Monday. It’s 8:00, AM, again. I’ve overslept. Stumbling, I cram my feet into the wrong shoes, yank a brush through my hair, pack and grab my beat-up messenger bag, shove a bagel in my teeth for safe keeping, and start running for the bus. It pulls up right as I whack my head on the bus sign, and I almost drop my bagel, franticly fishing my pass from the black hole that is my bag. With card, cane, and bagel still somehow in hand, I step onto the bus, feeling flustered. I scan my card at the scanner, and then take a seat. Now, I can relax. The bus ride is long enough that I can put on some soft, acoustic music, pop in one ear bud, and pull out my textbooks.
I love learning. There’s something about other people’s thoughts, their ideas, words, and processes, that makes me almost feel like I know the writer, like I’ve experienced something new that isn’t mine. So, I welcome every chance to eat a book. True, it’s not my preferred science fiction, fantasy, or cutting-edge thriller, but it’s still words, still knowledge. Since I’m still slightly flustered from my manic Monday morning, I decide to start with poetry. Poetry is my safe place, the place where I can go to be myself. It’s the place where I always seem to understand, and connect with, the soul of the writer, and with myself, on a personal level. Learning Ally is a service that has human narrated texts. They also have the most specific page navigation and illustration descriptions. Many state services, such as the State Services for the Blind in Minnesota, will also have options to record books you can’t find, and send you digital files you can download and open. However, I tend to like texts with computer voices, when I don’t have a lot of random page flipping to do. So, I pull out my phone, keeping my hands inside my bag so as not to flash my phone on the bus full of random strangers, and launch VoiceDream reader, my application of choice for doing any mobile reading when I need to interact with the text. The developer has done a fabulous job at making not only navigation within books, but text interactions themselves a breeze.
Every tool most people have in a standard eReader is there, from searches, to different colored highlighting, to complex book navigation. The fact that it supports so many formats for opening both text and audio books/documents makes it an easy app to reach for. Today, I launch my poetry book, and start reading with the voice I’ve downloaded. This way, the app’s curser will follow each word as its read. I know that I’m going to need to stop the book and take notes, so I don’t want to fiddle with finding the word on my own. When I get to the poems my instructor has told us to annotate, I stop the automatic reading, and start using VoiceDream’s curser movement and selecting tools to find and select pieces of the text. Once I have the text selected that I need, I can write notes on that text snip using braille screen input, a tool that is built into every iPhone for typing in braille on a touch screen. This allows me to type much quicker than I would be able to otherwise. I continue annotating poetry and am just about to start on my public speaking text when I hear the stop before mine, and start paying attention to the stops.
After I’m off the bus, with one hand in my pocket, since I of course forgot my gloves, I walk to class, sit down, and get out my laptop. It starts with a quiet thrum, and my headset beeps as it connects itself. Smiling, I pull up QRead, a blind friendly eReader. I usually use QRead when I’m at the computer because there’s no limit to how many books can be loaded. It has a robust system for table of contents, bookmarks, and searches, things that are vital when I need to get through a piece of text quickly. It is very light weight and doesn’t ever seem to lag my computer, even when I’ve had twelve books in it at once. Switching between books is as simple as control tab, and control shift tab, so I can switch at a moment’s notice. The text is put in such a way that it is easy to copy, paste, and navigate within the text in the same way that I already use the screen reader on my computer, so I don’t have to fight with an unfamiliar system. I can read it in chunks, all at once, by words, or any other way it’s possible to read any other document in a word processor. Even better, QRead has direct integration with bookshare.org, an organization dedicated to getting text to the blind and dyslexic. This is where I probably get three fourths of my pleasure reading, and almost all my texts from. If you are a student in the US, Bookshare is free, otherwise it’s available for a small yearly fee. QRead can also interact in very limited ways with popular book social networking cite GoodReads, being able to update your progress on a book, and submit reviews. But now is not the time for such things. It’s time for class. I’ve already loaded my logic textbook, and the instructors powerpoint for the day. I’ve bookmarked the relevant sections of the book already, so I open the bookmarks menu, find the section, load up my work in my word processor, and pop sunflower seeds from my bag to munch on until class starts.
