Please join us in giving a warm welcome to Kelly Brakenhoff, author of the Cassandra Soto cozy mysteries. Kelly has kindly offered to giveaway a book to one lucky commenter!
No Reader Left Behind: Making Books More Inclusive
Finding new readers is my part-time job.
It’s only second in importance to writing my next book. (Which I should probably be working on at this moment instead of procrasti-blogging…)
Today I’m sharing about a few services for readers with print disabilities. Publishers spend buckets of money connecting with potential book buyers. Authors are always on the lookout for Superfans who want to read every new thing we write. Shouldn’t it be a no-brainer to do everything within our power to make our books more accessible for all readers?
Sometimes those potential readers are right under our noses but will never be aware of our books. Globally, only 5% of books are accessible to readers who are blind, have low vision or print disabilities. Thankfully, Lynette Kersey, one of my blind readers, reached out with her request to read my cozy mystery and picture book series. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of sharing them with her and her friends. Let’s start with the service supported annually by the U.S. Congress.
National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled
Through the Library of Congress, the NLS “administers a free national library program that provides braille and recorded materials to people who cannot see regular print or handle print materials. NLS selects books, magazines, and musical scores for full-length publication in braille, ebraille, and digital audio format. Reading materials are circulated through a network of libraries across the United States and its territories and to American citizens living abroad.”
“Approximately sixty-five percent are fiction, and thirty-five percent are nonfiction. Bestsellers, biographies, fiction, and how-to books are in great demand.” If your book is a bestseller published by one of the Big 4 houses, chances are you might be included in their 281K record database.
But how do blind and print disabled people discover new authors or books that are less well-known?
Authors can donate their books to Bookshare, a nonprofit whose mission is to “create more opportunities for people with disabilities to learn, work, and build sustainable livelihoods.” Authors or publishers submit books in ePub format and Bookshare lends them to qualified individuals with a documented disability. Readers with dyslexia, blindness, and cerebral palsy in the U.S. and 70 other countries can borrow books from the world’s largest library of eBooks in formats like audio, braille, and large font. This is the route I took by donating one copy of each book. Soon I found out that several blind readers had enjoyed listening to my stories and were looking forward to the next in the series!
I’m an indie author who would love to hire a narrator and sound engineer to produce audiobooks. But for now, my royalty checks cover less expensive items like mojitos, chips and salsa. In the meantime, I’ve found two ways anyone can listen to a typical eBook they’ve purchased from any store like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo.
I have several friends without print disabilities who have no time to sit and read a paperback book. However, they listen to audiobooks frequently during their commute. VoiceOver is a great, free method for anyone who wants to listen to any eBook.
Another option is an app called Voice Dream Reader. Lynette raved about this text-to-speech reader app that costs $19.99, and you can use it to listen to books, documents, and articles. The natural sounding voices come in over 200 variations and 27 languages with adjustable settings for speed, just like an audiobook. Using this app, anyone with a long commute or who wants to spend hours in the garden listening to books or read documents can do it hands free.
I love how solutions for people with disabilities also benefit the general population. When this happens, the pool of users grows, making the technology less expensive, with better features, and even more accessibility.
Lynette’s tips for authors
Lynette follows quite a few authors on Facebook, so remember when designing your social media posts that some of your followers may be using screen readers to access your content. If your content is inaccessible, they will just unfollow you. Lynette asks authors to, “put the name of the book or books by the link in emails.” She says the link alone doesn’t tell her what that link goes to. In your email newsletters, you can include a short “alt text” for pictures so blind readers know what the images contain, especially if the information isn’t repeated somewhere else in the main text. “For example, if they want their readers to choose between 2 covers, they could put a short text beneath each cover so I could choose.”
Why would authors want to donate their books to Bookshare?
Although you don’t get paid a royalty each time a person borrows your book from Bookshare, blind people interact with books and authors just like other readers. They write reviews, tell family or friends about what they’re reading and gush about their favorite authors, just like you do. They’re in book clubs and join author newsletter mailing lists, too. Lynette appreciates when publishers and authors donate great books to read to Bookshare or the National Library Service.
Accessibility is a priority for my work. As an ASL Interpreter, I see the challenges that deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf/blind people face every day. I’m committed to make the content I produce as accessible as possible. If it eventually helps me afford a Mexican resort vacation, that’s great, too.
Authors often say the best part of this gig is connecting with readers and talking about books. I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to know Lynette and her colleagues through our mutual love of storytelling.
- Use this link to check the National Library Service Catalog to see if your books are available: https://www.loc.gov/cgi-bin/zgate.nls?ACTION=INIT&FORM_HOST_PORT=/prod/www/data/z3950/quicksearch.html,lx2.loc.gov,210
- To see if your books are already in Bookshare, search here: https://www.bookshare.org/cms/
- Donate your eBooks here by clicking “donate your content”: https://www.bookshare.org/cms/get-involved/donate
- The Voice Dream Reader app is only available on the Apple platform. Google play has one called Legere Reader but doesn’t seem as reliable. https://apps.apple.com/us/app/voice-dream-reader/id496177674
- Content from NLS quoted on 6/7/21 from https://www.loc.gov/nls/about/overview/
This is by no means a comprehensive list of resources available for people who are blind or have print disabilities. Please share in the comments if you know of other services or workarounds for making your online content and books more accessible. I’ll choose one lucky commenter who will receive a free eBook of their choice from my mystery series! Good luck.
Kelly is an American Sign Language Interpreter whose motivation for learning ASL began in high school when she wanted to converse with her deaf friends. NEVER MIND and FARTS MAKE NOISE, her children’s picture books and workbooks featuring Duke the Deaf Dog and illustrated by her sister, Theresa Murray, have quickly become popular with children, parents, and educators for promoting inclusive conversations about children with differences.
The mother of four young adults and a German Wirehair Pointer, Kelly and her husband call Nebraska home.
Join her online book club for monthly book recommendations, inspiration, and recipes. https://mailchi.mp/78c3aaa46ef3/kellybrakenhoffnews