Living In The Future, Part I: Applications for Reading Books


In the article I wrote introducing myself to Skeptability readers, I describe my long history in software and talk a lot about the miserable state of technological accessibility. The fact is, according to the UK’s RNIB, something on the order of 90% of all web sites (now considered by the US DOJ to be places of public accommodation) have between one and many accessibility problems. This is, of course, bad news and presents those of us who work on such things with a daunting problem of trying to get all of this fixed. When I write for my own blog, I include a tremendous amount of criticism and I try to also provide descriptions of paths to remediation for the offending technologies.

In this series of articles I’m going to explore a some of the real progress that has been made in accessibility and describe some of the things that a person with a profound to total print impairment can do today that, in some cases, wasn’t even available as recently as two years ago. These articles are going to focus exclusively on technologies from mainstream vendors and software that runs on mainstream hardware and will ignore the obscure and esoteric world of access technology as that’s what I right about on my own blog and I can’t think of a way to make it terribly interesting to a broader audience.

Just a little warning: if you’re a regular reader of my blog, then these articles are going to be a bit too remedial for you as you probably already know about this stuff more thoroughly than I’ll be writing here.

This is part one of what will grow into a series of articles on positive developments in accessible technology. In this piece, I’ll focus onapps people with disabilities can use to read books and magazines. Future articles will discuss entertainment, workplace and professional applications, orientation and mobility related programs and so on. There’s a real lot of cool things that our community can do today that has never been possible before and, in these pieces, I’d will celebrate some of the amazing progress we’ve seen over the past decade or so.

A brief anecdote: For the past nine months or so, I’ve been working with an 89 year old retired veterinarian whom we call “Doc.” This man isn’t your typical elder, he has four PhDs (two for which he worked in veterinary medicine and in agriculture and two which were granted as honors), hence, he’s a really smart guy. Doc went blind about 20 months ago from a combination of glaucoma and diabetes so, while I enjoy listening to him talk about the different interesting things he’s done over an amazing life and career, it’s me whom he asks for help with technology.

In our first time together, I handed Doc an iPad Mini and told him about a few things he could do with it. Using some of the software now available in a perfectly accessible manner on iOS and he was giggling like a little kid with joy in a new toy. Since then, I’ve returned to his Florida home about once per month and I teach him about one or two more apps, see what he’s learned on his own and, after our little informal training session, we smoke some weed and he tells me stories about going on safari to Africa in the forties or working on civil rights in the fifties and sustainable agriculture projects he’s working on today. My little training effort has given me a new friend and I’ve been able to teach him how as a really old blind man, he can do a ton of cool stuff with technology.

I relate the story about Doc to encourage our readers to try to do the same. For an older person who is blind, the Apple iOS devices are amazing and seniors with deteriorating vision, the Kindle Fire HDX tablet from Amazon is terrific. It’s easy for anyone to learn the basics of operating one of these devices with the accessibility features turned on and teaching such to an older person is fun and rewarding, especially when you see how much they can do with this technology and how happy it makes them. If you want some advice about totally or nearly so blind people in your life, feel free to write to me using the contact form on my blog and I’ll try to either help you with answers to questions or find someone who can give you useful information.

Books! Books! Books!

Last summer, I wrote an article, “2013: The Year Of The Book For Blinks” in which I describe a number of major steps forward in software and accessible content that people with print impairments could use on iOS/7 (current iPhones and iPads). Here, I’ll discuss them in less detail and include items available on other OS as well. This will not be a complete list of book reading and literacy technology but, rather, a collection of some of the highlights.

Some published statistics suggest that less than 3% of all English language publications were unavailable in an accessible format. Beginning in spring of 2013, this started changing for the better as people with print impairments now have access to Kindle, iBooks and, as the result of a court decision forcing Google’s hand last week, to GoogleBooks. Here are some apps for iOS, Windows Tablets and Android that people with print impairments can now use to enjoy reading:

  • The Audible app. This app, from, is 100% accessible on iOS/7 and is very close to fully accessible on Android, Windows and Macintosh. Audible is a paid service that sells its subscribers and others audio books read by terrific narrators. The Audible app isn’t designed specifically for those with print impariments and can be enjoyed by anyone.
    • The BARD Mobile app for iOS (they claim there will be an Android version later this year but it’s a year late already) is designed specifically for people with print impairments. It allows users to have access to all of the audio and formatted braille content in the US Library of Congress. I don’t read braille too well but I enjoy many of the audio books and magazines that I get from BARD. The quality of the narration isn’t as good as Audible but this service is provided at no cost to qualified subscribers.
    • The iBooks app for iOS is fully accessible. This, as of last summer, means that anyone, blind or otherwise print impaired and those who do not self identify as having a disability, now has access to the entire library of content published by Apple. I have found most of the books we read for the Boston Skeptics Book Club there and have enjoyed participating so conveniently.
    • The Kindle app is very accessible on iOS and mostly so on Android. Like iBooks, the Kindle app can now be used by people with print impairments to read the enormous library of information sold by Amazon. While iBooks, in my opinion, is easier to use, Kindle has a much larger library of content.
    • QRead is an excellent app for Windows that allows for reading most ebooks formats out there today. While it’s not exclusive to blind users, QRead is designed by and for blind people and its UI isn’t too pretty or so I’m told.
    • VoiceStream Reader is another app for iOS designed specifically for people with print impairment. If you use iOS and you’re looking for a really great book reader, I can recommend this one highly. The authors of VoiceStream say they expect to have an Android version available by the end of the year.


If you have someone in your life with a print impairment (blind, deaf-blind, learning disabled, etc.) you can rest assured that they will have a fabulous reading life ahead of them. If your friend or family member with a print disorder is young, they probably have access to a lot of accessible technology through their school or voc/rehab system. People (like me) who lose their vision later in life, however, aren’t plugged into a state or federal system and, as no one makes much money on accessible technologies, little is spent promoting such. Thus, like me, your friends with print impairment will find themselves unaware of many of the cool things they can do that are easy, relatively inexpensive and incredibly rewarding. You can help these people regain so much that they’ve lost to disability and, as I wrote above, I’m available to help you.

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My real name is Chris Hofstader. I'm an accessible technology professional, a crackpot, stonerand all around decent guy.

1 Comment

  1. […] year, I wrote a piece here called Living In The Future Part 1: Apps For Reading Books that discussed a variety of apps a blind person can use to access reading materials. I hope blind […]

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