It is a common assumption that audiobooks are accessible to all readers with print disabilities. After all, the text is recorded and audible, you don't have to hold a book, and you can stop and start the audio any time.
An accessible audiobook must be easily discovered, opened, navigated, and listened to, and the audio tracks must be in the correct order. Accessible audiobook recording is evolving as technologies change and improve, and recording practices are not fixed. The opportunity to make choices, and to have a say in your own experience is a key element of what makes a book accessible.
Producing Accessible Audiobooks
AccessiblePublishing.ca and National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) have collaborated on a guide designed to help audiobook creators design and produce accessible audiobooks. The guide notes that accessibility in audiobooks is evolving along with technologies and that access will improve as collective knowledge expands.
NNELS produces its own accessible audiobooks and supports publishers in their production with accessibility testers, audiobook recording coordinators, diverse narrators, and accessible publishing and resources coordinators. The guide reminds that practices are developing, not fixed, and that different approaches may work better for some publishers than for others. The guidelines are intended to help publishers create robust, accessible audiobooks that provide readers with as much agency as possible (AccessiblePublishing.ca).
Accessible Audiobook Formats
Unlike e-books, audiobooks do not have a single standard for production and distribution. Currently audiobooks use a variety of audio files (MP3, MP4, WAV) as well as DAISY and Enhanced EPUB.
The DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) Consortium was formed in 1996 by talking book libraries to lead the worldwide transition from analog to digital talking books (DTBs). DTBs include not only the audio version of the book, but also the full textual content and images. Because the textual content file is synchronized with the audio file, a DTB offers a multiple sensory experience to readers and is considered a benefit to people with cognitive disabilities and readers with learning disabilities. Braille readers read using a refreshable braille display device connected to their DTB player, which accesses the textual content file.
There are many ways to read DAISY digital talking books. Direct to player offers a quick and convenient way to get DAISY books without waiting for them to arrive in the mail or using a computer to download and transfer files. DAISY players are like CD players, with large, tactile controls that are easy to use. Many apps for mobile devices, including the free EasyReader from Dolphin, offer all the same features of DAISY books, including full navigation controls and adjustable reading speed. Computer software, such as Windows Media Player or iTunes will read the MP3 files on DAISY CDs. Most CD and DVD players read the MP3 files on DAISY audiobooks. However, these provide limited navigation and functions compared to the DAISY player.
Dolphin EasyReader is a free app for smartphones, tablets, and PC which makes reading more accessible for readers who are blind or have low vision, dyslexia, or other print disabilities. With EasyReader, you can sign into an accessible library to find, download, and read accessible books as well as customise the reading experience by adjusting and magnifying text, changing colour schemes, synchronise text with speech, or use the speech settings alone to listen to books.
With Dolphin EasyReader, you can play narrated audio books, or have text-only books and newspapers read aloud by human-sounding synthesised speech which is synchronised with on-screen text highlights. EasyReader also has options to customise playback - changing how you navigate through books, whether the app plays a sound to notify you of a bookmark, and the speed of audio playback. You can skip forward or rewind in various increments including by line, paragraph, or chapter. And if the EasyReader voice pronounces a word incorrectly, you can use the pronunciation feature to teach the app how to say it correctly - ideal for books with unusual character names, lesser-known locations, or books with specialist vocabulary.
From Dolphin EasyReader