One positive outcome from these months of social distancing has been the space and time to get into that book that has been gathering dust for a few too many months. Publishers and libraries have noticed this and responded by making access to their catalogues easier than ever. For a lot of sighted folks, this has made 2020 a record page-turning year — but how has it been for the blind and visually impaired?
It’s a mixed bag of results, and unfortunately, the services available have a lot to do with where you are. In the United States, blind and low vision people have access to a wide range of audio books thanks to the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. With this service, individuals can receive an audiobook player and can order audiobook cartridges directly to their home. Most libraries across the United States also have digital collections of audiobooks, which can be accessed simply by registering for a library card. For most countries, blindness organizations work together with a National Audiobook Library or Braille Library in order to provide their members with access to published goods.
These services are great for a lot of people, but there are still a lot of gaps in the system. It is estimated by the World Intellectual Property Organization that less than 10% of published materials are accessible to the blind and visually impaired. The Marrakesh VIP Treaty was adopted in 2016 to change this, by making the process of international transfer and publication for books intended for blind and visually impaired people easier. Yet after four years, only 98 of the 193 United Nations recognized member states have enforced the Marrakesh VIP Treaty — meaning only about half of the globe is actively working on making publications accessible.
The good news is, if your country does not have a National audiobook library, there are plenty of options out there to embrace your inner bookworm. Services like Audible, Scribd, and Spotify all offer access to their expansive library of audiobooks for a monthly subscription fee. Alternatively, Bookshare has an excellent selection, and you can sign up and make an account for a yearly subscription fee. If you need help navigating any of these sites to find the right book, a Be My Eyes volunteer is always ready to help.
For a free solution for those in the US, you can try out the Libby App, which has access to a large ebook and audiobook library and only requires that you sign in with your library card. For those outside of the US, try out LibriVox, which has an extensive free catalog of audiobooks read by volunteers in hundreds of different languages. LibriVox is great if you have limited resources in your language — as there are books read in pretty much everything from Afrikaans to Yiddish.
So now that you know where to find your next favorite books, let’s take a look at what some of the Be My Eyes bookworms have been reading!
Crime and Punishment — by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“Crime and Punishment tells you an awful lot about being a human being.” Hans Jørgen Wiberg, Co-founder of Be My Eyes.
Shantaram — by Gregory David Roberts
“Shantaram is an exploratory journey through both physical space and the mind. It’s been a perfect getaway now that we spend a lot of time in the same place without the possibility to wander.” Michele Paris, Be My Eyes Marketing Officer.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck — by Mark Manson
“This book reminds me that you can not achieve everything in life - which is completely okay. Don’t give a f’ about what everyone else is expecting from you, but about the things that you think are important. Apart from that the book has a comedic approach with personal stories which makes it more relatable.” Lasse Spangsberg, Be My Eyes Community Assistant.
Tracks — by Robyn Davidson
“Tracks is a beautiful story about one woman’s journey across 1,700 miles of harsh Australian outback. The book gives an extraordinary insight into Australia's indigenous people and an empowering sense of wanting to break free from society's expectations of young women.” Sanne Byrgesen, Be My Eyes Graphic Designer.
Pachinko — by Min Jin Lee
“A multi-generational tale of the heartbreaks and successes experienced by a family immigrating from Korea to Japan before the Second World War. The story and characters you meet will stick with you long after you turn the final page.” Carter McGrath, Community Manager at Be My Eyes.
Please feel free to share what you have been reading, where you have been reading it, or your impressions on the books above. Reach out to us on Social Media, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime.