RNIB Talking Books ‘skill’ ,app praised by users

BLIND and partially sighted readers have reason to celebrate Book Lovers Day today, Tuesday, August 9. They can now have their favorite work read to them just by voicing the wish.

Any title from the vast Talking Books library run by national sight loss charity RNIB can now be accessed with a simple command to Alexa, the virtual ‘assistant’ device produced by Amazon.

Users simply speak a command and Alexa searches online and plays whatever’s requested – such as an audio-book, music track or podcast – from source.

RNIB has worked with Amazon to develop and launch a RNIB Talking Books ‘skill’, equivalent to an app. Users simply download this to access any of the 37,500 titles in RNIB’s audio-library and have it read to them by simply saying “Alexa, open RNIB Talking Books,” and then choosing a title.

“As my sight began to deteriorate, reading became more of an effort and more of a chore,” says Edinburgh resident Joan Kerr (63). “I would only read when I had to. Having an Alexa and the function to be able to access someone read to me opened up a world that I thought was closed, and has given me back so much enjoyment by getting thickened in the words being said.”

Ken Reid (63) from North Berwick was invited to participate in the beta-testing of the ‘skill’. “For most of my life with sight loss, reading has been a tactile experience,” he said. “Either I have to grab my braille reader or my audio player and sit with a series of buttons in front of me. With the RNIB Talking Book ‘skill’, I can sit back and relax with my hands free for drinking a cup of tea and a biscuit while still listening to my current book.”

Joan Kerr and Eilidh Morrison

Student Eilidh Morrison (21) from Aberdeen agrees. “Alexa makes it easy to enjoy a book as you just shout out what you want it to do and it will do it,” she says. “I loved reading books for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I read actual hard books, but because of my ocular motor apraxia I can’t scan my eyes from left to right and as the words in a book follow this pattern what I did surprised everyone… I turned the book 90 degrees and read vertically.Then I found the magic of Talking Books and that changed my relationship with books as I was able to listen to more titles.”

RNIB (the Royal National Institute of Blind People) has long adapted emerging technology to the needs of those with sight loss. It’s Talking Books library, the largest in Europe, began with Agatha Christie’s ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ in 1935, recorded on a set of large long-playing records. From analogue to digital, RNIB evolved the technology through tape-reels, cassettes, CDs, memory-sticks, downloads and now simple voice-commands to Alexa.

“It could now hardly be easier to access your favorite title,” says James Adams, director of RNIB Scotland. “Voice-activated technology like this helps blind and partially sighted people to enjoy reading just as much as sighted people. RNIB Talking Books are sent out free of charge to anyone who is blind or partially sighted.”

Funded by voluntary donations, RNIB’s Library service sends out up to 5,000 books per day and slowly more than 1.2 million titles last year on digital downloads, CD, USB, and braille books. * www.rnib.org.uk

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