Alternative Reading Formats
The term “print impairment” refers to any disability that makes it hard to read standard print. The most common is visual impairments. Physical disabilities may make it hard for a person to hold a book or turn pages. Cognitive disabilities make it hard for a person to understand words. Chemical sensitivities are reactions to chemicals in paper or ink. This can interfere with a person’s understanding. They can be harmful to the person’s overall health as well.
Despite print impairments obstacles, people with disabilities can learn to read. Alternative formats use other, more accessible means of presenting text.
This fact sheet lists types of alternative formats. Contact information for agencies and companies mentioned are 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.
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 (NLS)
Free braille and talking book library service for people with temporary or permanent low vision, blindness, or a physical disability that prevents them from reading or holding the printed page. Through a national network of cooperating libraries, NLS circulates books and magazines in braille or audio formats, delivered by postage-free mail or instant downloads.
Free lending library with over 100,000 recorded titles
Free loan of special equipment required to play the recorded materials (including digital and/or 4-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.
Enrollment and Equipment
The Perkins Library
Users of the Perkins Library have access to a world of resources – from braille and audio books to accessible magazines and museum passes. Readers with visual impairment, blindness or physical disability are able to read independently in a format most comfortable to them.
Additional audio materials:
American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
National Library Service (NLS) APH is proud to offer accessible editions of Reader’s Digest®, Newsweek®, and Scholastic News® (formerly Weekly Reader®) to eligible readers who are blind and visually impaired. Subscriptions to Reader’s Digest® and Newsweek® are free to eligible U.S. citizens, although donations are appreciated to help defray costs.
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 photocopied 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.
Has info on large print books and large print book clubs
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 Brailler, a mechanical device similar to a typewriter
- with braille translation software in combination with a braille printer
The National Library Service (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:
For other sources of Braille, go to:
- Perkins Scout has an information clearinghouse with info on blindness, family and professional resources
- American Printing House for the Blind (APH) offers a monthly Braille edition of Reader’s Digest. You can obtain a subscription free of charge by contacting APH by mail or phone.
- National Braille Press offers custom Braille material
- Perkins Library will also produce Braille reading material to order
Digital Books, BRF Books
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.
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 technology, 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.
National Braille Press
Has BRF Books that are electronic braille files.
With the use of iPad, Kindle, Nook and other eBook readers, apps and software – print materials and books are now accessible more than ever before.
Screen reader Software
Text to Speech
The Talking Information Center (TIC)
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: 3/3/2022