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Library Services for People with Vision Loss

Blind and visually impaired children and adults can take advantage of many types of reading material. While it is certainly true that blind people do not have access to many print publications, it is also true that there are some excellent sources of both serious and leisure reading in braille, large print, tape, and electronic format.

An excellent source of reading material is the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). This free nationwide service was begun in 1931 when Congress passed legislation to establish a Talking Book program for the blind. In 1952 the program was expanded to include books for children, and in 1966 eligibility was extended to include people with physical disabilities who could not read standard print or manipulate a print book.

All kinds of books are available, including biographies, westerns, mysteries, short stories and much more. There are children's books, books about hobbies and travel, poetry, bestsellers, and cookbooks. There are thousands of books, on every imaginable subject. A limited number of magazines are also available.

Books and magazines are available on tape and in braille. Braille books are produced in hardcopy (paper), as well as in electronic format (known as Web-braille).

Some children's books are in print/braille, with braille pages inserted between the print pages of the regular book. Print/braille books are great for blind family members or teachers to read to sighted children, or for sighted adults to read to blind children, or for braille-reading children who have enough vision to enjoy the pictures.

Recorded books are available on four-track cassette tapes that are played at half the speed of standard tapes. A special player is required to play these books. The player is provided, free of charge, by the library service to eligible individuals.

NLS is located in Washington, DC, and is part of the Library of Congress. There is a network of regional libraries throughout the country - approximately one in each state - and a number ( subregional libraries in metropolitan areas with large populations of blind people. Eligible patrons are served by the regional or subregional library that covers the geographical area in which they live; for example, I receive my taped books from the Louisville Talking Book Library, while people in most rural Kentucky counties borrow books from the Kentucky Talking Book Library in Frankfort. Both libraries are part of the NLS system, and Frankfort provides the braille service for the entire state.

Books get from library to patron and back by mail. No postage is required, so it is truly a free service. Patrons can request books by phone, or by mailing lists of titles to their library. ,some patrons simply designate types of books they wish to read (short stories, poetry, mysteries, science fiction etc.) and the reader advisor does the selection.

Two publications, "Braille Book Review" and "Talking Book Topics", are published bimonthly and bring patrons news of new titles available in braille and on tape. The NLS website is also searchable by title, author, keyword, format etc.

For more information, or to find the library that serves your area, visit the NLS website at www.loc.gov/nls.

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