On Storytelling Week 2019, Darren Paskell, Technology Champion from Vital Tech shares some of the ways that storytelling is becoming increasingly accessible for blind and partially sighted people who love to read.

My love for stories goes so deep that it’s hard to trace its beginning! The oldest tapes in my collection are full of nursery tales of adventuring young pilots and train drivers.

My passion for stories was noticed by my first teachers who often asked me to recite some of my favourites in class. I gladly performed these without a thought, having heard them often enough to have memorised some of them word-for-word.

These days, I continue to be engrossed in reading, so much so that life necessities such as food and sleep seem trivial and of secondary importance compared to the story in progress! Having grown up in a world where less than 5 per cent of published works were accessible for blind and partially sighted people to choose from, I am delighted that partnerships and technological developments are radically improving this situation.

Here are just a few examples of storytelling devices available for blind and partially sighted people.

Audio books

Audio books are more available than ever before. Amazon and Google are both investing heavily in their respective Audible and Google Books services for their smart speaker platforms. In addition, there are some outstanding audio book library services which are freely available to blind and partially sighted people.

The RNIB Talking Books Service contains tens of thousands of titles and is free to join while Calibre Audio Library offers blind and partially sighted people lifetime membership to their wealth of books for a small fee. Both services can be accessed through a compatible talking book player or accompanying smartphone app. You can read more about the talking books and the technology available on the Audiobooks and Newspapers Vital Tech page.

Books in braille

Braille is quite simply one of the most enduring technological inventions in human history. Braille has brought literacy to millions of blind and partially sighted people for nearly two hundred years. A new generation of electronic braille displays has transformed once cumbersome transcription processes, making it possible to produce and distribute braille materials at low cost and in a fraction of the time.

Anyone in possession of a low-cost braille display such as the Orbit Reader 20 or Braille Me paired with, for example, an Amazon Fire Tablet, can enjoy braille access to any of the books available through the Amazon Kindle store for a total outlay of around £500. Additionally, the Braillists Foundation supports efforts to make affordable braille and tactile reading technologies available to all blind and partially sighted people, and also hosts a lively online discussion group for exchanging ideas on the development of future braille technologies.

There are also specialist library services for hard copy braille books, such as the Clearvision Project which is a postal lending library of children’s books designed to be shared by blind and sighted children. For more on braille technology, refer to the Using braille section on Vital Tech.

Storytelling inspires many of us and will continue to do so

While blind and partially sighted people still face challenges gaining equal access to literature, the presence of technology is helping to increase these opportunities, so that stories can be told and shared. With so much potential for innovation and improvement, I look forward to seeing what the future holds for further accessible storytelling!