Get Ready to Read This Month at Your Local Library
The week of April 8 through 14, 2018, is both National Library Week and Vision Rehabilitation Therapist Awareness Week. This is the perfect time to team up with the local library and a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (VRT) to learn more about reading with vision loss. For some, particularly those with recent vision loss, the idea of reading and returning to the library may seem like a lost pleasure or an unattainable goal. The most common goal I hear from clients is getting back to reading local newspapers, prescription bottles, magazines, menus, mail, etc.
How Can You Read with Vision Loss?
A Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (VRT) is a highly skilled professional whose job is to maximize whatever functional vision you have and provide training on adapted skills of daily living, including reading. For example, if your vision loss prevents you from reading a printed newspaper, large print books, or reading the computer screen the way you once did, a VRT can perform an assessment of your functional vision. They can also develop a plan with you for exploring adaptations or alternatives for reading that you may not be aware of or be knowledgeable about.
For example, it is not uncommon for a newly referred client to have several magnifying glasses that were handed down from family members or were purchased at a local pharmacy or box store. Many over-the-counter magnifiers are inexpensive, have poor optical quality, rarely exceed 3 times magnification, and have an ineffective light, if they even have a light. Clients are often pleasantly surprised after participating in an assessment with a VRT and learning to use a magnifier of the correct magnification and lighting for their vision—often not something available at the local store.
Unless you have a family member or friend with vision loss, you may have no idea of the wide variety of technology available for reading with low vision or no vision whatsoever. Some of this technology can be found on the computer, smartphones, and tablets already in our homes or at no cost at the local library.
This Year’s Theme: "Libraries Lead"
This year’s theme for National Library Week is "Libraries Lead." This is a very appropriate theme for reaching out to patrons in the community who may not realize what a vital role the local public library can play in reconnecting readers to alternate reading formats, like Talking Books, enlarged print on electronic screens, or screen readers that convert electronic text into speech.
Visiting Your Local Library
Make a date with your local library during National Library Week to see what they have to offer patrons with low vision and blindness. If you don’t know about the National Library Service (NLS) Talking Book Program, ask the librarian to fill you in or call toll free 1-800-424-8567. If you are unable to read print, you may qualify for a Digital Talking Book player at no cost, and audiobooks and magazines delivered to your home by mail. The Talking Book player is easy to learn how to use, and if you need some training, a VRT can help.
Many libraries are now loaning books on tablets, iPads, Kindles, and other electronic gadgets. The advantage of using these devices for reading with low vision is that they often allow the text to be increased larger than what is often considered "large print." In many cases, even more importantly, the contrast can be changed so that the text can be light on a dark background on the screen and the screen lighting adjusted for optimal viewing. The local librarian may not be aware of the "accessibility settings" on some of these devices, but if you bring along a VRT, he or she may be able to teach you and the librarian how to magnify the text on the screen using the software magnifier built into the device or turn the screen reader on so that the computer or tablet reads the text out loud.
You may also be pleasantly surprised to learn that the library has an electronic magnifier called a CCTV or video magnifier. These devices come in a variety of sizes, from portable hand-held units to desktop units (like the one in the York, Maine Public Library shown below). Printed material placed beneath the camera on the device can be enlarged many times, and there are settings to enable the text to be enhanced with contrast, lighting, or to change the text and background colors. Additionally, many of the newer models also have a built-in screen reader so that they can take a picture of the reading material, process the picture in a second or two, and begin reading the text to you. Here’s a tip! Because these devices are not used by the vast majority of patrons in some libraries, these may be tucked away—ask the librarian if they have one and be prepared to describe what it is.
Time to Celebrate
So with this information, I encourage you to mark your calendars and celebrate reading during National Library Week and locate a VRT in your state during Vision Rehabilitation Therapist Awareness Week in the VisionAware Directory of Services.