interest.
Learning Ally is the largest source of educational books on tape in the world. The books in its collection begin at the kindergarten level and continue up through graduate school and beyond, and run the full range of subject matter. If a book of an educational or professional nature is not already in Learning Ally’s audiocassette library or the NLS collection, a registered borrower may ask Learning Ally to record it. Anybody who qualifies as having a print impairment according to the libraries’ eligibility requirements may become Learning Ally borrower. If you think you qualify, simply contact your local NLS branch and the Learning Ally recording studio nearest you to obtain application forms. There is no charge to borrow recordings from the NLS. To borrow from Learning Ally individuals pay a $135 annual fee. Anyone who registers with the NLS is automatically loaned a Talking Book machine that will play the special audio books. Learning Ally can sell or advise you about the player needed for their books.
College students should also check with disabilities services office at their school to see what support they can provide.
National Library Service is the free public library for people who are print handicapped. If you think you qualify, simply contact your local National Library Service branch to obtain application forms. There is no charge to borrow recordings from the NLS.
Free lending library with over 100,000 recorded titles
Free loan of special equipment required to play the recorded materials (including digital and/or4-track cassette player)
Free movies with audio description
Free newspapers read over the phone and TV guide. The service is called Newsline
Free audio books and magazines
Free audio download
Free delivery and return by mail
All materials and equipment are sent to you and returned to us for free through the US Postal Service.
The Perkins Library has a custom recording service for a fee. The Library can also arrange for books available through the Boston Public Library to be scanned and accessible with synthetic voice.
Additional audio materials:
American Printing House for the Blind (APH) offers accessible editions of Reader’s Digest®, Newsweek®, and Scholastic News® (formerly Weekly Reader®) to eligible readers who are blind and visually impaired. These are available using Digital Talking Book (DTB) player format.
More info on DTB Format
Choice Magazine Listening (CML) provides free audio tapes of over 100 current magazines. CML is available on cassette or digital cartridge playable on the 4 tract cassette players of digital machines loaned through the National Library Service.
E-Text and CD-ROM
Using a reference book by listening to it on tape can be very difficult. Learning Ally has addressed this limitation by putting many reference books onto computer disk. Highly specialized dictionaries, computer manuals, and encyclopedias are among the hundreds of reference books that may be purchased by registered Learning Ally borrowers.
Books on computer disk, also known as ‘electronic’ or ‘E’-text, can be read in any one of four ways: on the computer screen, as is; magnified on the screen; by means of a speech synthesizer which reads the text out loud; or by using braille software to print out a braille document. The latter three require adaptive equipment. What Learning Ally sells you is the floppy disk on which the E-text is recorded; you must supply your own equipment. If you are interested in E-text but are not familiar with the adaptive technologies involved, you may call Learning Ally for referrals to information sources. The book Adaptive Technologies for Learning and Work Environments, by Joseph V. Lazzaro and published in 1993 by the American Library Association of Chicago, also provides helpful information.
There are also ‘do-it-yourself’ ways of obtaining E-text. You can download text from Internet services where books and magazines have been made available, or from a bulletin board. Or you can use a scanner, which, depending on the type, can turn printed matter into synthesized speech or electronic text. To find out more about either of these methods, refer to the sources mentioned in the previous paragraph.
The CD-ROM offers readers still another way to read books via computer . With wide variation in quality, books on CD-ROM run the gamut in price ($5-$300 or more) National Braille Press (NBP) publishes a reference book entitled The CD-ROM Advantage, which is geared to people who are blind and would like assistance with CD-ROM technology. For information about purchasing the book in braille, on disk, or in standard print, contact NBP.
The standard unit for measuring type size is the “point.” Unless you requested otherwise, the text of this fact sheet is printed in 10-point type. Books and newspapers written for adults are usually set in 10- to 12-point type. The term “large print” refers to text that is set in a type that is generally anywhere from 14 to 18 points in size.
This is 14-point type. This is 18-point type.
One source for books that are published in large print is your local library. You can find out if a book or periodical has been published in large print by asking your librarian to check The Complete Directory of Large Print Books and Serials. If a particular title is available in large print but your library doesn’t have the book, ask your librarian to obtain it for you through interlibrary loan. Bookstores also sell large print books and can generally order titles that are not in stock.
