Audiobooks and accessibility

As any of you who follow my other blog will know, I’ve been dealing with visual impairment for a few years now. It went from a bit blurry to using a white cane quite quickly, and whilst I was scared, I was mainly frustrated. Not being able to see properly was stopping me from doing too much. It was impacting on the things I loved doing the most, one of those key things being reading.

I remember someone “helpfully” telling me that the library had tapes and CDs of books to borrow, and that simply made me more frustrated; what better way to demonstrate how different I was than by waiting six months for books aimed at the over 60s to come out on tape. No. I simply refused.

I suppose, being honest, I was also holding reading to ransom; do it properly or don’t do it at all. Which naturally is absurd, but it’s amazing – and depressing – the bargains you try making with yourself to make your body function as it “should” or did. People make all sorts of psychological bargains from the funny to the desperate, and I suppose the one I was making was a bit of both.

Eventually, faced with a free month’s trial of Audible, both my husband and I signed up to see if it was worth it. The first book I listened to, and I remember it very clearly, was “Spectacles” by Sue Perkins. I laughed and cried, and highly recommend it, even a few years down the line. It was enough to break down my own mental barriers, the logical (“how will I listen to audiobooks? I don’t have a portable CD player any more.” – Audible app. Sorted.) and maybe more importantl, the illogical, (“I can’t listen to audio books, they’re only CDs from the library for pensioners.” – Well that was my own personal bias and Sue Perkins would probably terrify pensioners, or at least I’d pay to watch her perform to a room full of pensioners.) and there I was, faced with both my own stereotypes – and an option.

Like anyone trying out something new, I made a few mistakes (the Daily Deal of £2.99 or under is wonderful and lethal), but eventually found I was utterly submerged in a world full of books after so long of not being able to read. It was wonderful. It felt like being reunited with an old friend, as well as being introduced to a new one, a whole heard of new ones, each time I encountered a new narrator.

Narrators, I’ve found, are like authors. Some, you could drink in every word they have for you. And others, all it takes is a sentence to know you’re not going to get along. It’s always very individual, reading. There are some names I now recognise and get quite excited about seeing. Or hearing, as it were.

The wonder of being able to read again, to revel in words again, to get excited about books coming out and know that even when my eyes are bad I can still enjoy them. I’ve also found that actually, some books are even better when being narrated.

And yet there are still some people who don’t count audio books as “reading”. I’ve even heard them referred to as “cheating”, of all things. Are children cheating, when being read to by their parents before they can read themselves? Of course not. Reading isn’t a competition, and people aren’t all the same. Reading is a wonderful thing, books are a gift, words are a blessing. It doesn’t matter how you absorb those words, or how you read those books. If you can unwind, relax, laugh, smile, find some peace, or anything else in the blanket that is a page of words, it doesn’t matter whether you see them or hear them or feel them, should you use braille.

Reading and accessibility don’t always go hand in hand typically, so the progress that has made it more accessible, even if that wasn’t the immediate priority of Amazon as a company when they created Audible, means that many visually impaired people, and those with disabilities, are being able to read certain books for the first time, along with keeping up with new releases, rather than waiting years for now outdated technology to catch them up.

I’m taking part in a reading challenge this year. There’s no prize, it’s not a competition, it’s just for fun. But without audio books, I’d have no chance of even making a scratch on my list of titles and prompts. Being able to read even when all I can manage physically of a day is to lay in bed with an eye mask on and the curtains closed, wrapped in a duvet, is such a wonderful thing.

So, I suppose I’m writing this for two reasons. Firstly, to remind you not to judge or think less of people who read via audiobooks. And secondly, probably more importantly, to remind you that if you use audiobooks to read, either partially or fully, then enjoy your books. Love your reading. Educate people if you want, but mainly, just love what you’re doing for you. Because it is for you. It’s not for anyone else. Sod them, read on.

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