This page highlights some of the most significant libraries, collections, and services that offer materials formatted for print-disabled people. They include braille, audio, and large-print versions of books, magazines, textbooks, magazines, and more in a variety of formats, both physical and digital. Many are free to eligible readers but may require documentation of a print disability.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) is a program of the Library of Congress that provides free braille and audio materials to people who are print disabled. Circulated materials are distributed by postage-free mail and online download, and are available to any resident of the United States or American citizen living abroad who is unable to read or use regular print materials due to visual impairment or physical limitations.
Established by Congress in 1931, the NLS today includes a network of nearly 100 cooperating libraries that serve all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. The collection consists of more than 207,000 talking book and 74,000 braille books and braille music scores as well as 47 audio and 39 braille magazine titles. Books in the collection begin at the preschool level.
View the video below to learn about eligibility criteria and how to apply to the NLS:
The NLS provides digital talking-book players free of charge to eligible patrons in order to listen to talking books and magazines on cartridges. Players are available in two models—standard and advanced—and breath switches, pillow speakers, and special amplified audio for people with extensive hearing loss are available to those who need them.
In addition, BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) is a free online service from the NLS that provides access to more than 112,000 special-format books, magazines, and music materials through downloadable audio and ebraille. While all active NLS patrons with an email account are eligible for BARD service, the BARD website is password-protected and patrons must already be receiving service from the NLS before registering for BARD.
Both audio and ebraille materials can be accessed with the BARD Mobile app for iOS (a refreshable braille display with a Bluetooth connection is required to access ebraille materials) while audio is available with the BARD Mobile app for Android and Amazon Fire. Materials can also be downloaded as a ZIP file from the website and transferred to a digital talking-book player via a USB flash drive. On a computer, downloaded ebraille materials can be embossed or read with a refreshable braille display. Ebraille materials are available in both contracted and uncontracted format, and can be downloaded by individual volume or in a ZIP file containing all volumes of the book (or parts of the magazine).
The Bard Mobile app for iPhone from the Apple App Store
The NLS operates through a network of regional libraries. For patrons in New York City (all five boroughs) and Long Island, their local library is the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in Manhattan, which is operated jointly by the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress. In addition to running NLS services (including mailing out talking books), the library has an on-site browsable braille library, an accessible makerspace with a paper embosser and other tools, and a wide range of assistive technology available to patrons. The library also offers many classes and events and runs its own recording studio that produces about 30 talking books per year.
Address: 40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011
Hours: Monday: 10am to 5pm
Tuesday: 12pm to 7pm
Wednesday: 10am to 5pm
Thursday: 12pm to 7pm
Friday: 10am to 5pm
Saturday: 10am to 5pm
View the video below to learn more about the Andrew Heiskell Library:
Bookshare is the world’s largest online provider of accessible ebooks for people with reading barriers such as print disabilities. Bookshare includes over 770,000 books in multiple accessible formats, including braille, audio, and large font. Books can be read using a variety of tools, including computers, tablets, and assistive technology devices.
Bookshare receives funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs to make access free for all qualifying students, schools, and libraries. Students with a learning disability that interferes with reading (such as dyslexia), low-vision or blindness, or physical disabilities that interfere with reading are all eligible. For people in the U.S. who are not students, membership is $50/year. However, New York Public Library and Andrew Heiskell Library patrons may use the promo code NYPL16 for free access to Bookshare. Membership for those outside the U.S. varies depending on the country, between free and $50/year.
Learning Ally is an educational non-profit library that supports people with a wide range of reading disabilities, including blindness, visual impairment, dyslexia, and other learning differences. The more than 80,000 human-narrated, accessible audio textbooks and literature titles are intended for K-12, college, and graduate students as well as lifelong learners. All materials are available via Learning Ally’s website and the Learning Ally Audiobooks app and can be used on a wide variety of devices. An individual membership, with unlimited access to audio books, requires documentation of a print disability and is $135/year, although fee waivers are available for those with demonstrated financial need. Some schools have institutional memberships that provide the service to students for free.
These are some other popular services and resources for reading:
Audible is the world’s largest producer and retailer of audiobooks and other spoken materials. Titles can be accessed on the website and via iOS, Android, Sonos, Kindle and Alexa-enabled devices. An accessible version of the website, intended for screen readers, is called Audible Access. The subscription service costs $14.95/month.
HathiTrust is a partnership of more than a dozen member research libraries that scan their collections to make them available over the Internet. Full texts of materials in the public domain are available. The HathiTrust recently partnered with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to make their collection accessible to people with print disabilities. The Accessibility page offers more information.
NFB-NEWSLINE is a free audio news service for anyone who is blind, low-vision, or otherwise print-disabled. Eligible subscribers receive access to more than 500 accessible publications, including national newspapers, magazines, breaking news sources, job listings, and more. NEWSLINE uses text-to-speech to turn printed text into spoken recordings, and can be accessed by phone, website, iOS mobile app, Amazon Alexa, and more.
OverDrive is a digital reading platform that allows patrons to borrow ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and videos from thousands of public libraries and schools. NYPL patrons should use their library card. Materials can be accessed on the OverDrive website (and transferred to compatible ereaders and MP3 players) as well as via mobile apps for both Apple and Android devices. The original OverDrive app is compatible with screen readers, offers a variety of text sizes (including accessibility sizes), and has an option to choose the OpenDyslexic font.
There are a number of ways for blind and low-vision people, particularly children, to receive free books in braille:
Book Angel from Seedlings Braille Books for Children mails blind children (up to 21 years old) in the U.S. and Canada three free braille books per year. Recipients can pick from any books from Seedling’s catalog. To apply, submit this form online, or print and mail it in.
The Braille Tales Print/Braille Book Program, a partnership between the American Printing House for the Blind and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, provides free print braille books in the mail and audiobooks to download. This service is catered to children up to age 6 and parents/guardians who are blind. To apply, submit the form online or mail it in.
The Free Braille Book Program from the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults gives one free braille book per year to blind or low-vision adults and children who read braille. To apply, complete the online form.
The ReadBooks! Program from National Braille Press provides one braille book bag containing an age-appropriate braille book in English or Spanish, an order form for sighted parents to order a braille tutorial, a gift coupon to order another braille book of choice, and other tactile and braille activities. Any adult who works with or cares for a blind child, up to age 7, can participate by filling out the online form.
The Special Collection from the Braille Institute provides a maximum of three free books to any child that is blind or visually impaired. The books in this collection are specifically for toddlers. To apply, submit the online form.