In Massachusetts, patrons of the National Library Service regional libraries have access to over 10,000 titles available in large print sent through the mail postage-free.
Custom Large Print: Readers who would like to turn standard text into a large-print format have several options. One is to bring the text to a copy center and have it phocopied at a larger size. If you have the text on disk, you can print it out in whatever typeface and size you desired. For big jobs, you may want to contact a company that specializes in making large-print reproductions. One such company is the Library Reproduction Service (LRS). The LRS will customize each order to suit the physical abilities of the customer; for example using light-weight covers and fewer pages per volume when necessary. It offers the unusual service of reproducing music scores.
Thorndike Press has info on large print books and large print book clubs at:
Large Print Books
10 Water Street, Suite 310
Waterville, ME 04901
Phone: 800-223-1244 x4
Sales Rep for MA: Judy Gagnon x27526
Email (Orders): email@example.com
Readers may enjoy subscribing to:
Braille is a tactile reading format; words are spelled by means of various arrangements of raised dots, which people can read using their fingertips. Braille can be produced by using either low-or high-tech methods: by hand, using a slate and stylus; with a Perkins Brailler, a mechanical device similar to a typewriter; or with braille translation computer software, in combination with a braille printer.
The NLS is a major source for borrowing braille reading material. The reader of braille who would like to purchase their books may contact National Braille Press for a free print or braille version of a catalog:
National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen Street
Boston, MA 02115
Toll Free: 888-965-8965
For other sources of Braille, go to Perkins Scout accessed through the website of Perkins School for the Blind, .
American Printing House for the Blind (APH) makes available on a monthly basis a braille edition of Reader’s Digest. You can obtain a subscription free of charge by contacting APH by mail or phone.
National Braille Press and the Perkins Braille & talking Book Library will also produce braille reading material to order.
eBooks / Digital Books
Overdrive is the global leader in eBooks for libraries. It is a free app that allows you to download books, including audio books to a device. As of August 2012, the OverDrive network included more than 30,000 libraries and 1,000 schools in 40+ countries worldwide. With a selection of more than 2 million eBooks, audiobooks and other digital content available in more than 20 languages, OverDrive offers compatibility with all major eReading devices, including Windows®, Mac®, iPhone®, iPad®, Kindle® (U.S. only), Sony® Reader, Nook™, Android™, Windows® Phone and BlackBerry®. Call your local library to find out if your local library or library network is a Overdrive participant.
Bookshare is a searchable online library of over 459,000 digital books, textbooks, teacher-recommended reading, periodicals and assistive technology tools. for people with print disabilities. Individuals register as members and provide proof of disability to qualify for services. Bookshare members download books, textbooks and newspapers in a compressed, encrypted file. They then read the material using adaptive technoloty, typically software that reads the book aloud (text-to-speech) and/or displays the text of the book on a computer screen, or Braille access devices, such as refreshable Braille displays.
And as well, with the advent of the iPad, Kindle, Nook and other ebookreaders Apps and software, print materials/books are now accessible more than ever before.
Screen reader Software
Text to Speech
The Talking Information Center (TIC) is a network of radio stations that broadcasts to residents throughout Massachusetts. TIC reads publications such as newspapers, periodicals, shopping guides, calendars of community events, job listings, and best sellers of all kinds.
Listeners can tune into this programming via the TIC website, free smart phone app, by phone, special receiver, or AM/FM radio stations. For additional information, call 781-834-4400, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website.
The National Library Service for the Blind regional libraries in Massachusetts:
Braille and Talking Book Library
Perkins School for the Blind
175 North Beacon Street
Watertown, MA 02472
Phone: 617-972-7240 or 800-852-3133
Fax: 617-972-7363 or
20 Roszel Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
Boston / Cambridge 617-500-2724
The American Printing House for the Blind
1839 Frankfort Avenue
P.O. Box 6085
Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085
Toll Free: 800-223-1839
Order Newsweek or Reader’s Digest from APH by calling above number or complete the APH Magazine Subscription order form (pdf)
Fact Sheet last updated on: 7/17/2017