As I’m leaving class, I am lucky to read an email telling me my next class has been canceled, and breathe a sigh of relief. I really need to brush up on my anthropology before I start writing the end of term paper. Moreover, I did well in the last class, answering most of the tough questions correctly. I deserve a reward! With a spring in my step, I go over to the coffee shop in my college lobby. My spring is gone by the time I get there since I got lost for twenty minutes along the way, but comes back once I plunk down in a comfy corner chair with a peppermint mocha, a strawberry Danish, and my anthropology text. This time, I need to use Kindle, because that’s where I’ve rented my book from. Though you can use Kindle to load all kinds of documents, I’ve gotten something from their library. With textbooks, prices can be high. Some electronic stores allow you to rent texts for less than outright buying them. This makes for a practical and cost-effective solution, so I’ve done that for my anthropology text. Now, I need to read it. I could use my phone, but I left my computer running in my bag, so I put my coffee down on the nearby table and open my laptop. Kindle on the computer side of things is a fairly newcomer to the scene of accessible eReaders.
Now, with NVDA, I can do everything a cited person can. Kindle, just like the others I’ve used throughout the day, is a robust reading system, including ways to search, navigate, highlight, and annotate. It also has some features, depending on the text, that others don’t, such as the ability to look up definitions of words, share popular highlights of books, suggest a curetted list of things you’d want to read, and more. With Kindle, you can also copy paste the text, and navigate through the book with already familiar screen reader commands. When my coffee is gone, and my fingers are tired from banging out anthropology journal prompt ideas, I go to my third class. As with the first, QRead serves me faithfully. I am easily able to keep up with the teacher, skim the text, and take notes when needed.
At the end of the day, I’m tired of studying. I do love words, and knowledge, but a girl’s got to have fun, and relax, sometime, right? I contemplate using VoiceDream, as I do have some pleasure reading in there, both in audio, and in text form, but I’m not feeling like either of those books right now, too intense. Usually, I’d turn to Overdrive next, an app that allows you to rent audio and text books from the local library, but right now, there’s nothing I’d like to read. This is a useful app, however, as it allows you to get high quality narrated books for free, provided you read them in time. But that app has nothing for me, so, this time, when I get on the bus, I load up Bard. Bard, which stands for braille and Audio Reading Download, is a service for the blind through the National Library Service. With their iPhone app, I can download books both in audio, and in braille to be read with a braille display. I generally prefer to read in audio because I can multitask, read faster, and in the case of fiction, put voices to characters in my head, something I don’t do on my own. I use more Braille when I’m reading something complex, with lots of interesting spelling. Because I am reading Bard in audio, I don’t have as fine a control, so I use Bard less for textbooks, and more for pleasure reading. And pleasure reading suits me just fine now. I pull up my urban fantasy novel, pop in an earbud, and drift home on griffenback above a sparkling city that is blessedly far from home.
When I must put my feet on the ground, however, I’m glad to come down. After tromping into the wind down the grey, concrete streets full of bustle and noise, I nestle myself behind my locked door, curl into the warmth of my kitchen, and heat up some hot cocoa from scratch, because it’s never too early for hot cocoa! Drinks made, food attended to, and bag unpacked, I do homework and talk to some people for a while. When I’m done, it’s time for my favorite part of the day.
I reach for my phone and pull up audible. Audible can be a bit expensive, because the narrators are professional and mainstream. They make it an art to bring the page to life for the listener, making them a popular choice for audiobooks. They are also mostly used for pleasure reading, as navigation is limited to chapters and thirty second increments.
Right now, however, I don’t care. I don’t get books from them very often, so when I do, I want them to be something good and delicious for me to sink my teeth into. Today is no exception, a fantasy about a young girl who shatters a sword, finds a dragon, and…well…I’ll let you figure out the rest. I’m going to go to sleep with the exceptional narrator gently reading in one ear, lulling me off. But before I go, I hope this little story of a day has helped you with various kinds of reading applications, and the contexts they can be used in. There are more tools for reading than I could ever give in one day, so I’m sorry if I left out your favorite, or didn’t give you what you need. I’ll tell you about the others a different day, along with more details on how to use the ones I’ve mentioned here, but for now, I hope this at least gives you something good to read!