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A Good Read

 

I’m about half way through reading ‘My Brilliant Friend”. I say I’m reading it. I’m actually listening to it as an audio book.

 

There are those that say this isn’t reading at all and that it’s a lesser activity. These people are predominantly people who can see to read a Penguin Classic, which, lets face it, not many of us can do when you consider the meanness of ink and paper involved.

 

Even in the world of sight loss, there are those who share this purist view of reading. They favour the generosity of a braille manuscript, that you need a wheelbarrow to shift. I prefer the audio file. It’s all positional.

 

I agree that the voice of a narrator is a very different experience from the translation of a printed page to a picture in your head, but the audio book, that had its origins in making books accessible to those of us who don’t read print, is in the ascendancy. You don’t have to be blind to appreciate its charms. Everyone is doing it.

 

Back in the day, blind subscribers to the tape library were treated to the tones of the volunteer reader, who delivered the doings of drama in a tone that sometimes strangled the moment. There were even the sounds of the odd doorbell and dogs barking. I haven’t tried it myself, but a friend told me that “you haven’t lived until you’ve heard porn read by a volunteer reader”.

 

Ten years ago a publisher I know told me that audio books would never take off because they were associated with blindness and “who wants to get lumped in with a load of blind people.” These days I can download, just about any audio book. You can even get most of the curriculum, in an audio file if you want it.

 

I bet it won’t be long before publishers see the potential and switching on the audio or large print function comes as standard on all digital formats. That should be a challenge for Biff and Chip and Kipper.

 

Blindness has been a wonderful midwife: There were probably those who thought that people would never give up the quill in favour of the fountain pen or the typewriter. Both are early examples of technology for blind people. Then there is the thing that we all take for granted whenever we cross border control, or use a bank card, or send a pdf. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) began as a method of scanning and speaking everything from the gas bill to novels for the benefit of blind people. It gave us the very first mouse, (to be caressed not trapped). Now both mouse and character recognition technology are firmly embedded in our everyday life, and aren’t we the better for it?

 

I’m not much of a techy but I’ve embraced it. It gets me from A to B with a talking map, allows me to command my friends to do strange things through text messages that cannot be recalled once sent and keeps me reading. Funny thing is that all these great ideas, designed to help overcome blindness, seem to have got lumped in with a load of people who can see and who have long forgotten just who gave birth to these inventions.

 

What a pity that so few blind people can afford the rising costs of technology that once had them at its heart.